Family Violence

26 November 2015

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — As the Leader of The Nationals I rise to make a contribution on the take‑note motion. As everyone would well know in this place, family violence has no geographical boundaries and family violence crosses all parts of society and crosses all income levels in society.

I would like to personally thank Rosie Batty for her contribution today, but more importantly thank her for her commitment to make a difference, particularly to ensure that her son Luke’s tragic death was not in vain. I do not think any of us could even understand the courage that it takes to do what Rosie is doing at the moment. I would also like to thank the other speakers, who had a very powerful message for us. I believe they certainly added value to the day, and like the Betrayal of Trust debate in the last Parliament, I think days like today are when Parliament is at its best. It is the way people expect us to go about our role representing them here in this state.

I would also like to particularly thank the minister for accepting the suggestions to include those other speakers, and I acknowledge the initiative of the member for Bayswater and Georgie Crozier, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, in putting forward the suggestions to expand the speaker list beyond Rosie Batty. I think Rosie made an outstanding contribution, but I think the other speakers added value to the day. As I have said, it was an extremely powerful message that came through to me.

The thing that I could not help thinking about while sitting there was what a blessed childhood I had with my family — with my grandparents and my extended family. None of these sorts of things appeared at all in our family. We were so lucky compared to other families, and I give thanks to my parents and my grandparents for the upbringing I had compared to what other people have obviously gone through.

A lot of people say family violence is not a gendered issue. The message that was reinforced today is that family violence is a gendered issue. It is about men wanting power over women and particularly their lack of respect for women. Anyone who says this is not a gendered issue is wrong; it is very much so. As it was pointed out today, family violence can be physical, psychological, sexual or financial abuse. All those things were mentioned today, and they all have far‑reaching impacts on families. The fact sheet on the ourwatch.org.au website, almost half of the women who experience violence by an ex‑partner say that children had seen or heard that violence. That is just tragic for those children, let alone the partner who has been the victim.

A woman dies at the hands of a current or former partner almost every week in Australia, and some research suggests the rate is actually much higher. One woman in three has experienced physical violence since the age of 15; one woman in five has experienced sexual violence; and one woman in four has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Women in Australia are three times more likely than men to experience violence at the hands of a partner. There is growing evidence that women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence. For example, 90 per cent of women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse. Indigenous women experience disproportionately high levels of family violence, and intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to ill health and premature death in women under 45, more than any other known risk, including high blood pressure, obesity and smoking. Those sorts of statistics are a real damnation of society and something that we all need to make a contribution to stamping out.

One of the things I find interesting when constituents who have been confronted with these types of issues come to see me, and something I believe we need to find a solution to, is that it is usually the victim who has to leave the family home. It is usually the victim in the family who has to leave the school they are going to, and it is the victim who has to leave their wider family and friendship networks to get away from the perpetrator. Somehow we need to find a way to address this issue so that the victim is not further victimised by having to leave the family home and network while the perpetrator stays.

The Premier mentioned that we are coming up to Christmas, which is a high‑stress time for a lot of families for various reasons, so it is something to be very aware of at this time of the year. I think whatever difference we make will happen across successive parliaments. It is something that cannot be owned by one Parliament; it has to be owned by successive parliaments and governments. We know the current government’s royal commission will be reporting in the New Year, and one of the challenges with any royal commission is making sure that there is a commitment to implement its recommendations over successive governments, because issues like this will not be solved in one place. I put on the record the work that Mary Wooldridge, now a member for Eastern Metropolitan Region in the other place, did as the responsible minister in the previous Parliament to increase funding and programs in this area. She did an outstanding job as minister at that time, as the current minister is doing and as we would expect ministers and parliaments to do in the future.

One of the things that was not mentioned today but that I think should be mentioned is the issue of men, in particular, speaking up and standing up. In my view, those who are aware of a family violence issue and do not speak up and report it are as guilty as the perpetrator. If someone is aware of an issue in their extended family, their neighbourhood or their network of friends, they have a responsibility to report it to the appropriate authorities to make sure that something is done. Silence is no longer acceptable. It is no longer acceptable to sweep the problem under the carpet and think someone else will do something about it or that, ‘It’s their business; it’s not my business’. There are appropriate channels now; there are more than enough places for people to report those situations so something can be done about them and the victims are no longer victims. It is very important for men to speak up. Staying silent makes them as guilty as the perpetrator.

The other thing that has been touched on by some speakers and has been mentioned in this place in the past is the role of the courts and the judiciary in these issues. I hope that out of the royal commission and as part of the way forward there will be changes in the role of the courts so that the victim has more rights and is not considered, almost, to be guilty until proven innocent. I believe there needs to be a change of attitude by the courts, particularly around sentencing, as in other cases where sentences better reflect community standards.

Perpetrators need to be significantly punished so that we send a message not only to them but to the wider community that these sorts of actions are no longer acceptable. There should be a clear message to the courts to change their sentencing standards and the way victims are treated during the court process. We heard today about what it is like to go through an appeal process to a higher court. The trauma created for the victim is just unfair, and there needs to be a better way.

Lastly I want to touch on some of the things happening today that are normalising violence in society. As we have all been saying, family violence is absolutely unacceptable, but I have a real concern about the standard of video games being watched by children in particular. The issue of cage fighting was also touched on. These are just an extension of, in some ways, the normalisation of violence in society. If children watch and play video games in which victims are not physically hurt but just bounce back again because the video game restarts, they get a false impression of the ramifications of violence. We need to be mindful of the laws we make in this place to make sure that we do not normalise violence in society.

In finishing I want to say that family violence is absolutely and totally unacceptable. Silence from people who know it is occurring is also unacceptable. My personal view and that of The Nationals is that we look forward to doing whatever we can in this place to make a contribution to stamping out family violence in this state.

 

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