Nov 27, 2006

Private Members’ Business – Domestic Violence

Private Members’ Business – Domestic Violence

27 November 2006

I strongly support the motion moved by the member for McPherson and I congratulate her for moving it. It acknowledges the terrible consequences of violence against women and calls for action to address it.

Whilst I am taking this opportunity to speak today in favour of the motion, I also feel a profound sense of sorrow that any of us have to speak about this issue at all.

Violence against women is abhorrent and despicable. It destroys lives, families, childhoods and futures, and it permeates every section of our society.

According to the 2006 ABS national survey, an estimated 440,000 Australian women experienced physical and/or sexual violence in the last 12 months.

Two out of three women said their children had been witnesses to that violence.

Perhaps the worst statistic though is the rate of under-reporting. Only 20 per cent of female victims of sexual assault and 28 per cent of female victims of other assaults report the incident to the police.

These figures tell us that we have simply not done enough to address the problem of violence against women.

Eighteen-year-old Sydney girl Tegan Wagner is an example of how far we have come and how far we still have to go. This young woman was the victim of a horrific sexual assault in Ashfield, which is in my electorate of Grayndler, when she was just 14 years old.

At the conclusion of the court case this year, she chose to reveal her identity and speak out about her ordeal.

In her interview with ABC radio, Tegan said:

"I feel society makes victims feel really ashamed of what’s happened to them. … I wanted to— report it— at first, but I had people telling me not to. … I advise any woman of any age, whatever their assault is, that it’s assault and it’s a crime against them and that they should stand up for their rights."

I applaud Tegan for her courage, and I echo the call of this strong young woman for all victims of violence to come forward.

Tegan’s words are inspiring, but they also reveal a terrible truth about our society. It is a tragedy that female victims of violence still feel ashamed to speak out.

This motion calls for a coordinated, sustained approach to the problem of violence against women. It is certainly true that this should not be a political issue; unfortunately, these issues often are.

The Howard government has run ad campaigns, which are commendable, for raising awareness and I congratulate them for doing so, yet it has slashed funding for associations that support women who are the victims of violence.

We need to properly fund community legal centres, the very places where many women turn for assistance. The entire federal community legal centre budget for this financial year is only $24 million. It has not even been increased to cover inflation.

What is more, we need to make sure that in changes to family law we take into account properly the issue of domestic violence.

This year, the government introduced some definitional amendments which push us dangerously close to the decriminalisation of family violence. We need to ensure that we are very diligent in the changes that are made. The government also put in place harsh financial penalties for false allegations, which could present further barriers to the disclosure of incidents of domestic violence.

We need to take a stand and move forward constantly on this issue—not two steps forward and one step back.

A Beazley Labor government will show national leadership in addressing the many and complex problems associated with violence against women.

We will establish a national council on violence against women and children, that will engage victims of violence, law enforcement agencies, and academics.

We will establish national goals, time lines and responsibilities to help reduce incidences of violence against women.

We will work with state governments and the community sector to improve access to key services such as crisis accommodation. Again, it is a tragedy that many women and children who have been victims of violence have nowhere to go and in many cases simply remain in violent situations.

I strongly support this motion and I support future efforts to respond to this terrible problem. I know that the member for McPherson is very genuine in her commitment and I wish her all the best in her party room to encourage positive steps forward.

We must do all we can to ensure that Australian women can live without fear of harm or physical aggression. That is an issue not just for the women but, indeed, for the whole of society if we are going to have genuine, loving families and relationships, which we would all like to see happen, but which too often are simply not the reality.