Monday, 21 November 2011
Private Members' Business
White Ribbon Day
Debate resumed on the motion by Mr Hayes :
That this House:
(1) notes that 25 November 2011 marks White Ribbon Day, the symbol of the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women;
(2) recognises that White Ribbon day aims to prevent violence against women by increasing public awareness and education by challenging attitudes and behaviours that allow violence to continue;
(3) asks all Australian men to challenge these attitudes and behaviours by joining ‘My Oath Campaign’ and taking the oath ‘I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women’;
(4) notes with concern that one in three women will experience physical violence, and one in five will experience sexual violence over their lifetime;
(5) understands that domestic and family violence are primary causes of homelessness;
(6) acknowledges the community cost of violence against women and their children to the Australian economy was estimated to be $13.6 billion in 2008-09, and that if we take no action to shine a light on this violence, that cost will hit an estimated $15.6 billion in 2021-22; and
(7) asks all Members to show that they are challenging violence against women by wearing a white ribbon or wristband on White Ribbon Day.
For a number of years now during the week that includes 25 November I have stood up in this House and spoken about the highly significant and deeply worrying issue of violence against women. It is at around this time of every year that we are all reminded of the disturbing statistics indicating that, in their lifetime, one in three women in our country will experience physical violence and one in five will experience sexual violence.
As a husband, a father of one daughter and a very proud grandfather to three little girls, I am petrified at the thought that, going by that statistic, one of my precious girls is likely to experience violence in her lifetime. I think that personalising these statistics—thinking about them in terms of your own family and the women and girls that we love—may give us a better appreciation of the horrific and heartbreaking situations, and the consequences, of domestic violence in our community. Amnesty International statistics show that, in Australia, domestic violence puts women aged between 15 and 44 at risk of serious health issues and premature death. Domestic violence is rated higher than most other issues within the community. It is heartbreaking to think that poor health, as well as premature death, can be brought about by people whom these women feel closest to. New South Wales police report that 70 per cent of victims of domestic violence are women, 80 per cent of offenders are men and most female victims are assaulted by their male partners. When people are ill or sick, partners should be the ones they turn to. I find it unimaginable that, in so many cases, it is the partners who are causing this illness in the first place.
Research shows that, of the number of young women who witness domestic violence in the home, 50 per cent will grow up to take an abuser as a partner. What I find more chilling is that, of the number of boys who grow up in a home where there is as an abusive relationship, 60 per cent will become abusers themselves. So the cycle does not end; it continues. In 2010 in my electorate, there were 792 reported cases of domestic violence in Liverpool and 735 in Fairfield. In Liverpool there was an increase of 9.4 per cent and, in Fairfield, there was an increase of 6½ per cent, compared to the figures for the previous 12 months. The majority of these statistics do not take into account the non-physical forms of violence, such as emotional and financial intimidation, which can also have long-term negative impacts on their victims. These are actual reported cases of abuse. Even more worrying is that many incidents of violence against women go unreported. In a number of cases, the victims have, sadly, been silenced, simply out of fear. Society at large should take a proactive role in encouraging victims to raise their voice and say: 'Enough is enough.'
This Friday is White Ribbon Day. The White Ribbon campaign calls on all men to take on the challenge and to question the attitudes and behaviours that allow violence to continue in our community. It encourages men to act as role models and take a lead in communicating that violence against women is never, ever acceptable. I am proud to say that a number of events have been organised in my electorate to commemorate this important day. The event at Miller Square, organised by Jimmy Mtashar, from the Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre, and a similar event in the Freedom Plaza, Cabramatta, organised by Dr Simon Emsley from the Cabramatta Community Centre, are aimed at drawing attention to the issues of domestic violence, particularly in multicultural communities.
Earlier this year, a young woman, Zara Maxwell-Smith, was working in my office as part of the Australian National University Internships Program. During her time working with me she compiled a report on issues associated with domestic violence in the south-west of Sydney. The report findings, based on interviews with various service providers and community leaders in my electorate of Fowler, suggest a strong connection between high domestic violence statistics and the strongly multicultural nature of my electorate. The report suggests that current migration practices might be lacking when it comes to conveying information about domestic violence and Australian law to people migrating to Australia. This finding is supported by similar findings made in a 2009 report evaluating Australia's cultural orientation program. The report identifies a number of points in the migration process where further information about domestic violence should be communicated to people moving to Australia. It is paramount that we ensure that victims from non-English-speaking backgrounds have greater access to services and that the system does not fail our newest arrivals to this country. Empowering interaction with the law is critical not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators of domestic violence. They need to understand the ramifications of such a crime, which is really a crime against our community. For many cultural groups, awareness of the law can potentially influence their attitudes so that domestic violence is seen to be unacceptable and it is less prevalent throughout the community.
Domestic violence has been shown to occur in an intergenerational cycle. As I have already mentioned, 60 per cent of young men growing up in abusive households are more likely to become abusers and 50 per cent of women growing up in abusive households are likely to take an abuser as their partner, so it is absolutely imperative that steps be taken to reduce the prevalence and impact of domestic violence. If we do not do that, we know it is going to be perpetuated as the cycle continues.
We need to ensure that White Ribbon Day is not just another day on the calendar but a day on which people make a change—a change in attitude; a change for the better. As I have said before in this place, violence against women is the most widespread human rights abuse in the world. It cannot be dealt with in any way other than ensuring there is complete awareness and discussion of this and a commitment to stamping out this level of violence. In Australia the cost to the economy of domestic violence against women and children was estimated at $13.6 billion in 2009. If it is not addressed, by 2021 that cost is likely to rise to a staggering $15.6 billion. It must be recognised that while living free from violence is everybody's right, reducing violence is everybody's responsibility.
In conclusion, this coming Friday I will join with many Australian men and take the white ribbon oath. I will swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. It is a very simple thing for all of us men to do in this place. I would encourage all men throughout the community to take that pledge. We all have a responsibility for leadership in our communities and I think we should be taking steps on this principal issue of human rights to show strong and unwavering leadership. I would also encourage the men of this place to show their commitment by wearing a white ribbon on White Ribbon Day, to be prepared to stand up and show leadership in their communities and not to be afraid to say that we abhor any violence against women. Violence against women is never, ever acceptable in this country.
I thank the member for Fowler for raising this important motion in recognition of 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The white ribbon campaign is one of the world's largest movements to raise awareness and funds for the prevention of violence perpetrated against women. As a male-led movement it engages and empowers men and boys to be leaders in a change of attitudes and behaviour.
Violence most obviously damages the victim, but it also has a profound impact on the wider community. The individual carries physical and psychological scars for years, if not decades, to come. Many victims of assault, threats, abuse and sexual violence have summoned the courage to discuss the long-term effects on their relationships, on their children and on their communities. The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children has also calculated an economic impact, with the estimated cost of reported violence against women and their children totalling $13.6 billion in 2009. This cost is because the victims do not suffer in isolation; they are our wives, our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and our friends. It is vital that from the top down and the bottom up, from our parliaments and from our schoolyards, we show that we treat this issue with the utmost seriousness. In 1991, the White Ribbon concept was started in Canada by a group of men commemorating the second anniversary of one man's massacre of 14 female engineering students. White Ribbon activities began in Australia in 2003. Whilst many events are held close to 25 November, the White Ribbon campaign is year round. This work aims to raise funds to resource and support White Ribbon ambassadors in their activities. I am proud to have recently added my name to the list of White Ribbon ambassadors and have taken the White Ribbon oath. I urge all men to do likewise.
The White Ribbon Foundation participates in social marketing, supports community activities in increasing participation and awareness and distributes school information, education strategies, research information and policy advice to identify effective activities and interventions to prevent violence against women. White Ribbon urges men to be positive role models and to recognise and promote awareness of the shocking extent of violence against women. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in three women in Australia reports having experienced violence since the age of 15—that is over 2.5 million women. Of this number nearly 1.5 million, or one in five women, have experienced a form of sexual violence. Almost every week in Australia a woman is killed by a male partner or ex-partner, often post separation. Intimate partner violence, including physical, emotional and sexual violence, is the leading contributor to death, disability and ill health in women aged between 15 and 44. The impacts flow on to our children. Fifty-five per cent of homeless women with children are escaping domestic violence. One in four young people have witnessed violence against their mother or stepmother. Exposure to domestic violence is a form of child abuse that cannot be ignored, with high personality, behavioural and psychological problems amongst these children. Research has shown that young men who have experienced domestic violence are more likely to become perpetrators of violence in their own relationships. Of course, a perpetual problem with statistics in this kind of field is the likelihood of under-reporting, with many women bearing a form of shame for the crimes that have been committed against them.
Violence against women is too often perpetrated by current or former partners of the victim and with the knowledge of male peers of the offender. As a male-led movement, the White Ribbon organisation was formed to encourage men to speak out about violence against women. Silence when we know violence is occurring makes us an accessory to the violence. Challenging attitudes will help other men take the steps necessary to break the cycle of violence. This is essential to promote the cultural change to show that masculinity and machismo are directly linked with respect for women, not associated with violence and domination.
We men are a strange group when it comes to such change. Many in this place commented on my recent physical likeness to my former colleague John Newcombe—the one of the moustache. Whilst I will protest that there is no similarity between our backhands—he was once called by the great Lew Hoad 'Johnny No-backhand'—I was only one step better, in my opinion, not in his. But I am proudly showing my support for Movember, another male-led cultural change program. Recently John Newcombe, John Raper, John Konrads and Ken Rosewall all suffered health scares, broadcasting that even our greatest Australian men are in fact only human. At its core, Movember is a way for a man to proudly announce that he takes men's health issues seriously. Physical and mental health are matters that too many men shake off because of some warped kind of bravado. Movember says that real men acknowledge the need for physical check-ups. Movember empowers a man to tell another man that he needs to get help. Movember applauds those who have struggled and survived to tell their tale, like my colleague the member for Goldstein, who recently documented his inspiring story in the book Black Dog Daze.
The Movember and White Ribbon programs are interlinked. They both deal with a male attitude that restrains so many in our community from speaking up and from influencing their peers on the real meaning of machismo, which is to be honest with yourself and respect your loved ones, not resort to an arrogant response of physical force and ignorant attitudes of invincibility. I again thank the member for Fowler for bringing this important issue to this place for discussion and note the support being duly given by an all-male cast of speakers to follow. Whilst too often our attention is focused on the rifts and divisions between our two parties, it is discussions like these that highlight our shared core values on the issues that are really important in defining us as Australians.
In 1991 a small group of Canadian men started the White Ribbon campaign. Tragically, the inspiration for the first White Ribbon Day was the second anniversary of the Montreal massacre, a massacre where a gunman entered a university and killed 14 women and injured 10 others. This small group of Canadian citizens believed that as men they had a responsibility to speak out against violence against women. To symbolise men's opposition to violence against women they chose to wear a white ribbon. Eight years later the United Nations General Assembly declared 25 November International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and adopted the white ribbon as its symbol.
One reason I became an ambassador is that White Ribbon Day promotes change by highlighting the positive role that men can play. It encourages all men across the world to take an active stance against violence against women. This Friday, 25 November, is White Ribbon Day, a day when men say it is not okay to use violence against women, when men speak out to change the attitudes and behaviours which allow violence against women to occur and when taking action to address violence against women is celebrated, supported and encouraged.
The global statistics on the abuse of women and girls can be mind numbing. In their book Half the Sky, Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof report that more girls have been killed in the last 50 years simply because they were girls than all the men killed in the battles of the 20th century. Thanks to White Ribbon Day, high-profile ambassadors, such as comedian Wil Anderson, Indigenous AFL player Adam Goodes, NRL point-scoring record holder Hazem El Masri and our own Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, have signed the oath 'never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women'. But it is through all men, among each other, letting it be known that violence against women is unacceptable that the greatest change occurs. Fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, team mates and colleagues—every effort and every conversation makes a difference.
I am sometimes asked by men why the focus is on violence in the home that is directed towards women. The answer comes clearly out of the statistics. According to the latest recorded crime publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, men are most likely to be assaulted by a stranger, followed by a non-family member, followed by a family member, but for women the reverse is true. Women are most likely to be assaulted by a family member. That is why it is so important we speak out about violence against women.
In my electorate of Fraser I am attending two separate events supporting White Ribbon Day. A barbecue breakfast is being held this Friday by the Canberra White Ribbon Day group, with the support of the Australian Federal Police, the Young Women's Christian Association, the State Emergency Service, Lifeline, the ACT government and men from across the ACT community. The other is a lunchtime event by the ACT Labor Status of Women policy committee. Both events are an opportunity for men in the electorate of Fraser to speak out against violence against women and to demonstrate the power that positive male role models can have in their local communities.
In addition to the support of colleagues and me for the prevention of violence against women, last Friday the Standing Council on Law and Justice considered draft legislation to implement a national scheme for domestic and family violence orders. Once implemented, the legislation will allow those protected by a domestic violence order to move across state and territory borders and remain covered. It is one more valuable piece in providing better safeguards for victims of domestic violence.
Violence against women is unacceptable. Men do have a responsibility to speak out on this, to speak with other men and to speak out in the community. Along with 16,500 Australians I have sworn 'never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women'. This White Ribbon Day men will be saying it is not okay to remain silent about violence against women. It is up to men to be good role models for boys and for other men, young and old, in their community. I am proud to be a White Ribbon Day ambassador in my electorate of Fraser. I encourage all men to join me in speaking out on this important cause.
On two previous occasions I have spoken in this place about the importance of White Ribbon Day and to condemn violence against women in our community. In speaking today in support of the motion by the member for Fowler, I commend the House for its level of bipartisanship on this issue and seek to highlight the challenge that still confronts us. I think it is worth noting that all eight speakers on this motion today are men. I think that sends an important message to women throughout Australia that at least in this place it is a key issue of concern and that the men in this place are determined to do their bit to raise awareness of domestic violence affecting women.
It should be self-evident that violence against women cannot be tolerated in any circumstances, but we continue to experience a disturbingly high level of family violence in my community and throughout Australia. In fact, the Latrobe Valley Police Service Area is reported to have the highest incidence of family violence in the state of Victoria, and other parts of Gippsland are also infamous for the rate of crime against the person.
Family violence often carries the tag of 'domestic violence', which I think in some way sanitises the crime. Crimes in the home, particularly physical and sexual assaults, are often hidden, and because they occur in a domestic setting there is some reluctance in our community to intervene. I fear that the old saying that what happens behind closed doors should remain behind closed doors has provided a protective armour for the criminals who prey on children and women in the home environment. It is up to us in this place to pull down that shield and not shy away from the difficult and often confronting issues associated with family violence.
We do need to shine a light in the dark places where these crimes occur and protect some of our most vulnerable citizens from harm. We need to send a message to the thugs who will commit these crimes that they have no right to privacy in their homes if they are using those walls to hide their violent crimes from scrutiny. Such violence is often hidden by the victim's feelings of shame and guilt, along with an overriding fear of the perpetrator. We need to send a message to the victims that they are not alone. If these crimes were committed on the street there would be community outrage, but because they are often hidden in the home they too often escape attention.
It is with this in mind that I am greatly heartened by the comments of the new Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Ken Lay, who was reported in the Weekend Australian as demanding a renewed focus on domestic violence in Victoria. In the article Mr Lay calls for a new public awareness campaign to prevent women and children from being assaulted in their homes:
The interesting thing for me is understanding that a woman or child is more likely to get assaulted in their home than they are on the street. That just underlines the fact that it is an issue that is important, it's an issue that, as a community, I don't think we have got on top of.
White Ribbon Day is an occasion for us all to refocus our efforts as a nation and as community leaders that it is never okay to strike a woman or to intimidate, bully, harass or sexually assault another person. Today I appeal again to all the men in my electorate, the electorate of Gippsland, to join me in denouncing violence against women and to join me in being a positive role model for our sons, our nephews and our brothers. By our actions, we need to show all men and boys the right way to behave—to respect, nurture and care for women in our society and to treat them as equals.
I commend the member for Fowler for bringing this motion to the House, and I commend all the members who have spoken on this issue and who will speak in a moment's time. I believe that White Ribbon Day is an important occasion but that it should not be viewed in isolation or seen as a single day for raising these issues. We must remain committed to raising these issues on the other 364 days of the year. We need to remain eternally vigilant and be willing to take action when we suspect that violence is occurring in the home. Staying silent is not an option for us. Too many of our mothers, our sisters and our female friends are experiencing violence at the hands of men they know, often in their own homes. We must do more to remove violence or the threat of violence from their lives. I commend the motion and commend the member of Fowler for bringing it to the House.
As a White Ribbon Ambassador I believe that first and foremost I have to be a man who embodies the values, ethics and morals expressed in the campaign in my everyday life at home, at work and in my community. I am the father of two adult daughters. It is my dream, aspiration and hope that they will live their lives in a world without domestic violence. It is my hope that as an ambassador I can be a role model for other men and for boys to know that violence against women is unacceptable in any form, and that is a message that should be perpetuated throughout our community. It is disturbing that violence—gratuitous and unnecessary—has become an acceptable part of our lives. It is evident in our movies, on television and in music. All too often our children have become immune to the impact of violence and have experienced simulations of violence on their computer, PlayStation and Xbox. Even more disturbing is that too many children experience violence in their homes. We know that children who are exposed to violence are more likely to themselves become victims or, as adults, become perpetrators. I applaud the Prime Minister and the COAG process for the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children 2010-12. The plan reminds us that, while living safely and free from violence is everybody's right, reducing violence is everyone's responsibility. The national plan targets two main types of violence: domestic and family violence and sexual assault. These are gender specific crimes; they have an unequal impact on women.
As has been said before by the member for Fowler—and I commend him for his foresight in bringing this motion into the House—one in three Australian women has experienced some form of physical violence by the age of 15 and almost one in five has experienced sexual violence. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2005 some 350,000 women experienced physical violence and over 125,000 experienced sexual violence of some description. Indigenous women and girls are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than any other Australian women and girls, a point reinforced by the Doing time report from the House of Representatives ATSIA committee.
This federal Labor government has committed $96.4 million over four years to combat violence against women, including $25 million towards ending violence in Papua New Guinea and throughout the Pacific. The White Ribbon campaign is the only national male led violence prevention program. It targets men in particular and urges us to take a stand and not turn a blind eye towards violence against women.
Sadly, as the member for Fraser pointed out, it is familial danger, rather than stranger danger, which is the risk for most women and girls. As an accredited family law specialist before I entered parliament, I saw the impact of domestic violence on thousands of clients and their children. Sadly, most people turned a blind eye. In fact, it was difficult from time to time to get the courts to take domestic violence seriously. And all too often police only think of it as 'a domestic', when, if perpetrated on the street, it would result in immediate apprehension, incarceration and prosecution.
Too many women and children are victims of domestic violence. The real tragedy is that there is a failure to recognise what domestic violence really is. It can be familial isolation, financial domination, stalking, friendship denial and a host of other things, including spiritual abuse—where people are denied the right to express their spirituality—damage to property and reproductive control, which I have seen perpetrated by men on numerous occasions.
I applaud the government for its attempt—and it has been passed through the House of Representatives—to contemporise the definition of 'family violence' in the Family Law Act. I also applaud the steps taken to recognise domestic violence orders—or apprehended violence orders, as they are described in states other than Queensland—across the country. We need to get rid of the 'dingo fences' which prohibit courts from easily recognising domestic violence orders in the various states and territories of this country.
All men are responsible to make sure we do not turn a blind eye. This is a men's issue, not just a women's issue. It is a men's issue because men have the power to make changes as leaders and decision makers in their homes and their workplaces. It is a men's issue even though a minority of men are violent towards women. Men need to speak out and send a message. They need live to their lives so that violence against women is unacceptable and that message goes down through the generations. I commend the member for Fowler for this motion and I am proud to stand with him and other members of this place in a bipartisan way to protect women and children in our community. (Time expired)
I rise to support the motion moved by the member for Fowler to acknowledge White Ribbon Day and to condemn violence against women, particularly domestic violence. This notion of White Ribbon Day has its origins in a massacre in Montreal in 1989 at a university, when 14 women lost their lives. The statistics in Australia about violence against women are quite alarming. One in three women over the age of 15 experiences some form of physical or sexual violence. But the truth is that this is not just a statistic. Each one of those females is a person whose life will be forever changed by the emotional and physical trauma that they suffer in what is often male-dominated violence.
For me, this issue was brought home, when I was a much younger person, through the movies—in particular, the New Zealand movie Once Were Warriors. It was based on a novel by Alan Duff and showed very graphically a level of horrific domestic violence in a Maori family. I remember leaving that film and just being shaken to the core. I and the person with whom I had gone to see the film had to go and have a coffee to talk about the issue because it actually challenged us in a way in which I had never been challenged before. There was another movie, called The Bandit Queen. It was an Indian movie about a lady called Phoolan Devi, who was repeatedly gang raped and suffered severe trauma and violence because of her place in a lower caste in the caste system. Those two movies, for me, had a very dramatic effect on my understanding of the level of violence perpetrated against women overseas, but I know violence is also perpetrated against women in our own country.
So governments must do everything they can. The Bsafe pilot scheme is one that we would like to see continued. It allows women who can be subject to domestic violence to alert authorities through a buzzer. Law enforcement agencies must do everything that they can. That is why I welcome the comments of the new commissioner of police in Victoria on this matter. But it is up to individuals, particularly men, to take the oath to commit themselves to ensuring that they never commit domestic violence or violence against women and that they do not excuse or remain silent in the face of violence against women.
What we need in our community is leadership. We need greater knowledge and understanding of this issue, because it is not about statistics—it is about individuals; it is about people. And it is not just about one event or one night of crime or violence; it is about what it does to that person for the rest of their life, affecting their capacity to be a mother or a daughter or a sister or a niece or a wife, because once they have been subject to violence they lose their confidence; they change their outlook. And that is something that they should never be subject to.
So I commend the member for Fowler for this motion. I think it is extremely important that every member of this parliament, male and female, acknowledges the situation as it currently stands—that one in three females over the age of 15 is subject to some form of physical or sexual violence in their lives. It is important that we redouble our efforts and that, where possible, we use leading personalities in the community to educate, and that we reach across the age divide and the partisan divide and the divide between men and women to ensure that we do everything we can to eliminate violence against women in our community, because it is totally unacceptable.
Sitting suspended from 13:19 to 16:00