Domestic and Family Violence

Mrs SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (16:08): Last week, many community groups around Australia held some sort of event for White Ribbon Day. They definitely did that in Gilmore. They have been doing it for years. Australia leads the world in raising awareness of domestic violence. Recently, I was privileged to meet Delilah Sandeka at Goroka, Papua New Guinea. She is the national coordinator for the family and sexual violence units with the Royal PNG Constabulary. Every nation acknowledges that domestic violence is an issue. In some places it is worse than others. And, even though Australia is world leading, there is still a great deal more to be done.

Let me first congratulate every single group that helps the victims of family violence, as they nurture and help someone when that person is at the lowest ebb of their life. I especially congratulate the amazing women whose workplace is the Nowra Police Station. They have been assisting women victims of domestic violence for many years. This takes compassion, dedication and a love of community. Domestic violence funding and prevention initiatives have very strong bipartisan support. We do not always agree as to the distribution of the funding, but we do all agree that the investment is absolutely worth the effort.

Since 2013 the momentum has been continuing. In 2015, a $100 million safety package for women was announced. State governments have also contributed to additional projects such as the Respectful Relationships curriculum aimed at combating family violence. That curriculum focuses solely on men as the perpetrators of domestic violence, teaching students that only by challenging male privilege will violence diminish.

You will note, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I have a bundle of pink and blue ribbons connected to my White Ribbon badge. Some may wonder why. It is incredibly significant, for it is my firm belief that domestic violence has been skewed to infer that only men perpetrate violence on women. While a significant majority of cases are male violent actions directed towards a female, there are men who are being completely abused and bullied by their partners, some with weapons as well. We have to do more in this policy direction.

With one in three family violence cases recorded as being women causing abuse or injury to a male – whether that be a boy, a partner or an older male – we need to consider in depth what the next plan of action should include. We need to link arms as a total community and say ‘Enough is enough’ and work towards an overall reduction of violence.

I have frequently had a distraught father in my office who has taken his children from a violent home and had nowhere to go for emergency housing as it is only available for females in the same circumstances. These men and their children end up using their car as their home and using the showers at swimming pools and the barbecues in the local parks. Crisis housing is stretched to breaking point and there are not enough resources. This will take a three tiers of government approach to develop a solution strategy and it really should begin soon.

I honour the fact that my government has invested $230 million over two years to extend the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. This will go some way to assist. But I wear these ribbons as a form of stereotypically representing what I am about to say, for the colours of pink and blue usually indicate female and male. I propose that no-one should abuse, bully or harass another human under any circumstances at all not now and not ever. I propose that no person should ever take a weapon to solve an argument. I admit that what I am proposing is a dream of utopia, but it has to start somewhere.

I quote from a recent newspaper article: ‘Over 40 years of international research shows school education programs are not the answer to the problem of family violence, let alone teaching little schoolboys about white male privilege.” What the evidence actually shows is that family violence is not a gender issue. To tackle family violence, we need to tell the truth about the violence most children are experiencing in Australian homes. It is two-way violence involving both mothers and fathers. It is violence linked to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and poverty.

I am proud that in recent government hosted COAG meetings there is agreement to develop the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, leading on from 2010 initiatives going straight through to 2022. We need to target activities to end the cycle of children mimicking parental violence. These families are at risk. As overseas research is showing, teaching violent couples new conflict management skills would be effective.

I completely support the need to develop Respectful Relationships, or any other program, particularly in a school curriculum. But this should not have a gender bias. It should be teaching respect for all relationships whether they be work, family, parenting or social. Every one of us should be responsible for this cultural change that we need to evolve. Again, I quote from the same article: ‘Gender inequity is a part of the picture in many cases, but it is not the only thing.” Denying that violence is complex, and that men and children are victims as well, runs against all of the reliable evidence and is simply irresponsible. There is nothing ‘respectful’ in denying people’s suffering.

Parents are not stupid. Already, there is indignation developing about what is perceived as offensive anti-male diatribes in similar programs being run by White Ribbon in schools all over Australia. There have been great initiatives in schools, with young men reciting oaths against domestic violence. But this is only half the problem. We must respect each other, no matter what our perception of difference. In some of the programs, the male students would recite an oath against domestic violence. But the girls were not involved; they were just onlookers. The story went on to describe that the girls felt embarrassed and self-conscious of the boys. I do not know if that is a universal sentiment as there are schools in my electorate that have been raising family violence awareness in a compassionate and sensitive manner for some time. Shoalhaven High comes easily to mind as a stand-out model, with both students and teachers involved. Where this is not done in such a sensitive manner, the parents should get involved and have a say. Perhaps there should be a whole-of-school-community response, but it will need to be developed over time.

One of my constituents has been a strong advocate for the equality approach to domestic violence in his role as a professional counsellor, mainly due to the incidents of male suicide. Andrew Humphreys talks about the introduction of a local pilot prevention program which, in his opinion, is going down the same path as all the previous strategies. These all miss the bulk of deaths of adult men who are not mentally ill. They make one attempt at suicide and they die. Andrew would argue that the unacceptable high suicide numbers for males in Australia are between 18 and 44. This does not include single victim, unaccountable, accidental, road fatality males. They are often male domestic violence victims who have nowhere to turn.

At this present time, we really need to develop a long-term strategy and have a more in-depth discussion on how best to help everyone deal with the underlying issues. In the first instance, we need to develop emergency assistance for male domestic violence victims. In the second instance, we need strategies to develop antibullying in the workplace, from male toward female and the reverse or from another female. This is a foundation stone that we need to develop. In the third instance, we need to encourage the empowerment of young women in our country and in the nations around us. Another wonderful, inspirational woman that I met in Papua New Guinea, who has become a successful grower, was telling me her story and said, ‘You need to help us bring our men with us, because if you don’t abuse will only increase.” There is evidence in Nordic nations, where their index of gender inequality is probably the best in the world. Their achievement is great, yet they have the highest levels of domestic violence.

I conclude by saying that we can all start this Christmas by being kind to one another. In the next couple of months, almost all faiths have some event to celebrate. May each of you enjoy peace, happiness and health. Look after your loved ones and, if you are battling with somebody you once loved, remember that at some stage you actually loved them. Do not fight over the children. You love them too. Merry Christmas and have a happy and safe holiday.

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