Matter of Public Importance about Domestic and Family Violence

23 November 2016

Mister Speaker

I am pleased to rise to support the motion moved by the member for Griffith. For most of my career I have had mainly positive interaction with families. However, there has always been some exposure to family violence. Having worked on call at my local hospital with a busy paediatric and maternity unit, I have seen some bad things that have been etched in my memory.

I remember two twins—one of whom died; the other survived with severe cerebral palsy—who at eight weeks of age had their skulls smashed so severely that when I resuscitated them it felt like their heads were the smashed shell of a boiled egg. I remember the child shaken and bashed so severely at the age of three that she never saw, walked or talked again. I remember the two-year-old boy who was so severely punched that his liver was described as looking like red jelly at autopsy. I remember the six-year-old girl who was starved to death in her own home. I remember the mother made hemiplegic and unable to care for her children following an attack by her partner. So these are real things, and they have been real things to me in my career.

We know that there is a strong correlation with violence against children and violence against women. Some of the women I have seen with their children have been murdered by their partners. I know that there is more that we could do. Firstly, let me say that I abhor the phrase 'domestic violence'. It implies a somewhat benign event. This is not a benign event. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I have seen. Secondly, I do know that all of us in this parliament abhor violence in families, and we are at one in wanting to deal with it.

I think it is a great thing that men are taking responsibility for crimes that are predominantly perpetrated by men. We must also educate our young people, especially those exposed to family violence, about its causes and about prevention strategies. Most of all, we need to fund legal support and access to housing for those women and children fleeing violent households. Domestic violence is pernicious and it is evil. We have done a little better of late with recognising the evil, even though for many that recognition has come too late.

Violence in the home is seen, properly, as a national problem, but it needs to be dealt with at all levels of government. We do now have a national plan and a national approach which, in the broad, has widespread support not just amongst law-makers but also in the community. We should also have a national registry of perpetrators of family violence. For example, when the ACT government recently imposed—and in an election year—a flat rate of $30 per household for a Safer Families Levy to address the consequences of family violence there was barely a ripple of disapproval. And that is a good thing.

But it is the pernicious side to violence and its pervasive effect on families and on children that make it so hard to contemplate, to explain and to address. Good intentions are not enough. The job of governing extends beyond just passing laws and saying the right things at the right time, or even appropriating the necessary funding. It involves ensuring that what we do actually works. Governments especially need to ensure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. And we need to be more open about our approach to family violence. Stripping community legal services of over a third of their funding makes no sense if you are genuine about addressing family violence and providing support and protection to those who most need it.

One of the few free services that provide comprehensive assistance for women and families escaping family violence are Community Legal Centres. The Macarthur Legal Centre in my electorate includes a Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service. That centre and those like it provide information, referrals, advocacy and support for women and children when they most need it. They help with the housing department, Centrelink and police referrals. That is as you would expect. Let's give the people doing the job, and who have been doing it for many, many years, the appropriate resources and the help that they deserve and need. I have seen many good people try their best to make life better for those traumatised and trapped by the fear and the physical reality of violence in the home.

We have finally realised that this is not an isolated or localised problem; it is more akin to a national emergency. There is impetus for meaningful change right across our country and across our parliament.