November 30, 2016








Last week I heard my colleague Emma Husar, the member for Lindsay, give a compelling, emotional and brave speech in the House about how domestic violence has affected her life. I know very well the shame that she spoke of last week. For women who have been touched by domestic violence, no matter how much we achieve, no matter how far we go in our lives, there is always just a little part of you that stays broken; you carry around with you, wherever you go, a stain that never quite washes away. And here we are in the year 2016, with more than a century of the women's movement behind us, and there are many things that I am still questioning. I am questioning why we are still talking about what a woman wears. I am confused that we still judge women by what they wear. I am confused that women are still earning less than men. And I am wondering what happened to that idealistic wide-eyed 17-year-old me who sat around with her friends talking about what we would or would not put up with in a partner. I remember saying that, if a man ever raised his hand to me, that would be it, I would be out of there, I would not stay. But I did. I stayed.

Above all, I am confused that we, who call ourselves a progressive nation, who pride ourselves on the status of women, are still a nation in which one woman in four is a victim of domestic violence—that means one in every four women on our streets, one in four women in our workplaces and our schools and one in every four women right here in this place. It is a startling fact and it is one that we must continue to talk about because change does not happen when we are silent. We cannot stay silent on this. That is why the member for Lindsay's brave sharing of her story is so powerful.

Domestic violence is not something that happens to other women somewhere else. It is not something that discriminates. It is not something about which all of us on both sides of this House can say, 'It doesn't affect me.' I must also make the point that it is not just about women; children and men also suffer from domestic family violence—though women, by far, suffer the most. Over the past week or so, I have heard and read many comments and many opinions. I have heard the comment that men are responsible and I have heard the comment that women should take more responsibility for raising men who respect women.

Let me just make this point: there is no blame game here. There is nothing to be gained from placing the responsibility for domestic violence on one group or another, for it is the responsibility of all of us, of every person, every Australian, to contribute to changing attitudes to and behaviours of domestic and family violence. As the mother of two sons, I know that I raised my boys with the clear message that violence is not okay—never, ever—and I take that responsibility very seriously. As a survivor of domestic violence, I will share my story and lend my voice to those of other women to make sure that all women who suffer know that they are not alone and that the shame is not theirs—and I take that responsibility very seriously.

As the representative of my electorate and my community, I will speak out against domestic and family violence here in this House, and I will work towards delivering support services to help those in violent situations in my electorate and programs for domestic violence in Cowan—and I take that responsibility very seriously. As a woman, I will use my voice to empower women and to send a clear message to them to challenge domestic and family violence. I take that responsibility very seriously. And, though I never had a daughter—because I think God looked at me and said, 'No, you're not getting a daughter'—I will always use my voice to tell our daughters that their worth is not measured by the kind of partner that they can attract. You are worth much, much more than that. And I say that accepting behaviours that disrespect women, glossing over them and justifying them as harmless locker room banter contribute to a culture that normalises disrespect. We must all speak out because it affects us all.

I also want to make a point here about accepting a cultural defence against violence and abuse. It is not okay for our judiciary to accept that behaviour which contradicts our Australian values is a valid defence in trials involving abuse and violence against women. Many years ago, I worked in an organisation where we worked with women who had been abused. I remember alerting the authorities to the case of a young girl, a 15-year-old girl from the Afghan community, whose father was abusing her and whose mother was also in a violent situation. The authorities came in and took the girl away, but they soon gave the girl back to her abusive father, citing pressure from within the community and accusations that they had been culturally insensitive. So this kind of abuse is often enabled to continue because it is seen as something that is inherent to culture and because of a fear of being insensitive to minority religions or cultural groups.

I am here to say: no, it is not okay. It is not part of culture and should never be accepted as such. We need to educate our institutions and departments that cultural sensitivity does not mean that we turn a blind eye to cultural violence and abuse and that, first and foremost, our eyes should always be on protecting the people—women, children and men—from family and domestic violence.