Federal Parliament - International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

December 07, 2020

Dr ALY: I thank the member for Newcastle for bringing this issue to the House. I also thank every member in this House who has spoken on this very important issue and for the contributions they have made on this motion today. I would like to note that a group called Parliamentarians for Action to Reduce Violence against Women and Children has been started. The three conveners of that group are me, the member for Reid and Senator Larissa Waters. We launched that group on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with Our Watch. That day marked the beginning of 16 days of activism. As other members here today have noted, 16 days is simply not enough. In too many parts of the world, and for too long, being born a girl means that you start life at a disadvantage and that you carry that disadvantage with you throughout life—economic disadvantage, social disadvantage, lack of access to education, and being subject to barbaric practices such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, violence and slavery.

In Australia, we are not immune. So far this year, 45 women have been murdered by a partner or former partner, and one Australian woman in three has experienced physical or sexual violence by the time they are just 15. Women in Australia have a lot to be thankful for, but we cannot celebrate our success in this country in terms of gender equality simply because there are more of us here in the House—especially not when many of our sisters, mothers, aunties and daughters are still suffering the sting of inequality. We can make a difference, but not through words and platitudes. We need action. As a start, we need to recognise that violence, and violence against women, is not always physical. Psychological abuse in the form of coercive control has a lasting impact. Manipulation, surveillance, isolation, degradation, humiliation and threats are all part of coercive control behaviours.

Coercive control is seen as a predictor of violence, but for several reasons it is often missed. The first reason is that, in a relationship where one party is the perpetrator, coercive control becomes normalised, it becomes part of that relationship. We need to raise awareness and education about what constitutes a healthy relationship and why coercive control behaviours are not normal. The second reason is that coercive control is not a crime. It is not against the law in Australia for a male to consistently belittle his partner, to control her finances, to control her movements, to trap her in the home, to keep her from seeing family and friends, to threaten her, to hold her in fear and to chip away at her every single day until there is nothing left of the woman that she was.

Criminalising coercive behaviour, as they have in other countries like Scotland, where the domestic violence act now recognises a course of conduct offence, is a start. It is perhaps the most important start because it signifies political will to take proactive steps towards addressing violence against women and against children. But it can never be the whole solution. We need education and we need to reach those women who are most isolated and, frankly, least likely to know or care about what goes on in this place. We need to reach women who don't turn on the TV and watch parliamentary proceedings. We need to reach women who are just trying to survive another day without getting beaten, punched, kicked or put down. We can't do that from here. We need to resource and fund those who can, the frontline workers and services who have access to some of the most isolated women. We can stand here—I can stand here—and speak about this issue every day for hours, but that's not enough. I know that. I urge everybody here to continue to do more, to start by listening and consulting those who have experienced domestic violence, and I say to them, 'Your voice matters.'