Culture of silence aids domestic violence

Published on Tue 3 December 2019 11:41am

When there is a problem that is so harmful and so deeply entrenched, we have to be prepared to assume that we have all been conditioned to some degree into a kind of blindness as to what is going on; we don’t see it, we look past it and we stay silent when we should speak up.

Mr Wilson (12:49pm) — I’m glad to speak to this motion. I thank the member for Lilley for bringing it forward, and all members for contributing to what is a very important debate. International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women reminds us that the struggle for women’s basic rights is acute and desperate, and that women everywhere exist in circumstances where the threat of physical and sexual violence is never far away. No-one should kid themselves that it isn’t the case in Australia too. We should remember, talk about and do something about the fact that eliminating violence against women is an effort that needs all of us and should be happening everywhere—in our families, in our schools and workplaces, at sporting and cultural events, in conversations and on our streets.

The motion sets out the hard and confronting facts of domestic violence here in Australia. It should shock us to acknowledge that intimate partner violence contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 than any other preventable risk factor in this country. On average, one woman is murdered by her partner each week, and across Australia one in five women will have experienced sexual violence, and one in six women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner.

For First Nations women in Western Australia, as many as one in two women have experienced violence and abuse. Indeed, WA police responded to a complaint of family or domestic violence every 10 minutes. While we know the rate of reporting in WA has increased by 50 per cent since 2009, data indicates that still only 20 per cent of victims make a police report. In terms of all homicide offences committed in the calendar year 2018, WA recorded the highest number of any state relating to family and domestic violence.

The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, established by the former Labor government, is both an action plan and an ongoing survey of attitudes towards gender equality and violence. We should all be concerned about the fact that the 2017-18 progress report notes a decline in the number of people who recognise that a significant majority of perpetrators are men. It’s even more concerning to note the proportion of people who believe that gender inequality is no longer an issue in this country. On the subject of workplace gender equality it’s welcome that in the past year there’s been a 13 per cent jump in employers who are implementing policies for domestic and family violence, and an 8.9 per cent increase in offers of paid domestic violence leave.

I want to recognise the work of the McGowan Labor Government in addressing the unacceptable levels of family and domestic violence in my state of Western Australia and pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Simone McGurk, the state member for Fremantle and the first minister appointed in Western Australia with explicit responsibility for the prevention of family and domestic violence. Through the leadership of Minister McGurk, the WA government has delivered two additional women’s refuges, expanded culturally appropriate services for First Nations people and for people of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and has ensured that all public servants have access to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave entitlement. That was a policy that federal Labor took to the last election in respect of Commonwealth public servants, and I urge the government to take up the reform.

I recognise that this is a debate in which there is strong bipartisan support for the motion, but it is not an area in which we can be coy about the realities, and the reality is that this government cut $44 million in funding to support safe houses. It also tried in the last parliament to cut funds to community legal centres, which provide crucial support to women and children escaping violence. I know that just last week Minister McGurk drew attention to the Safer Venues WA Survey, which found that 67.5 per cent of Western Australians have experienced harassment at a live music or entertainment venue, with four out of five of those cases being experienced by women. She was joined in highlighting this issue by local musician Stella Donnelly, whose song ‘Boys will be boys’ calls out the prevalence of abuse against women and the tendency to excuse that behaviour in men, often by finding ways to question the conduct of victims. It has to stop.

When there is a problem that is so harmful and so deeply entrenched, we have to be prepared to assume that we have all been conditioned to some degree into a kind of blindness as to what is going on; we don’t see it, we look past it and we stay silent when we should speak up. I’m sure that I have been guilty of that. I reckon we all have. This occasion that we mark through the motion is an opportunity to reflect on how we all need to look harder at ourselves and the world around us to see what’s going on, to say something and to do something about it.

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