MOTION: The house takes note of the addresses regarding the prevention of family violence, led by Ms Rosie Batty, on 26 November 2015.

Debate resumed from earlier this day; motion of Ms RICHARDSON (Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence):

 

That this house takes note of the addresses regarding the prevention of family violence, led by Ms Rosie Batty, on 26 November 2015.
 

Mr EDBROOKE (Frankston) — It is with great pleasure, but also sadness, that I rise to contribute to the take note motion of the address by Rosie Batty. I would like to start by thanking everybody who was involved with organising this very special and unique event. It was a rare opportunity for us all to come together, put aside our day to day political contest and instead focus on an issue of great importance to our community — a national emergency in fact. It was a powerful statement and one that allowed our institution and our community to shine a very bright light into a very, very dark area. Of course as we speak we have a royal commission that is deliberating and the funding is flowing, which is definitely a positive direction to be heading in.
In my electorate of Frankston, Frankston North has the highest rate of police callouts due to domestic violence, which is a sad state of affairs. There is a call for help every eight minutes. We know that one, sometimes two, females are killed every week. It is a scary statistic, and I think it touches everybody. In Victoria we are expecting up to 100 000 child protection notices this financial year, which is another very scary statistic.

 

On the positive side in relation to some of the actions being taken, I thank Ms Mikakos, the Minister for Families and Children, and her staff for recently announcing $1.25 million to boost men’s behaviour change programs. I will talk about that in a little while, but I think that is an area that we definitely need to be funding and making some movement in.

 

At a local level we have got some terrific services that cater for domestic violence victims, and I would like to give them a mention. We have got the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange, known as WIRE; the WAYSS Family Violence Crisis Service; the Mornington Peninsula Domestic Violence Service; and of course the Peninsula Community Legal Centre. We have had domestic violence forums, and I recently took part in a forum where the debate was on the question, ‘Can the media prevent domestic violence?’. This is all about bringing an awareness to our community about something which, like I said, has been kept in a very dark place, somewhere where we just did not want to go.

 

I have never experienced discrimination based on my gender, and I do not know how that feels; and I have never had a partner abuse me in any way — financially, physically or mentally — and I do not know how that feels. However, I have been to many forums about domestic violence, and I always cringe when a male who does not work in the industry or in any of the stakeholder groups and does not deal with victims of domestic violence or work in that sector gets up and makes a speech about themselves and what they know. I am certainly not going to do that today.

 

If I can, though, I would like to share with members a very steep learning curve which I was thinking of when Ms Batty was making her contribution that day. I guess my learning curve was from zero; I found out I knew absolutely zero about the scourge of domestic violence. I was brought up in a family that believed domestic violence was due to poor socio economic circumstances and that only people in homes affected by their low socio economic status were affected by this, and that either drug or alcohol abuse might come into it as well.

 

I was also brought up to ask, ‘Why didn’t the woman leave?’. I kept that view because I thought that was the way to go. But in 2002 while working as a firefighter my station at Frankston was involved in responding to a murder suicide. A 41 year old woman, her 16 year old son and her 10 year old daughter were found beaten to death, piled in a corner in the bedroom and set alight. The second truck responded to the husband, a 46 year old male who had decided he wanted to drive his car with an open barbecue cylinder into a pylon. It all sounds very dramatic, and it was — they were very tragic circumstances — but do you know what we said? We said, ‘Why didn’t she just leave?’. These were first responders. I know that there are some members in this house, including the member for Gembrook and some others who have been police officers, who have seen things like this, but it still does not change our perception of what is actually happening, which is wrong. We are still asking, ‘Why didn’t these people actually leave?’, when I believe the question we should be asking is, ‘Why is it actually happening?’. If we ask that question, we can actually treat the problem from the roots instead of just treating the symptoms.

 

So years went by, and I was still asking the question whenever I heard about this in the news and whenever I heard those terrible statistics of 100 000 child protection notices in the financial year and up to two women dying each week from family violence. I was still always asking myself, ‘Why don’t these people leave?’. I did not quite understand it until it happened to a member of my family, and it was a hard lesson to have that phone call from my relative. She had been fairly horribly abused, and it was that day, and only that day, that my mind triggered the thought, ‘Why did that happen?’. It was not about why my relative did not leave.

 

I guess what I am trying to illustrate from a male perspective — and I think I talk for most males, although I am probably not qualified to — is that until we are actually involved in a situation a lot of males are never going to realise, unless they are confronted with some information and some education, that this is a gender inequality issue. This is a male issue. We do not have two blokes dying per week; we have two females dying per week. Like I said, in Frankston North, we have the highest call outs for police attendance to domestic violence in the state, and it is a very, very scary thing. That is a very hard lesson for a young, white, Anglo Saxon male with a privileged lifestyle to learn.

 

I am certainly not going to say I am the smartest bloke in the room, and I am certainly not going to say I am the dimmest either, but my example does show that, just as domestic violence shows no pecuniary, social or cultural bounds, I think the depth of men’s acceptance that this is indeed a gender inequality issue and indeed a male issue has barely touched the sides. I would go so far as to reinforce that if we are talking about males who are not affected and who have not seen this happen, they give very little consideration to it because it is not touching them.
What I can say though is that the media has a very important role to play here. One example that I would give is that of Billy Brownless and his throwaway line as the MC of the Hawthorn Citizens Junior Football Club luncheon. That line was, ‘Here come the strippers’, to a mother and daughter who had walked in.

 

This is an issue of how women face so much disrespect every day. Because they are hearing crap like that, they face so much disrespect, and this is where that domestic violence starts. I am sure women can take a joke when it is a joke, but abusing women, whether physically, emotionally or verbally, is not a joke, and it should never be made out to be something that is light hearted. We should be stepping on it. It is time for organisations to step up and make a difference but not only from a female perspective. When I go to these forums I look around and I see mostly females. The stark reality is — and I have spoken to Rosie about this — that we are preaching to the converted. We need to be getting these forums into footy clubs, fire stations, police stations, ambulance stations and other places with majority male workforces and start educating them that this is a gender issue.

 

Anecdotally the example I provided in my initial statements, while being quite sad, shows the amount it took for someone like me to be touched by domestic violence and realise that it is a massive problem. I think a lot of friends I have now are very challenged by my educated opinions on this — that is, ‘We are actually a problem. For you to sit here and crack jokes like that, that is a problem’. I get, ‘Man, you’ve changed’. Yes, I have changed, because I have realised that this is a real issue that we need to act on now, and my level of acceptance is not as shallow as it used to be.

 

In conclusion, I reiterate that the driver of family violence is inequality, and we should not stand for it, just as Rosie Batty did not stand for it. We do not have to accept that this is our future, because we do have the capacity to change. It is just now that we are starting to get that push, and we have got to keep that momentum going to get that change.