International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (10:23): I rise to support the statement made by the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, the Hon. Justine Elliot. Like, I would hope, every member of parliament, I share the very serious concerns that she has raised along with many others in government about the safety of women in our nation. This statement was made last year and, sadly, everything the assistant minister had to say at the time still rings tragically true today.

It's been an especially tragic year for Australian women. We have seen it on the news. The grassroots group Counting Dead Women Australia have recorded that 39 women have been killed by acts of male violence just this year alone. These are women who have been killed by intimate partners—people who purported to have loved them. They have been found dead in their own homes, in places where they should have been safe. Tragically, for many women, we know that home is one of the deadliest places they can be. They have also been found dead in shopping centres, while going outside to take a run and get some exercise. Some have been found dead in their neighbour's house while they have sought help.

This is a deeply disturbing matter for our nation and I reflect on the last woman who was killed, only four days ago, Sarah Miles. She is aged in her 40s, up in the Northern Rivers area, and she died of critical head injuries that were allegedly inflicted by her intimate partner, a person who had been in her life for a matter of only a few months. She was alive—unconscious but breathing—when the police arrived, but died before she could even get the help she needed. I actually don't have words to describe this anymore. 'Tragic' seems far too kind a word, almost. It is a catastrophic set of incidents that lead intimate partners in particular to end up violently killing the people that they purport to care about and love. It's unfathomable to many of us, but it is not something we can turn away from, as uncomfortable and devastating as it is for families. I know very few people that are actually untouched by the scourge of domestic, family and sexual violence. Many people in this House, if they have not had direct experience, have some lived experience via their families, friends, work colleagues or neighbours. It's not something any of us can or should turn away from, as uncomfortable as those truths are.

If women are not safe, then that is not something that a nation can sweep under the carpet. Gone are the days when we didn't talk about domestic, family and sexual violence and that's a very good thing, but we know that it is still a big shame for lots of families. We have to do what we can in this place to ensure that we are elevating the issue, that we are doing everything we can as a government, and that we seek to bring all levels of government in all jurisdictions with us in making absolutely every effort, because we know violence can happen to women of any age, from every cultural and religious background—people of different jobs, different levels of education, different kinds of income-earning capacity, living in different areas and leading different lives. There are no discriminatory boundaries that domestic, family and sexual violence will ignore. It's prevalent everywhere, and it impacts us all. We know the stories, I shared the horrific one of Sarah Miles from just four days ago, but she is one of 39 women who have been killed by their intimate partners this year alone, and we have only just started July.

This is not the type of world that we want for our girls to grow up in. We don't want them fearing for their lives or safety, and we don't want our boys to think that this is normal. We need this violence to stop and we need our culture, our behaviour and our attitudes towards women to change. Indeed, the way we think about masculinity and the growth and development of our boys in Australia needs to change.

Each year in parliament, for the last 10 years, I have stood in this House to read the names of all those women who are killed by acts of violence in Australia. It is one of the toughest speeches I give in this House, and it is always shockingly too long. Last year there were 64 women killed by acts of violence in Australia. According to the numbers now, in the early days of July—as I said, 39—we are set to, tragically, exceed that number in 2024. It's not a speech I look forward to delivering at all. The ABS data says that one in four women have experienced violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15. The same source tells us that that violence is seldom isolated.

The Albanese Labor government have set ourselves a goal of ending violence against women and children within a generation. A lot of people told us we were crazy, setting ourselves up for failure, and I don't dispute for one moment that this is an ambitious target, but I tell you what: it's not one that any of us can afford not to achieve. I don't want this government, or any government after us, to lower their ambition, to somehow think that we don't need to act with a great sense of urgency, commitment and determination to end violence against women and children within a generation.

We recognise that gender inequality is one of the driving forces of violence against women. That is why we've released our Working for women, a 10-year national strategy to achieve gender equality. Addressing gender based violence is priority area No. 1. Those actions have been well mapped out by our respective ministers. Indeed, I've made speeches in this parliament as well. There is a big number—$3.4 billion—attached to supporting women's safety. That may be an eye-watering amount when you just talk about money, but we should talk about what that means on the ground, because that is a little bit more useful for people. It will mean improved justice responses, for example, to sexual violence. We're funding that ALRC inquiry to examine what more we can do. We're improving our reporting and data collection so that we've got a better understanding of domestic and family violence, and boosting response times and victim-survivor experiences. We've made the family law system safer and simpler for families and children, and we're the first government ever to legislate 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. The budget also provided a lot of other measures, including the Leaving Violence Program, delivering $5,000 of upfront support for women when they need it most. And there are many more programs that will be rolled out over the coming year.

My greatest wish is that one year I won't have to stand in this parliament to recite the names of women killed by acts of male violence in Australia. That would be when we could say in this place that we've done what we need to do as governments. We should all recommit ourselves to ending violence against women and children now and forever.