Turnbull must act on domestic violence now

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Brendan O'Connor makes the obvious point on @ABC730

If a Government can afford to spend $12 billion on fighter planes, it can find some more money to help victims of domestic abuse and make preventing this crime a national priority, writes Alex Garner.

In Australia, a woman is killed nearly every week, and a man, every ten days, due to domestic violence.

Between 2004 and 2014, 83 children died due to family abuse related circumstances.

Domestic violence is a confronting issue. It affects women, it affects men, and it affects children of all ages, culture and race.

It is insidious, it is pervasive, but most frighteningly, it is hidden.

Domestic violence is an issue that has for too long, been taboo. It is an issue which for many Australians, is so inconceivable, and so horrifyingly unjust, it’s far easier to pretend it’s not happening.

But it is happening, and it’s happening right now; in our homes, in our streets, in our neighbourhoods, in our nation. At midday today, police in Australia would have dealt with at least 300 domestic violence matters. By 6pm this number will more than double. But what’s most concerning, is that this figure almost certainly underestimates the real extent of the problem.

While the recent public focus on domestic violence demonstrates a step in the right direction, the gravity and incidence of attacks continues to increase. We know the facts. We have the statistics. So why does domestic violence continue to haunt our nation?

Because domestic violence is distressing, and while it’s easy to turn away and say ‘that’s not my business,’ the damage to a family exposed to domestic violence is everyone’s business. It is our responsibility to stand up, speak out and make clear that Australia does not, under any circumstances, condone domestic violence.

So where do we start?

To answer this question, I want to tell you a story about a courageous 14-year-old girl who I will refer to as Rachel. Five months ago, following the suicidal death of her mother, Rachel started a petition and wrote to the NSW Government about her personal experiences of domestic violence. For many years, as far as Rachel was concerned, the regular beatings and emotional abuse of herself, her mother and her brothers was normal and acceptable. In her letter, Rachel explained that she believed if domestic violence was addressed within school, students like herself would realise they’re not alone and would be more inclined to seek help.

Rachel’s petition went viral. With over 103,000 supporters, on the 3rd of July, the NSW Minister for Education confirmed that as of 2016, changes to the Personal Development, Health and Education syllabus would incorporate a specific focus on domestic violence prevention. The minister for the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, Pru Goward, revealed that it was Rachel’s extraordinary bravery in speaking out that ultimately triggered the reforms.

To build a generation free from domestic violence, a cultural change needs to be enacted; we need to teach our children what’s right and what’s wrong. We need to teach them what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable. And we need to assure them that our nation will not stop advocating for change until domestic violence is brought to an end.

While I am confident education and recognition are key to overcoming this scourge in our society, I believe it is the responsibility of our Government to take the lead, to take action, and ensure the provision of adequate services and funding.

Unfortunately, this is not happening and, despite the recent public focus and calls for increased Government funding to support victims of domestic violence and violence prevention efforts, at the end of 2014 the Federal Government abolished the $21 million Housing and Homelessness Grants program.

Following this shocking cut to funding, in March 2015, our then prime minister, Tony Abbott, described domestic violence as a "tragic and deadly epidemic" and announced the establishment of a new Advisory Panel on violence against women. Then followed a commitment by the Council of Australian Governments to take urgent collective action to address domestic violence. It seemed our Government was finally ready to take action.

However, the 2015-2016 Budget, released in May, proved otherwise, allocating only minor funding to a new national awareness campaign and barely increasing funding toward both the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children and the Office of Women who are responsible for women’s policies and programs on gender equality, women’s economic empowerment and opportunity, safety and leadership.

Domestic violence is the main cause of homelessness in Australia and, without adequate funding, we cannot give victims of domestic violence the support they need and the ability to escape from an abusive household. A budget that does not do that is a budget that continues the silence on domestic violence. This is not acceptable.

For Leila Alvani this failure of the Australian budget ultimately cost her her life. Leila was turned away from dozens of women’s shelters until, at just 26, her ex-husband viciously stabbed her to death with a pair of scissors.

How many more lives are going to be taken before the Government realises that change needs to implemented? That funding needs to be allocated? And that it needs to happen now? How many more women, children and men, are going to suffer at the hands of someone they should have been able to trust?

The time is now.

If a Government can afford to fund more than $12 billion toward joint strike fighters, it had better find some more money to help victims of domestic abuse and make preventing domestic violence a national priority.

The time is now.

Two weeks ago, the Federal Senate published its final report and recommendations in regards to domestic violence in Australia. The report calls on the Government to reverse its cuts to homelessness funding, and to provide more funding for current and future domestic violence prevention programs. While this is reassuring, I will not be convinced until the Government starts taking clear, decisive and fully funded action. Anything less is just a distraction.

The time is now.

Domestic violence is distressing, it is confronting and it is destructive. But until we stare this issue in the face, stand up for the victims, and make domestic violence a national priority, Australian citizens are going to continue to be murdered.

It is time for all of us to ask ourselves about our culture, to ask ourselves about our attitude and to ask what can we do as neighbours, as family and as friends? What can each one of us do about this appalling scourge in our society?

Indeed, domestic violence is not just an issue for the Government, but the Government must take the lead, take action and start providing adequate services and funding. And we as Australian citizens cannot stop pushing the Government until this happens.

The time is now.

You can read more by Alex Garner on her blog

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