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Wren's Week: The Australian domestic violence epidemic

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The senseless murder of Hannah Clarke and her children sent a shockwave through her community and the nation (Screenshot via YouTube)

Domestic violence statistics in Australia are growing worse and our government must share the blame, writes John Wren.

I WANT TO SPEND a bit of time this week discussing Australia’s ongoing serious problem with child abuse and domestic violence and how the Liberal Government’s policies are actually making both worse (the two are often linked). It was a hot topic this week after the tragic murder-suicide in Brisbane of Hannah Clarke and her three young children by her estranged husband, Rowan Baxter.

The immediate response by the Murdoch press, in particular, were headlines such as Hannah Baxter dies after suffering burns.... The correct headline should have been ‘Mother and her three children murdered by violent ex-husband’. This is typical of the Murdoch press — they will often go out of their way to defend the perpetrator of these crimes at the expense of the victims. By way of example, in another incident, we also saw Andrew Bolt on Murdoch’s Sky News doing this defending a paedophile teacher at a school in Melbourne this week.

New Idea magazine even described Rowan Baxter as an ex-NRL star. Baxter was contracted for one year to the New Zealand Warriors and never played a first-grade game. Hardly a “star”.

The Queensland Police public statement even suggested that Rowan Baxter may have been driven too far, somehow implying that Hannah Clarke was somehow partly to blame for her ex-husband’s extraordinary act of senseless violence. Police attitudes really need to change. Imagine if someone assaulted Scott Morrison but was “let off” because his policies had driven the assailant to act as he did. Perhaps it’s the excuse the man in Tasmania should have used when he headbutted then PM Tony Abbott.

But let’s get to the point of the article — domestic violence is an epidemic in Australia. The statistics make sobering reading. On average, one woman a week is killed by their partner. The combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.7 billion a year with costs rising exponentially in the future.

The Morrison Government loves to trot out the mantra that they are “keeping Australians safe” as their excuse for ever more draconian migration laws, monitoring laws and encryption laws, but their inaction on domestic violence and, in many cases, actions that actually make it worse belie the hollowness of the marketing spin that the phrase really is.

The Abbott Government cut funding to domestic violence programs and the Turnbull and Morrison Governments have continued that trend. It was suggested that Hannah Clarke had sought help to escape her violent husband but was unable to secure support through facilities already denuded by year after year of defunding. If this is true, then the Morrison Government through its budget cuts must bear some culpability for the death of her and her children.

On the protection of children, we also saw Morrison planning to use the Defence Signals Directorate to use cybercrime expertise to spy on Australians, allegedly to (you guessed it) “keep Australians safe”. This is a tired old trope that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Morrison have used many times to justify their spying on Australians.

Of course, the threat of online child pornography, grooming and terrorism are real, but can also be used as a cloak to investigate other Australians for activities that the government-of-the-day may consider subversive to their own political agendas. The use of covert digital monitoring is the 21st-century version of East Germany’s Stasiland. It is totalitarian and would be the fascist Dutton’s wet dream.

Morrison, in his press conference regarding this, made the statement:

“If I thought someone was abusing a child somewhere, I would kick the door down, I would go and try to rescue that child.”

Let’s consider this for a minute or two. As Immigration Minister, he oversaw the camps on Manus and Nauru wherein thousands of incidents and children were being abused by guards and other detainees. He did precisely nothing about it. They are allegedly still going on.

Morrison’s religious mentor, Hillsong’s Brian Houston, also famously covered up the paedophile activities of his father, Frank Houston. One must ask the question, then: would Morrison have kicked down Frank’s door if he knew what was going on behind it? I think most of us can guess the answer to that.

So why does the Liberal Government do so little to reduce violence against women and children? Part of the issue lies in Morrison’s Pentecostal belief system — it preaches that women must submit to their husbands, be subordinate to them. Pentecostalism has many strains. In some, it is even acceptable to discipline an insubordinate wife with violence.

Pentecostalism also advocates so-called “gay conversion therapy”. Gay conversion therapy is nonsense. One cannot choose to be gay any more than one can choose to be heterosexual. To paraphrase Lady Gaga, we are each born that way — gay, straight or something in between. The premise of gay conversion therapy is that homosexuality is a “choice” and that a gay child (or adult) can effectively be tortured until they see the error of their ways and become straight again.

What it really means is that they are tortured until they lie about becoming straight. If the premise is correct, then straight conversion therapy must also work, in that straight people could be tortured into turning gay. They never mention that, of course. Make no mistake, GCT is a form of violence and should be banned (it already is in Victoria).

Violence, of course, is illegal under both Federal and State laws. However, think on this, under Morrison’s proposed religious freedom laws, disciplining one’s wife and children with violence could become legal as could gay conversion therapy if it is part of one’s faith.

Please note, I have referred to Pentecostalism above as it is relevant to Morrison, but domestic violence is prevalent in many faiths — other Christian strains, as well as conservative Islamic and Jewish sects. Nor is it restricted to religious people. I’m sure atheists indulge in it as well.

Morrison’s faith is one aspect of the reasoning behind the lack of support for domestic violence action. Another is Morrison’s desperate quest for a surplus. Domestic violence largely happens behind closed doors. It’s only when it bursts into the public realm, as it did with the Baxter family this week, that it hits front pages. Cutting funding is an easy, if immoral, way of saving money as it is largely invisible to most people. It’s not a conversation for polite company, even though it happens in every layer of society.

The solution to domestic violence is threefold:

  1. relentless education;
  2. zero tolerance within society and the police, as a reflection of society; and
  3. faith leaders of all stripes must actively advocate against it.

We must all play our part to defeat it. If you don’t act or speak out to stop domestic violence when you see it, you are part of the problem.

You can sign the petition to have John Wren reinstated on Twitter here.

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