Monday, November 21, 2011

Debate resumed on the motion by Mr Hayes:

That this House:

(1) notes that 25 November 2011 marks White Ribbon Day, the symbol of the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women;

(2) recognises that White Ribbon day aims to prevent violence against women by increasing public awareness and education by challenging attitudes and behaviours that allow violence to continue;

(3) asks all Australian men to challenge these attitudes and behaviours by joining ‘My Oath Campaign‘ and taking the oath ‘I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women‘;

(4) notes with concern that one in three women will experience physical violence, and one in five will experience sexual violence over their lifetime;

(5) understands that domestic and family violence are primary causes of homelessness;

(6) acknowledges the community cost of violence against women and their children to the Australian economy was estimated to be $13.6 billion in 2008-09, and that if we take no action to shine a light on this violence, that cost will hit an estimated $15.6 billion in 2021-22; and

(7) asks all Members to show that they are challenging violence against women by wearing a white ribbon or wristband on White Ribbon Day.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:04): On two previous occasions I have spoken in this place about the importance of White Ribbon Day and to condemn violence against women in our community. In speaking today in support of the motion by the member for Fowler, I commend the House for its level of bipartisanship on this issue and seek to highlight the challenge that still confronts us. I think it is worth noting that all eight speakers on this motion today are men. I think that sends an important message to women throughout Australia that at least in this place it is a key issue of concern and that the men in this place are determined to do their bit to raise awareness of domestic violence affecting women.

It should be self-evident that violence against women cannot be tolerated in any circumstances, but we continue to experience a disturbingly high level of family violence in my community and throughout Australia. In fact, the Latrobe Valley Police Service Area is reported to have the highest incidence of family violence in the state of Victoria, and other parts of Gippsland are also infamous for the rate of crime against the person.

Family violence often carries the tag of 'domestic violence', which I think in some way sanitises the crime. Crimes in the home, particularly physical and sexual assaults, are often hidden, and because they occur in a domestic setting there is some reluctance in our community to intervene. I fear that the old saying that what happens behind closed doors should remain behind closed doors has provided a protective armour for the criminals who prey on children and women in the home environment. It is up to us in this place to pull down that shield and not shy away from the difficult and often confronting issues associated with family violence.

We do need to shine a light in the dark places where these crimes occur and protect some of our most vulnerable citizens from harm. We need to send a message to the thugs who will commit these crimes that they have no right to privacy in their homes if they are using those walls to hide their violent crimes from scrutiny. Such violence is often hidden by the victim's feelings of shame and guilt, along with an overriding fear of the perpetrator. We need to send a message to the victims that they are not alone. If these crimes were committed on the street there would be community outrage, but because they are often hidden in the home they too often escape attention.

It is with this in mind that I am greatly heartened by the comments of the new Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Ken Lay, who was reported in the Weekend Australian as demanding a renewed focus on domestic violence in Victoria. In the article Mr Lay calls for a new public awareness campaign to prevent women and children from being assaulted in their homes:

The interesting thing for me is understanding that a woman or child is more likely to get assaulted in their home than they are on the street. That just underlines the fact that it is an issue that is important, it's an issue that, as a community, I don't think we have got on top of.

White Ribbon Day is an occasion for us all to refocus our efforts as a nation and as community leaders that it is never okay to strike a woman or to intimidate, bully, harass or sexually assault another person. Today I appeal again to all the men in my electorate, the electorate of Gippsland, to join me in denouncing violence against women and to join me in being a positive role model for our sons, our nephews and our brothers. By our actions, we need to show all men and boys the right way to behave—to respect, nurture and care for women in our society and to treat them as equals.

I commend the member for Fowler for bringing this motion to the House, and I commend all the members who have spoken on this issue and who will speak in a moment's time. I believe that White Ribbon Day is an important occasion but that it should not be viewed in isolation or seen as a single day for raising these issues. We must remain committed to raising these issues on the other 364 days of the year. We need to remain eternally vigilant and be willing to take action when we suspect that violence is occurring in the home. Staying silent is not an option for us. Too many of our mothers, our sisters and our female friends are experiencing violence at the hands of men they know, often in their own homes. We must do more to remove violence or the threat of violence from their lives. I commend the motion and commend the member of Fowler for bringing it to the House.

(Time expired)

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