darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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November 23, 2009

Debate resumed, on motion by Mrs Mirabella:

That the House:

(1) recognises that Wednesday 25 November 2009 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the symbol of which has become the White Ribbon;

(2) applauds the work done by the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia to raise awareness amongst all Australians of the fact that many women and their children live with violence, or the threat of violence every day of their lives;

(3) notes that approximately 350,000 women will experience some form of physical violence and 125,000 women will experience sexual violence each year;

(4) encourages all Australians to speak out against all forms of violence and when necessary take action against violence that may be occurring within their community;

(5) notes that violence against women costs the Australian people $13.6 billion annually;

(6) notes that the Rudd Government has squandered $16.2 billion on the Deputy Prime Minister’s Building the Education Revolution program while committing less than one third of a per cent of that amount ($55.2 million) to address this insidious problem; and

(7) condemns the Government for failing to commit any new money in response to the Time for Action Report while rebadging initiatives which were funded under the previous Coalition Government’s Women’s Safety Agenda.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (7.11 pm) — I rise to speak in support of the motion. I commend the member for Hindmarsh on his presentation and the spirit of bipartisanship which he extended across the chamber in relation to the issue of violence against women—in particular the comments he made in relation to zero tolerance. It is never acceptable to have any violence at all in our community directed at women. I commend the member for Indi for bringing this issue to the attention of the House tonight. As our electorates share a boundary in the high country of Victoria, I am sure the member will agree that many of our constituents share similar views on a whole range of rural and regional issues. With respect to the rights and safety of women, it is highly recognised in both our communities.

This Wednesday, people from across the world will unite in an effort to highlight the need to stamp out violence against women in a celebration known as White Ribbon Day. The recent history of White Ribbon Day dates back to a group of Canadian men in 1991 who, I understand, saw it as their responsibility to encourage a change in their community attitudes after the murder of 14 women in Montreal. They wore white ribbons to signify their view that violence against women was completely unacceptable, which they hoped would help to gather support from the broader community, especially men. That tradition has continued to expand throughout the world—so much so that we will see hundreds of thousands of participants across Australia on Wednesday. They will be participating in White Ribbon Day and raising funds from the sale of white ribbons which will go towards the implementation of a range of strategies to reduce the incidence of violence against women in our local communities.

Before I continue into the other aspects of the motion currently before the House, I would like to take the time to shed more light on what the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia identifies as the key reasons for participating in White Ribbon Day:

* Wearing a White Ribbon is not a badge of purity or a badge of perfection. It does not mean that the wearer has perfect relationships.

* It means that this man believes that violence towards women is unacceptable.

* It is a visible sign that the wearer does not support or condone the use of violence against women.

I am sure everyone in the House will agree that this is a noble and worthwhile cause to support.

However, despite the strong support for White Ribbon Day amongst leaders in our community and throughout the world, we see violence directed at women continuing in our society today. The motion by the member for Indi referred to the fact that approximately 350,000 women will experience some form of physical violence and 125,000 women will experience sexual violence each year. Women often experience violence at the hands of men they know, and the abuse is often repeated. Breaking that cycle is incredibly difficult for many of the women involved.

I believe it is to our collective national shame that there are still this many cases of violence against women occurring every year. I have spoken on this issue in the past, and I commend other members for continuing to raise the issue in this place, as I believe it will take community leadership from members of parliament and the battle will not be won on any one day. It will require a level of support for events such as White Ribbon Day to be continued and for goodwill to be pursued throughout the year. White Ribbon Day is an opportunity for us to focus our attention and to redouble our efforts for the ongoing commitment that will be required in the longer term. There needs to be a change in culture around the way violence against women is viewed in our society. It is never okay and there can never be any justification for physical violence, sexual abuse or bullying, harassment or intimidation of women.

I have commended action in the past to establish the national council for the prevention of violence against women, and we must continue to implement initiatives and programs that help prevent further violence against women and provide refuge and support for women who have experienced violence. Lives are broken and families are torn apart when this violence occurs in the domestic situation, and we need to be continually vigilant to help women get their lives back on track.

The motion before the House today also notes that violence against women costs the Australian people $13.6 billion annually, and the national council’s plan for Australia to reduce violence against women and their children from 2009 to 2021 states that if there is no reduction in current rates it will cost the economy an estimated $15.6 billion in about 10 years time. It does give a sense of the size of the problem we are faced with here today. The effects of violence against women are extensive and further support is needed if we are to improve the current situation.

I take up the member for Hindmarsh’s comments regarding the need for a bipartisan approach. It is not a question of deciding which government gives more or anything else like that tonight. There is certainly no doubt that we need to be continually vigilant to make sure we are providing the support services for women who have been affected by violence. These preventative measures and campaigns that we have been talking about tonight for White Ribbon Day are certainly a significant part of that.

I commend the exceptional job that the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia does in raising awareness of the many women and children who live with violence or the threat of violence in their homes every day of their lives.

We need to take action to prevent that violence against women. I urge everyone to show their support for White Ribbon Day on Wednesday. I take up earlier comments as well that it cannot be just one day a year where we focus our attention on this particular issue. We do need to act as role models in our communities for other men and young boys and to live by the creed of respect for all women. I encourage others to take the oath this week as well.

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