Australia: New PM declares DV a national disgrace, backs up with $100M women's safety package Print E-mail

 Thursday September 24, 2015

Violence against women: The money helps, but Turnbull's words matter more

By Miki Perkins /Reporter for The Age

Malcolm Turnbull: 'Women must be respected'
Disrespecting women should be seen as 'un-Australian', says the prime minister, as he unveils a multimillion-dollar strategy to combat domestic violence. Courtesy ABC News 24.

You could forgive the women in the room who had a tear in their eye.

Just last week their Minister for Women, was - bizarrely - a bloke in a suit, and one with a patchy track record on his attitude to women.
Rosie Batty with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Women Michaelia Cash and former police commissioner Ken Lay (left). (Eddie Jim)

But now this new bloke, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, was speaking their language; talking about the "national disgrace" of violence against Australian women. And he took it further.

At Thursday's launch of a $100 million women's safety package, Turnbull linked family violence to gender equality, and said being disrespectful to women was "un-Australian".

The violent deaths of 63 women and children at the hands of family members in the past year were a "great shame" to the country, Turnbull said, and only cultural change in attitudes towards women would curtail family violence long-term.

Turnbull's speech was a long-awaited balm to the careworn family violence advocates in the room - community lawyers and social workers among them - who have been drawing these links for years.

The money helps, but his words matter more.

And he's right. Evidence shows that the rates of violence against women are lower in countries where women achieve greater equality with men.

To link gender inequality and violence against women was new territory for an Australian prime minister.

Federal inaction on violence against women in Australia has stood in cruel contrast to a willingness to shovel millions towards more nebulous national security concerns.

Rosie Batty, wiping tears from her cheeks, summed it up with her usual understated clarity.

For our prime minister to insist we have to respect and value the contribution of women sends a message far and wide, Batty said.

"We are finally starting to hear from the leaders of our country," she said. "They are addressing the issue, they recognise the responsibility they have to lead our society."

Unsurprisingly, the $100 million has been welcomed in a funds-strapped sector.

And newly-appointed Minister for Women Michaelia Cash has overseen a deft carve up between crisis support and long-term prevention, with a strong focus on technology.

It will go far in a family violence system that is deeply resourceful and spread cobweb-thin, but let's not get carried away.

Family violence is widespread, systemic and common. This is a battle for a generation, not a decade.

In Victoria in the past year, there have been 70,000 family violence incidents attended by police, each of which generates a referral to a family violence service, Domestic Violence Victoria head Fiona McCormack told a housing conference last week.

Yet in Victoria, we are funded for about 7000 referrals a year. This falls so far short of cruel reality it's laughable.

Future funding must be long-term and guaranteed, sheltered from the mercurial forces of politics. And, yes, the whims of the bloke in a suit.