’Never acceptable’: Change needed to stop violence

Many people in Queensland in particular will remember where they were when news broke that Brisbane resident Hannah Clarke and her three children were tragically murdered in a suburban Brisbane street earlier this year.

The story sent shockwaves across Australia and we joined in solidarity with their family’s unimaginable sorrow.

As details emerged in the days and weeks following this tragedy, we became aware of allegations that Ms Clarke and her children were subjected to years of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

Time to listen: Women share horrendous tales of violence

EXCLUSIVE: Rare look inside Coast’s secret women’s shelter

The loss of human life in circumstances like this will never, ever be acceptable, but if there can be any positive light in this tragic story, it is that many Australians are now starting to understand that domestic, family and sexual violence is a growing issue throughout our communities.

Unfortunately, the story of Hannah Clarke and her three children is by no means an isolated one.

Domestic, family and sexual violence is on the rise in Australia and it is cases such as Ms Clarke’s that should be a warning to us all that we must take action to prevent this violence from happening.

Images from Hannah Clarke’s funeral. Picture: Dan Peled
Images from Hannah Clarke’s funeral. Picture: Dan Peled

Data shows in Australia alone, every day 12 women are hospitalised due to domestic and family violence and every nine days a woman is killed by her current or former partner.

One in three mothers experience intimate partner violence during the first four years of their child’s life, and Indigenous people are thirty-two times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence compared with non-Indigenous Australians.

The Morrison Government has taken a strong position on reducing family, domestic and sexual violence and is continuing to provide record levels of support to keep women and children safe – at home, at work, on the streets and online.

The inquiry currently being undertaken by the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee, for which I am the chair, has heard evidence from representatives of the Australian Federal Police, State and Territory Police, peak bodies working with families, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, indigenous Australians, Aged Care representatives and people from the LGBTIQ+ community who work directly with perpetrators, victims and their families who have experienced these kinds of violence.

Unfortunately, the story of Hannah Clarke is not an isolated case, writes Andrew Wallace.
Unfortunately, the story of Hannah Clarke is not an isolated case, writes Andrew Wallace.

Many have shared their concerns that unless we drive change at a community level, we will continue to see rates of violence increasing.

All forms of domestic and family violence have their genesis in a lack of respect for one’s partner or former partner.

During this inquiry what has perhaps been most illuminating for me is the insidiousness of what is known as “coercive control”.

This is where a partner or former partner seeks to control the movements, finances, physical and psychological wellbeing of (usually) a woman and her children.

Many witnesses who have given evidence to the inquiry were able to speak to the efficacy of most perpetrator programs and the benefits of community awareness campaigns.

Some of those mentioned include No Wrong Door, Break the Silence, Change the Story, No More and Stop it at the Start.

All of these programs provide a confronting yet realistic glimpse into the way domestic and family violence is impacting upon the lives of many Australians and the steps we can take to report it and reduce the scourge.

Unless we drive change at a community level, we will continue to see rates of violence increasing, writes Andrew Wallace.
Unless we drive change at a community level, we will continue to see rates of violence increasing, writes Andrew Wallace.

Another way we can start to change attitudes and behaviours is to identify the influencers in our schools, community organisations, sporting clubs and workplaces who can lead the way in reinforcing the message that violence is never acceptable.

Positive role models who can lead by example will be a vital step in the journey forward.

If we can encourage our young people from an early age to develop healthy relationships we will have made a very promising start.

The Committee’s report will help shape the next national plan to reduce violence against women and their children.

This presents a crucial opportunity to reshape our approach to family, domestic and sexual violence and identify the levers and entry points we can use to eliminate this violence from our community.

The Government understands the crucial need to co-ordinate responses to family and domestic violence across all jurisdictions and the increased focus required on preventive measures. The Plan has a long term vision to shape and change behaviours and attitudes so that we can ensure each year fewer women and their children experience violence.

Andrew Wallace is the federal member for Fisher and the chair of the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee in the federal parliament.