Parliamentary speeches

White Ribbon Day

November 18, 2013

Mr GILES (Scullin) (10:41): Deputy Speaker Scott, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your election. I also congratulate the member for Fowler for putting this very important issue on the Notice Paper. It is an issue that I raised in my first contribution in this place and I am pleased to have this opportunity to say a little bit more about family violence. In doing so, I swear never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.

Family violence is a gender crime and the business of all of us, but it is especially men's business. I am mindful that in the last year, 2012-2013, of the 2,110 family violence incidents reported to police in the city of Whittlesea, within the electorate of Scullin, 100% of the alleged offenders were men. Ninety-five per cent of the victims were women—that is an important statistic and one that I am mindful of—but 100 per cent of the alleged offenders were men.

White Ribbon recognises this pattern of offending in family violence but also that most men are not violent. It enables, through awareness-raising, male leadership in preventing family violence—men taking responsibility for changing attitudes and behaviours. I am struck by the fact that violence is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Victorian women aged 15 to 45. We have heard many statistics in this debate and there will be more, but this is about more than statistics. The costs to society are huge.

I ask myself: what does this mean for victims of family violence, their experiences? I think about the circumstances of the victims and how their experiences shape their lives and deny them agency and most certainly deny them equality. Within the communities that I represent in this place, the rates of family violence are unacceptably high. They are the highest in Victoria Police's Division 5. They are also increasing rapidly. In the last recorded year, there was a 35 per cent increase. I am particularly troubled by this, because it goes against the 20 per cent increase across the rest of Victoria. I ask myself: what is happening in the communities I represent and, more particularly, what is to be done?

I said before that there were 2,110 family-violence incidents reported to police, including a homicide. Of these events, 743 children were present. I am struck by the fact that recidivism appears to be very high. We have heard much about breaking the cycle. That is an important part of White Ribbon's cause. The police reports are consistent with data that are held by regional specialist family violence services, including the Berry Street Northern Family and Domestic Violence Service. I am struck by the fact that, again, there are significantly more referrals from Whittlesea than from the other local government areas across the northern region. There has been a strong council and community response to this, I am pleased to say. There is recognition that this family-violence epidemic is an urgent public health issue. The strategy that the Whittlesea council has endorsed, building a respectful community, preventing violence against women, a strategy for the northern metropolitan region of Melbourne, is an important step forward and an important enabler of further attitudinal and cultural change.

Working groups have been established also to address the underlying causes, including gender inequity, and to develop advocacy actions, as well as to improve the quality of service provision. Great work has been done in recognising the particular challenges facing our culturally and linguistically diverse communities needing to recognise and deal with both the personal and systemic barriers in supporting communities and breaking the cycle.

I am struck also that growth areas appear to face particular challenges in relation to family violence. I wonder what can be done about the impact of geographical isolation and I note that there has been increasing recognition of economic abuse, which appears to be a big factor in more remote areas of my electorate and other outer suburban electorates.

I know that this is a difficult and challenging issue for all members, and it is something that touches upon all of our communities. I am very pleased to make some brief contributions to this debate as an opportunity to show bipartisan leadership across this chamber in recognising a critical concern. I look forward to supporting the White Ribbon breakfast tomorrow morning, I look forward to supporting White Ribbon Day on 25 November and, indeed, the cause of reducing family violence every day. I commend the motion to the House.