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Issue #1693      July 15, 2015

Domestic violence

Real terrorism ignored

Domestic violence is at levels best described as a national epidemic. A Royal Commission into the crisis started this week in Melbourne. NSW now has a Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Pru Goward. There are plans for a register for domestic violence offenders in that state and, in Queensland, concerned people can already ask police about their partner’s history of violence, thanks to Clare’s Law. Students in years 7-10 in NSW will have domestic violence awareness as part of their curriculum. There are task forces, “personal safety tags” and even a smart phone app to deal with the threat of violence in the home, but still the contagion spreads.

Australian parliaments are big on symbolism and window-dressing and short on action that goes to the core of issues. Several commentators have compared the response of the federal government to the ultra-hyped threat of terrorism to the daily toll of domestic violence. Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, whose 11-yeard-old son Luke was murdered by his father last year, has been on the campaign trail for proper recognition of the alarming situation.

“We’re spending hundreds of millions extra on the war on terrorism, but women who fear for their safety are still being turned away from services because of the lack of funds,” Ms Batty said recently. She returned to the comparison with her address to the National Press Club earlier this month. “We see whenever there is the slight threat of terrorism it’s amazing how funding can be found to combat that where seemingly there was no funding before,” she said. The fact that Australia belongs to a military alliance dominated by the US, which has created much of the terror threat facing the peoples of the world, makes the point even more telling.

NSW Magistrate Roger Prowse deals with the growing numbers of charges and breaches of apprehended family violence orders. He wonders at a nation seemingly obsessed with the ABC Q&A program’s decision to allow Zaky Mallah to ask a question before a live TV audience. Mr Mallah was convicted of threatening to kill two ASIO officers.

“When they talk about the scourge of terrorism, the proper use of the word ‘scourge’ is domestic violence,” Magistrate Prowse said. “Here, people intimidate a partner on a minute-by-minute basis and no one is up in arms about that.”

The statistics are staggering. On average, two women per week die at the hands of their male partner in Australia. Applications for family apprehended violence orders are through the roof and breaches of them have increased threefold in five years. Escaping an abusive partner is getting harder, too. Independent women’s refuges and shelters are closing and remaining ones subjected to competitive tendering. Big denominational organisations like St Vincent de Paul are the “winners” here.

In 2013-14, 423 people were turned away from homelessness agencies every night, many of them women escaping violence. That year 150,000 people were unable to get help through community legal centres. Last year, 18,632 phone calls to national hotline 1800RESPECT went unanswered. The service needs an extra $2 million to ensure one in four calls don’t go unanswered. It can’t get it. “Women are making incredibly brave steps to come forward and we’re not there; it’s not good enough,” said Karen Williams of the Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia organisation responsible for the hotline.

Campaigning organisation Fair Agenda takes a dim view of the Commonwealth’s role in the issue. Last year’s Budget allocated $16.7 million for the $30 million awareness campaign currently underway. There was nothing for crisis and counselling hotlines, men’s behaviour programs, community legal centres, primary prevention initiatives, services for Aboriginal or culturally diverse communities. Fair Agenda’s executive director Renee Carr said awareness campaigns are pointless if services weren’t available for women fleeing violence.

Rosie Batty has backed opposition leader Bill Shorten’s call for a national summit and the ACTU’s push for 10 days domestic violence leave for victims. “Paid domestic violence leave, I believe, can ultimately mean the difference between someone possibly losing their job and falling into poverty, and not being able to find rental accommodation. I see this as a really critical step,” she said. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is resisting the measure.

It is unlikely that the findings of the Royal Commission, various taskforces and inquiries will move doggedly neo-liberal state and federal governments to respond to the domestic violence crisis with the urgency and resources required. While 74 percent of Australians agree domestic violence is a greater threat than “terrorism”, capitalist governments will press ahead with the corporate agenda based on the exploitation of labour, the objectification and exclusion of women, disregard for the environment and endless war.

Next article – Editorial – “Free lunches”

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