The Time to Tackle Family Violence is Now

Chifley Research Centre

Australians are crying out for leadership from all sides of politics to put an end to the torment of family violence. Unfortunately, ‘leadership’ of this kind is easier to call for than it is to describe.

Commentators often seem to think of ‘leadership’ as being like Tinker Bell’s pixie dust; something that when sprinkled on a problem can miraculously change public opinion and transform previously intractable issues. Unfortunately, in the modern political and media environment there are no magic short-cuts to solving the challenges that face us. The effective political leadership required to deliver reform and solve problems like family violence is more about process than the paranormal. This is the kind of effective leadership that Bill Shorten has provided today.

Effective leadership requires a sustained communication effort to convince the public that we face a problem that requires action. Since the campaign for the leadership of the Labor Party in 2013, Bill Shorten has built on the tireless work of advocates and service providers in this space to continually make the case that we cannot accept the current epidemic of family violence. That we cannot accept an Australia in which one woman is killed by a partner or former partner every week. Public support for action has been growing over this time, not least as a result of the work of the 2015 Australian of the Year, and advocate for change, Rosie Batty. As a result, there is now a window of opportunity to tackle family violence.

Turning this public support for change into effective policy action requires a deep engagement with stakeholders. Political leaders need to articulate their values, set clear objectives for action and then collaborate with stakeholders on how to make it a reality. In calling for a National Crisis Summit within 100 days of office, Bill Shorten has created a forum in which this can occur. He has articulated that instead of merely treating the symptoms of family violence by spending on crisis and homelessness services; we should be aiming to get better at treating the causes, focusing on prevention, early intervention, perpetrator accountability and importantly, a national Safe at Home program. He’s recognised that this can only occur through collaboration between the Federal Government, States and Territories and community organisations; all of whom share interests in this space, but face different constraints. So he’s invited everyone to the negotiating table where a new accord can be pursued. A grand bargain that offers the promise of a new way of responding to family violence, rather than simply throwing more money at the ineffective palliatives of the past.

Finally, he recognised that to solve a complex social problem like family violence, bipartisan engagement is necessary. Both sides of politics need to make sure that support services are appropriately supported and accessible to victims of violence. We all need to change the way that our justice system and police respond to violence. We all need to change the attitudes and behaviours in our community that say that violence against women is okay. We all need to change the unequal status of women in our society. Delivering enduring change on each of these fronts demands buy in from all sides of politics. So Bill Shorten extended an olive branch to Tony Abbott and said to him that if he’s willing to pursue this approach, Labor’s willing to support him.

When addressing around 50 Members of Parliament at a meeting of the Parliamentarians Against Family Violence group in Parliament House last week, Rosie Batty threw down a challenge to those who had assembled and asked them “What Are You Going to Do?”. The leadership provided by Bill Shorten last week gives us the best chance yet of turning the public cries for action on family violence into an effective political response. No magic wands required.

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