Mamamia - 7 September 2014

Bipartisanship has been in short supply in Canberra over the past half a decade. In fact, you could probably count on one hand the number of issues that have attracted accord across the Gillard and Abbott Governments.

One issue that has maintained general bipartisanship however has been the need to reduce the incidence of what is commonly called family violence. Unfortunately, despite its exceptional political status, so far the response to family violence has not delivered exceptional results for Australian women.

The scale of men’s violence against women in our community is shocking.

It does not respect wealth, age or ethnicity, but hurts women in all walks of Australian life. One in three women in Australia have experienced physical violence. Almost one in five have been subjected to sexual assault.

Most shocking of all, one woman is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia every week. Think of these statistics, think of all of the women that you know, and just imagine.

There’s general consensus about the causes of men’s violence against women. The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, a proud legacy of the previous Labor government and one of those rare policy documents to retain support from the Gillard through Abbott governments, makes it clear that the root cause of this violence is gender inequality.

Most men who chose to commit violence against their partners or ex-partners do so because they believe they are superior to the women in their lives and that this position of power means that they can get away with violence.

It’s these attitudes that we need to change if we’re going to stop men’s violence against women.

Last week, I hosted a roundtable with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and more than 20 leading advocates and family violence service providers to inform Labor’s response to this issue.

The message from attendees was clear: the only way we’ll successfully tackle men’s violence against women is through a consistent and co-ordinated long-term approach.

The National Plan has provided us with a framework, but at present we’re skimping on the building materials we need to finish the job.

We’re relying on too many bolt-on solutions, when long-term, structural work is needed to properly address the issue.

violence against women 1 380x253 Federal MP Tim Watts speaks out about violence against women.

"Research suggested that around two thirds of women did not even contact police after being subject to an assault."

For example, one of the early objectives of the National Plan was to ensure women were confident enough to report incidents of violence to the police. Research suggested that around two thirds of women did not even contact police after being subject to an assault.

In light of this the First Action Plan aimed for "an increase in the rate of women reporting domestic violence and sexual assault".

Thanks in part to increased community awareness and important changes in the way the media has approached these incidents, as intended, reporting rates have increased since the launch of the National Plan.

Increased reporting rates are a good example of what national leadership through the National Plan can achieve.

Yet despite this success, a failure of policy and resource coordination across governments and portfolios has meant that we are still failing vulnerable women.

Women’s Health West, a major service provider my electorate, has seen the number of referrals they have received from police increase by 286% since the launch of the National Plan, while their funding has increased by only 25% a year during this time.

Similarly, while reporting rates have gone up, reoffending rates remain high. The men’s behaviour modification counselling programs that offenders are referred to by our courts have not received the increased funding needed to respond to this hoped for increase in demand.

Even worse, men who have confronted the fact that their behaviour is threatening their families and have sought help from these programs themselves are facing waiting lists of months for assistance.

As a problem born from embedded community attitudes and with symptoms that span health, employment, housing, justice and policing, there are no simple solutions for ‘solving’ men’s violence against women. However, the rare bipartisan support for addressing this issue does present us with an opportunity to offer a better coordinated response to this than to many other wicked problems facing our community.

The challenge for policy makers is to convert this extraordinary bipartisan support from politicians into extraordinary progress on this issue for women.

Tim Watts is the Federal Labor Member for Gellibrand.Prior to being elected in September 2013, Tim was a senior Manager at Telstra. He was also a corporate lawyer at Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Senior Advisor to former Victorian Premier John Brumby and Deputy Chief of Staff to Senator Stephen Conroy. Tim holds a Masters of Science (Hons)(Politics and Communications) from the London School of Economics, a Masters of Public Policy and Management (Monash) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons, Bond). While Tim’s ancestors arrived in Australia in the 1840s, his wife arrived in Australia from Hong Kong in the 1980s. In this way, Tim’s children are at once both second and sixth generation Australians. As a result, Tim is passionate about protecting the harmonious multicultural society in which we live and understands the specific needs of our multicultural communities. Tim lives in Footscray with his wife and two children.

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