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Bill Shorten: We can put an end to family violence

Leader of the Opposition the Hon Bill Shorten MP spoke at the launch of the National framework for action to prevent alcohol-related family violence,  which was developed by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and launched by Australian of the Year Rosie Batty at Parliament House in Canberra on 17 June 2015.

It is always a privilege to hear Rosie Batty speak. Rosie, you are a remarkable person, so brave, so honest, so compelling in the message you send to our country, every day. You honour all of us, as our Australian of the year.

On Sunday, I had the honour of attending the launch of the Tara Costigan foundation here in Canberra.

Tara was a brilliant, beautiful, mother of three – her youngest just a week old. Now she is gone, lost to her children, her family, her friends and all who knew and loved her.

Tara’s family created the foundation in her memory, it will provide funding for more family violence caseworkers in the ACT.

Sunday reminded me, again, that tackling family violence will always be more than a dry argument about figures and trends.

It will always be a personal, emotional, moral task for our nation.

And it is a pleasure to be here with a group of passionate, selfless people who are dedicated to this cause. People who know that there is no such thing as an ‘acceptable’ rate of family violence, that we can settle for nothing less than its total elimination.

Here today, at the launch of the FARE framework, we consider the relationship between alcohol and family violence.

‘Alcohol-related violence’ is a precise term, and one we have to be mindful of using with precision.

There’s no question alcohol is common, all too common, in incidents of family violence as well as street violence.

A recent FARE report identified 24,000 victims of alcohol-related family violence each year. In all likelihood, this is a massive underestimate.

For example, in my home state of Victoria in 2009-10, five years ago, there were more than 15,000 family violence incidents involving alcohol.

In the 2012 Personal Safety Survey, 53 per cent of women who had been assaulted by a man, nearly 920,000 out of over 1.7 million, reported that alcohol or drugs had been involved in their most recent incident of physical assault.

Yet all of us here use the term alcohol-related, quite deliberately.

Alcohol may exacerbate, it may aggravate, it may lead to more severe injuries or serious harm. But alcohol does not cause family violence. Alcohol is never a cause and it is never an excuse.

That kind of thinking leads us down the dangerous path of accepting ‘morning-after apologies’, and excusing ‘out of character’ behaviour.

Whether alcohol-related, or not, no two acts of family violence are alike. Because family violence happens anywhere and everywhere. In leafy suburbs and coastal towns. In high-rise apartments and remote communities. It is no respecter of faith, race, ethnicity or postcode.

But there is one common factor. One quality every victim of ex-partner violence shares: They were women. They were women, and the people who killed them were men.

There is no clearer, more shameful, manifestation of family violence in our society than family violence.

And the fact is, when we talk about behaviour, it is men’s behaviour we have to fix. And when we talk about attitudes, it is men’s attitudes we have to change.

I believe this change is underway: in our media, in our daily lives and in our democracy.

The tide is turning. The era of pulling down the blinds and turning up the TV to drown out the noise from next door, is over.

The idea that family violence is a family matter, nobody else’s concern, is done.

And with gathering speed, leaders and representatives right across Australia are coming to recognise that family violence is not a niche issue, or a fringe agenda. It is a national priority and it belongs at the centre of our national conversation.

In March this year, I wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to convene a National Crisis Summit on Family Violence.

A gathering to bring together law enforcement, case workers, community legal services and state governments. And a meeting shaped above all by the voices of survivors, by the people who have seen the cracks in our system, sometimes fallen through them. People who know, better than anyone, the faults and failings we have to fix.

And if the government chooses not to convene this summit, a Labor Government will, in our first 100 days.

Either way, I hope FARE will be involved.

And I hope all of you, who share the goal of eliminating family violence from our national life, will keep coming back to this house and taking up the issue with members of every party.

Because this great national challenge is one we are going to have to tackle together.

In Federal, State and local politics. And through your organisations, at the grassroots.

This is why Labor’s package of measures will also boost investment in community legal centres, improved home security and better perpetrator accountability – in partnership with local government and local communities.

Like you, I believe we need to be better at mapping perpetrator behaviour and interactions across our justice system, so we can identify the warning signs earlier.

This is, to me, the overriding focus of your new FARE Framework.

The value and importance of a coordinated, community-level response – backed by state and national leadership. This is the next, important, overdue step.

Australia-wide, community-driven, nationally-led action on family violence.

I believe our attitudes are changing, our awareness has increased.

The goodwill to build and deliver a lasting solution, is there.

I believe Australians are ready.

I believe we can put an end to family violence – once and for all.

Bill Shorten

The Hon Bill Shorten is the Federal Member for Maribyrnong and Leader of the Opposition. Bill joined the Labor Party during his last year of secondary schooling aged 17 and has since devoted his entire adult life to serving the labour movement. He was first elected as the Member for Maribyrnong at the 2007 Federal Election. Bill was sworn into the Labor Ministry in September 2010 and promoted to Cabinet in December 2011. As a senior member of the Labor Government, Bill has played a key role in securing a number of historic Labor reforms. Bill has an enduring interest in social justice issues such as domestic violence, equal opportunity at work, and as a father of three and a stepdad the increasing diversity of families in Australia.

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