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Thank you Rosie

Rosie Batty is like no other Australian of the Year that have come before. She’s also the first Australian of the Year that we’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with.

In 2014, FARE and the researchers from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) were finalising a new report The hidden harm: Alcohol’s impact on children and families. This research was a catalyst for action, it clearly demonstrated the devastating impact of family violence on women and children and alcohol’s involvement in that violence. We couldn’t sit idly by. We needed to put forward recommendations and solutions that would make a difference.

Of course at that time we were completely unaware of how significant 2015 would be for Australia in recognising and addressing family violence.

We made contact with Rosie on Australia Day 2015. Soon after she agreed to launch our research and to participate in the debate about FARE’s plan for action.

Rosie spoke passionately at the launch of The hidden harm in February 2015 and again at the launch of FARE’s National framework for action to prevent alcohol-related family violence in June 2015. She revealed, unscripted and unexpectedly, that she like many other women had used alcohol to cope with the violence she experienced and how alcohol had at times affected her ability to remain safe.

She understood the complex role that alcohol plays in family violence; how it can exacerbate existing stressors, how it can affect cognitive functioning and the intergenerational impacts, with children who witness family violence being more likely to have problems with alcohol later in life.

Importantly, Rosie has helped widen the conversation about family violence in Australia to allow for other contributing factors such as alcohol and mental health to be recognised, while also understanding that gender inequality is the central driver of family violence.

While the national focus has been on domestic violence, it is worth remembering the circumstances of Rosie’s tragedy – the killing of her son by her former partner. This has meant Rosie has added her rare voice to these significant contributing factors of alcohol and mental illness, but also reminded us that children are frequent collateral damage in this family violence.

Rosie’s work does not stop today. Indeed, Australia’s work in addressing family violence does not stop here either. Much has been achieved, but still to date none of the Australian Government announcements for further funding for family violence have recognised alcohol and its impact. Implementing strategies to address alcohol’s role will make women and children’s lives safer, and we still have a long way to go. Australia can and should move forward on this in the next National Action Plan as well as in State and Territory Government plans and responses to family violence.

On a personal note, we both hope that Rosie takes all of February to rest and recover from her relentless schedule of 2015. She was always incredibly friendly and warm each time we met with her and when she participated in FARE’s advocacy efforts. She supported our work with great generosity and without fanfare. She is an amazing woman and we are proud to have had the pleasure to work with Rosie as she continues on her extraordinary journey.

Rosie, please accept our heart-felt best wishes for the future.

Michael Thorn

Michael was was Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) from January 2011 until November 2019

Sarah Ward

Sarah is a Senior Policy Officer at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), specialising in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), and alcohol-related family and domestic violence. Sarah is also responsible for FARE’s Women Want to Know campaign which encourages health professionals to talk to women about alcohol consumption and pregnancy.

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