Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 08, 2023


Pay Our Respects Vigil

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (15:28): On Saturday, I attended a vigil organised by Pay Our Respects to mourn the loss of 60 Australian women murdered in 2022 as a result of domestic or family violence. This is the fifth consecutive year in which the community has gathered on the steps of Parliament House for an event organised by Gillian Lewis and Stacey Nelan, the co-founders of Pay Our Respects, to hear the tragic stories of women whose dreams, aspirations and lives were cut short by violence.

People involved in the prevention of domestic violence, families of lost loved ones and others who share their own experiences of violence stood together to honour those lives. This is a familiar story in Australia. Last year, I attended the same event. Last year, I rose in this chamber to speak about the critical need for housing, economic and justice programs to eliminate violence against women. We are well aware of its reach and impact, so much so that these stories have a tendency to become little more than cautionary tales, treated as an unfortunate fact of society.

The Pay Our Respects event shows the harrowing reality that domestic violence is more than just a headline or a statistic. Looking into the sea of women on those steps, it is clear that even one woman killed is too many. The fact is that a woman should not have to die in order for us to take notice. Violence against women and children manifests in everyday life. It is deeply entrenched and widespread in our society. It is easy to become desensitised and turn a blind eye.

The impact of this violence cannot only be seen in 60 lives lost, it is also a leading cause of homelessness, as the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that more than 72,900 people sought specialist homelessness services in 2021-22 due to domestic violence. It also haunts our children, as AIHW reports that one in six women experience physical or sexual abuse before the age of 15. If not the target, then children become witnesses to this violence under the care of more than 400,000 women who experience violence from a previous partner, as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2017.

These rates of violence are even higher for marginalised groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. We are failing to protect women in our communities. Misogyny, harassment, stereotypes and toxic culture in schools, workplaces and homes only serve in some instances to perpetuate this violence. We must tackle violence against women on personal, societal and systemic levels in order to work towards eradication of this blight on our society. Action has slowly but surely been undertaken by both the federal and state government in addressing these unacceptable rates of violence.

The national plan, focused on prevention, early intervention, response and final recovery and healing, provides a hopeful outlook for the future. The introduction of 15 days of paid domestic violence leave for both the public and private sector provides women the chance to seek support without sacrificing their income. These are important steps, but let me be clear in saying that this alone is not enough. Without the proper administration, intersectional policies and allocation of resources, these promises will become nothing more than words.

Domestic violence is undoubtedly a significant barrier to the welfare of society and especially for women. Every woman has the right to protection against exploitation, violence and abuse. As a government, it is our responsibility to uphold this right. Schemes targeting violence against women therefore must be all inclusive, backed by strong policies and implemented in an efficient manner.