08 February 2016


I thank the member for Dunkley for bringing this important issue to the attention of the House. When it comes to family violence, I think we can all agree that it is incumbent on all of us to take a leadership role in this parliament. It is a sad face that by the end of this week at least one woman in Australia will have been killed by her partner or former partner. A great nation such as ours cannot passively tolerate such sickening statistics. Unless we take decisive action, this tragedy will be repeated tomorrow, the day after and all the days to follow.

For too many years, far too often, victims of family violence have essentially been the forgotten people, left to live in fear and suffer in silence. Even the use of the word 'domestic' connoted something that was private, a place that we did not go. But we have made great progress over the years in terms of cultural change and attitudinal change. Laws have changed, support services have improved and there is a greater public understanding developed around the issue. But that is not to say that there are not enormous challenges, and some of them are pointed out in this motion.

Of course, one enormous challenge is the issue of family violence occurring in so many of our migrant communities.

Late last year, I held a roundtable with Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek and a number of representatives from various subcontinent communities. They face particular barriers to understanding that it is a crime if violence is being perpetrated on them, where they can go to for specific support and the funding that is needed to provide that support. I think that will remain an enormous challenge, but I do want to commend many individual community groups across our society who are doing outreach specifically for women and families in ethnic communities who have, unfortunately, experienced such violence.

In my 10 years as a lawyer before coming to this place, the only time I went to court was as a pro bono duty solicitor on the domestic violence roster at the Downing Centre. I got to see, over 10 years, the consequences of family violence in a legal sense, as well as some of the different forms of family violence. There is physical violence, psychological violence, the withholding of access to children, the withholding of access to money and even threats of deportation. So I welcome the $100 million package the government has put forward. But I think it is important to point out that this package needs to be backed up with practical measures. When you start cutting $270 million from community services, $44 million from homelessness services, $22 million from community legal aid and $15 million from legal aid, the impact is enormous. I saw what a difference it made when successive state and federal governments over that 10-year period put money into these areas, actually invested in them. We were able to have a separate room for briefing our clients. We were able to have more support workers. An enormous practical difference can be made by using that money effectively.

In the time I have left, it would be most remiss of me not to mention that we commemorate the fact that on 2 February—last week—it was 30 years since the brutal abduction and murder of Anita Cobby, a young woman from Blacktown. It was 2 February 1986. I remember it vividly. I remember describing it in later years as an absolute abomination. I remember the scenes of the crowds outside Blacktown Police Station—the noose being held up there.

But I do not want to remember the perpetrators. I want to pay particular tribute to Anita's sister Kathryn and to her parents, who had such grace and dignity at such a trying time, and I particularly want to mention a recent fundraising event that took place at the Blacktown Workers Club, where 700 people gathered—and apparently 700 people had to be turned away. The event celebrated Anita's life and the positive change that came out of something so brutal. Around $200,000 was raised towards building an institution called Grace's Place, named after Anita's mother, Grace Lynch, who was indeed a model of grace in such terrible times. It is intended to be a trauma and treatment centre for children who have experience of family homicide. It is to be built in Doonside. It will apparently cost about $2.8 million and is to be completed in September 2018. I want to commend the organisers of that function, particularly the Blacktown Workers Club, which pledged over $50,000 towards it and have been unfailing in their support of the White Ribbon project. We remember Anita Cobby—we remember her for the wonderful woman that she was—and we say that we will not tolerate such violence in our community ever again.