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Govt spending must match domestic violence rhetoric


Rosie Batty

The Prime Minister’s choice of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year is wholly admirable. Her advocacy about domestic violence following the tragic murder of her son by his father has been passionate and effective.

She has brought attention to a very ugly side of Australian life: the violence of men against women and children. But, paradoxically, Mr Abbott’s choice of Rosie Batty also draws our attention to a highly questionable side of political life: how 'our' money is being allocated and spent and what values this spending supports and lays bare.

Unreported billions are apparently available to fight extremist 'terror' abroad while the far more pervasive terror of home grown domestic violence – affecting every social class and culture across Australian society - is radically under-funded at all levels of government.

This makes the praise heaped upon Rosie Batty by Mr Abbott and others pretty meaningless, even insulting, when support services are diminishing or disappearing for all the other many women and children in need of immediate protection. Each week in Australia at least one woman is murdered by a partner or former partner, yet in NSW, as a single example, we face the Baird Government’s incomprehensible decision to de-fund and close long-standing women’s refuges rather than adding to them, tossing out workers with decades of hard won experience in favour of monolithic organisations that are already reportedly failing to shelter some of our most at-risk women and children. Imminent Federal cuts to services in remote communities are as disastrous.

How obvious would it also be that at least as much money as women’s services and refuges need should also be spent on effective programs to treat and educate anyone living violently (not boys and men only) around anger, alcohol, drugs, self-respect and the most basic issues of self-control and self-responsibility?

When it comes to providing even partially adequate health and social services for the chronically mentally ill, there is also apathy at the highest levels. In the community, families are forced to be their ill family member’s pivotal resource without even passable support. When indigenous adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous adults, when almost 40 per cent of prisoners in Australia have at least some history of mental illness and when 70 per cent have 'engaged in illicit drug use in the 12 months prior to their imprisonment', it is fair to question where money is being allocated and with what outcomes. If Rosie Batty’s violent former partner was untreated or barely treated for a serious mental illness, he would be no exception.

The sometimes-deadly pervasiveness of violence in Australian life is surely our most urgent social problem. Add to this a widespread, excessive alcohol and drug use, plus a paucity of mental health services, and the mix is toxic. So when government policy and leadership fail the vulnerable, this adds to our society’s violence rather than healing it.

On at least three key humanitarian issues it is easy to see where morally intelligent leadership is lacking. These include that shrinking of services available to children as well as women fleeing violence and abuse; the grossly inadequate resourcing for serious mental illness and especially for the chronically mentally ill; and – of course - government-sanctioned cruelty to asylum seekers detained in punitive and degrading conditions.

What these concerns together demonstrate is that our current political leaders are willing to trivialise or ignore the fundamental needs for respect, safety and shelter that every human being feels. Whatever our background, we have those needs in common. Without those needs being halfway met, lasting wellbeing becomes impossible. This is chilling in the short-term but the long-term social costs verge on the immeasurable.

The financial costs can of course be somewhat more accurately calculated.  And again the current economic illogic prevails. The choice to turn asylum seekers into prisoners is mind-bogglingly costly. Newly released Senate Estimate papers show the Abbott government had $1.2 billion available to run their wretched centres on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island for a single year. This does not include the cost of the detention centres in Australia where, if a baby has to attend a hospital clinic with two parents, three Serco guards are apparently needed to supervise and accompany each member of that unfortunate family.

To bring greater wisdom into our economic calculations would take courage and humility. It would mean reversing some everyday assumptions about what matters most, and to whom. Can we ask this of our leaders? Can we ask it of ourselves?

Stephanie Dowrick

Dr Stephanie Dowrick is a writer and social commentator. Her books include Seeking the Sacred: Transforming Our View of Ourselves and One Another.




Topic tags: Stephanie Dowrick, Rosie Batty, domestic violence, Tony Abbott, Mike Baird, Australian politics



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Existing comments

This article offers a straightforward message and should be addressed by those who make defence decisions without taking into account the very real violence within society. Rosie Batty's award should have come with real resources to address the sort of domestic abuse she is fighting against. Otherwise Tony Abbott's gesture could be seen as token. It won't fool women!

Ruth | 26 February 2015  

After watching the excellent Q&A program on family violence last Monday night I am sure many would be asking "what is wrong with men?". (I suspect Stephanie might have some valuable insights on our emotional immaturity.) Perhaps there is also a bigger question here of "what is wrong with Australia?". The incessantly adversarial, aggressive, confronting, vicious and reactive nature of our (male-dominated) national political discourse seems to provide a perfect context for family violence. People from across the political spectrum felt deeply ashamed at the contemptuous and abusive treatment of our first female Prime Minister. When conflict, fear, secrecy, cynicism and, in the case of asylum seeker, cruelty, are our new national principles, what chances of nurturing a fairer, kinder and more compassionate society?

Will | 26 February 2015  

Thank you Stephanie. Most people are revolted by what our leaders pretend is care for refugees, indigenous people and our seriously mentally ill. Does any person believe that our present and past leaders know the meaning of, let alone practice "emotional intelligence"/

Caroline Storm | 27 February 2015  

Great article. But very sad. The phrase "morally intelligent leadership...lacking" is hauntingly telling. Abbott`s tendency to respond aggressively as an instinctive response to pressure is, fortunately, getting him into trouble. I have seen it in action myself at close quarters and it is quite unpleasant.

Eugene | 27 February 2015  

Perhaps a little bit of preaching from the pulpit, inclusion in Prayers of the Faithful, and a little bit of practice by the clergy, might be a start against violence. When we talk of government handouts, we are really talking about increased taxation. It's too easy to put one's hand out to the government as if it were an bottomless bucket. My son was a victim of homicide. I know violence. I applaud Rosie Batty, but it will take battalions of people to personally make an effort, not battalions of legislation which the police have ignored in the past, and I include the church as well here, who don't have a good reputation concerning its treatment of women..

shirley McHugh | 27 February 2015  

In future, this age will probably be remembered for the Ascent of Science and the Decline of Religion. Both Science and Religion are urgently needed, but not in their present mode. Science without religion is purposeless and is likely to bring destruction to the human race and our planet. Religion without science is prone to wishful thinking, superstition, divisive isolation and stagnation. The whole human race needs an updated universal religion, shorn of the traditions that divide us, and built on the divine Love that changes the way we look at things. Only such a really sophisticated love will overcome the violence, hatred and prejudices that threaten our security peace and harmony.

Robert Liddy | 27 February 2015  

"What's wrong with men?" I know some people have to...but I personally believe the modern situation of mums going back to work and leaving youngsters in 'day care' and the lack of positive male role modelling for all young children, does contribute to a break down in family relationships. Please love your babies, they will grow up and you can do your own thing again....but put the time in to just being there for them and building a strong relationship with them from birth! Don't let technology 'babysit' them either! Get off Facebook and take them to the park!

Marianne Harris | 27 February 2015  

A wonderfully balance and thought-provoking read. I work with young mothers and the prevalence of domestic violence within their relationships is staggering, and they're just one sector of the community. The government needs to put urgent attention into continual and/or increased funding for safe refuges for women and children to stay in. And funding education programs in schools to break the cycle of DV. And don't get me started on the appalling treatment of asylum seekers. I applaud you Stephanie Dowrick for your wise words.

Jodie | 27 February 2015  

Thank you. A well considered and heartfelt summary of the key areas we need to do much much better. In looking after each other instead of being simply focussed on our own thing, whatever that is... I do remain hopeful and also optimistic. There is a ground swell of activism on many many levels of our community and these protests can't be silenced or ignored. The people are getting restless and as a result the moral fabric or landscape of government must and will change.

Fiona Wade | 27 February 2015  

How long does Australia need to wait for morally intelligent leadership.

Jan Rasborsek | 27 February 2015  

The current Australian government reflects what is critically wrong with Australia and Stephanie has hit a raw nerve here. When we place false misplaced economic ideas over what is decent and proper, our society suffers.
The economic edifice from which this government has operated from is flawed and the Australian people have been misled. We don't have to treat our sick, poor and unemployed like second-class citizens, this is crass political spin doctoring.
When you allow the defenceless and the outcast whether they be from another country or not to linger in poverty and detention you have diminished the society in which you live.

Wayne McMillan | 28 February 2015  

Wonderful Article. We are indeed failing our most vulnerable members of society with the consequence that our community as a whole will suffer - including people like Rosie Batty. I am a lawyer who works in a CLC which includes a Mental Health Clinic - which has just lost its funding.

Liz O'Connor | 28 February 2015  

Why not turn the spotlight on men who abuse their partners and children, men's lack of self esteem and sense of identity as a male with a different model, and their lack of positive communication skills,
This together with protection of women and children.
Also there needs to be a sense of care and positive male models
For some men, their sense of weakness and powerlessness underlies their bullying and abusive behaviour.
It is a demonstration of their "power" in a perverted mannerf.
The present political leader of the nation seems to set a standard which denies the identity of women and their rights.
I am greatly opffended by his declaring himself Minister for Women.

Kathleen Baldini | 28 February 2015  

The argument is spot on here. Man Haron Monis, who was the gunman in the Martin Place siege, had a history of domestic violence but her complaints went unneeded. She was horribly murdered but he was let out on bail after being brought in as a suspect. How much less would it have cost the government to deal with the situation at first base. Perhaps they would rather have the big dramas because that makes them look big?

Jay goodall | 28 February 2015  

We need these services to be there, and to be effective. It's so crucial for the safety and well-being of those women and children, teenagers and young adults caught up in the misery and terror of family violence. My heart goes out to them, and I don't have the skills and resources to help even those whose lives intersect with mine. It's not a simple problem. We need this valuable experience to be kept, and available for those who so desperately need it! I also empathise with the men who find themselves in the minority in this situation, and the partners in same sex couples who are dealing with an additional layer of misunderstanding and disbelief. May all those who are suffering because of family violence be listened to and believed, and helped to find their way to safety and peace. And may the perpetrators also find the help they need to become responsible and loving family members. The Q and A program showed some real hope in this respect, but all these programs need well-targeted resources.

Penny | 02 March 2015  

Shirley, what would the clergy have to say about domestic violence? "Through goods and in bad, till death us do part".

AURELIUS | 04 March 2015  

I would say Stephanie is right. The government should not be spending money on domestic violence. Schools should be. The government should focus on incentives for living civilly, but instead, responsible people receive higher taxes. The poor receive assistance. Flip it. Incentivise the poor to work hard, and lower taxes to the rich to afford jobs in our country.

Josef Haynes | 06 November 2020  

The also not said. It does not excuse the actions of the males for mentioning this, but perhaps it isn't just that man with the mental issues. Women and Men are mentally ill because we perhaps lack empathy. What is our purpose? Should we be at rest or constantly at contension or the balance of the two and then where do we draw the line in the sand? If a woman can act masculine, how much abuse can a man take before he addresses her masculinity before she abandons her femininity? If women can forge for themselves, then are men modern teddy bears for a womans tender memories and lonliness or do we have a genuine purpose?

Josef Haynes | 06 November 2020  

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