Published: February 7, 2015 - 10:47AM
Selecting Rosie Batty to be 2015 Australian of the Year is a huge moment for our country. She'd been my pick but I still doubted she'd win. Was Australia really ready to have the conversation about domestic violence?
It turns out we are. Or, at least, some of us are.
For that conversation to be meaningful and ultimately productive – by making Australia safer for women and children – two things need to happen.
Governments, federal and state, need to understand their role, which is to lead change and to provide the necessary funds. And individuals need to be ready with their own action plans if they encounter, or are victims of, violence.
Neither is really happening. We have a year to get it right.
"One in six women has experienced physical or sexual abuse by a current or former partner," said Batty when she accepted her award on 26 January. Then, looking directly at the audience, she added: "including some of those celebrating with us today".
That's what we have to confront.
Those statistics (and some others put the number even higher: one in three women having suffered physical violence at some point in their lives) mean that each of us knows women who are being abused. Often, we don't realise it.
When I ran the Office of the Status of Women in the mid-1980s, an employee in the office was regularly beaten by her husband. I found out years later.
Mostly, women keep it quiet. They are ashamed or embarrassed; their self-esteem is shredded. Or they simply don't know what to do. Nor, often, do the family, the friends and neighbours who know what's going on.
The day Batty got her award, Kayte Murphy, one of the so-called "mummy bloggers" who posts on Woogsworld.com, wrote a powerful piece about having lived next door to a man who abused his wife:
He was (and perhaps still is) a very big name in the financial industry and I would see him regularly on TV, delivering reports and making financial predictions.
Of an evening, quite often, I would hear him delivering threats and blows. Of which I do not even want to repeat. And I could, because I can still hear his voice today, ringing in my brain. "BOILING WATER". "SHOVE YOUR FACE INTO…" and then the inconsolable wailing of a small girl.
I was not brave or gutsy enough to call the police. What if he found out it was me who dared to dob him in? What would he do to me?
Mrs Woog and I spoke. She told me his name. He is very a well-known and regarded man about town.
His wife eventually left. As Batty herself did. But, as she told Linda Mottram on ABC radio this week, leaving is hard. Many women do as she did, they leave, then they go back.
Finally, desperate, afraid for their lives or their children's, when they do eventually go for good, they need help from specialists. People who know what they are doing when dealing with severely traumatised women and kids.
"I could tell immediately," Batty said, "when I was talking to someone who had the experience. You don't have to keep repeating your story".
Last week Batty condemned the federal and NSW governments for their drastic cuts to specialist services for women escaping violence. As outlined in a column by Jenna Price, the federal government's $300 million cuts to community services will impact severely on the provision of legal and other services, including basic assistance (like food) to families fleeing violence.
The recent announcement by the Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, of bridging funding for community groups that had been cut, defers but does not reverse the impact of this cruel decision.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised to fast track a new national domestic violence order scheme (to replace the current state-by-state system) but this won't help women who can't get legal assistance to apply for such orders.
(And of course orders by themselves don't save lives: Fabiana Palhares was allegedly murdered by her ex-partner on the Gold Coast this week. She had an order against him.)
Before the NSW government's "reforms" to homelessness funding in mid 2014 there were around 100 specialist women's services, including refuges, run by women's organisations. Now there are only 20. The skills base that Batty said was so critical to someone like her when leaving the man who ultimately murdered their son has had a wrecking ball put through it.
Now we hear stories of refuges funded by the "reforms" unable to accept women in need. Roxanne McMurray, spokesperson for SOS Women's Services on ABC radio this week told of refuges that are refusing women brought to them by the police – because they were "not ready".
In too many places, gone are the open arms, the 24 hours service, the flexibility and – most of all – the knowledge of how to deal with a wreck of a woman who has fled hell. The last thing she needs is to be shunted from bureaucratic pillar to post – if she can even get in the door.
We spend $400,000 per year to keep each asylum seeker detained on Nauru or Manus Island. You could operate a women-run women's refuge for a year for that amount. It is a scandal that state and federal governments cannot find the funds to revive these essential life-saving services.
If there's a higher priority for our governments than saving the lives of women and children in this country, I think we'd all like to know what it is.
It is a year since Batty lost her son. The act of extreme family violence that killed Luke Batty has transformed her. She has channelled her grief into a crusade to do everything she can to end this violence.
As our Australian of the Year she has a powerful platform but she can't be expected to do it by herself.
We – and that includes governments – need to be with her every step of the way.
Anne Summers is the editor and publisher of the free digital magazine Anne Summers Reports
This story was found at: http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/anne-summers-rosie-batty-cant-do-it-all-by-herself-20150207-138hhq.html