Rosie Batty and the cost of saving domestic violence victims' lives

Rosie Batty, 2015 Australian of the Year, addresses the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday 3 June ...

Rosie Batty, 2015 Australian of the Year, addresses the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday 3 June 2015. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"Why didn't she leave?"

It's the most common question about women who are abused by their partners. It's a question devoid of any understanding about how relationships work.  About how we always think the best of the ones we love. About how we always hope they will change.

But if you really dissect that culture of criticism, it's what's called piling-on. It's adding pain to pain. It's bullying those who are already our most vulnerable.

You see a lot of it online, now even directed at Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.


Just to remind you, Rosie's son Luke was beaten to death in front of her. She was shattered but not destroyed. In the wake of her son's death, she stood up for every woman and every child who ever suffered violence at the hands of someone who loved them and asked our country to feel their pain.

And more. She asked Australians to work with her to stop violence against women and children.

She's given her all to all of us. Every single day.

Rosie is a most unusual Australian of the Year, as Australia Day Council CEO Jeremy Lasek can attest. Lasek even describes her as one-of-a-kind. And he's not even talking about the terrifying circumstance in which she found herself on that day in February last year.

"Rosie is a bit of a one-off in terms of her circumstances . . . I think she has been quite remarkable," he said.

"[Former Australians of the Year] were either well and truly gainfully employed or in positions where they're able to support themselves," says Lasek.

In this sense, Batty is really the first Ordinary Australian of the Year. Her background isn't one of wealth, like the philanthropists or actors. She doesn't have a club or institution behind her, like the sports stars and the doctors. She wasn't famous.

Lasek says the Australia Day Council provides accommodation and transport for appearances directly related to the award but nothing else.

So it surprised Lasek to read a column in the Australian Financial Review by former Labor Leader Mark Latham, which attacked Batty for charging for her speaking engagements; and for signing up with a speakers' bureau, Keynote Entertainment.

Perhaps Latham should know that since January 26 when she was appointed Australian of the Year, she has done more than 70 separate speaking engagements. And only charged for 12. Of those 12, half were discounted.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick thinks Latham may have missed key evidence in the campaign to stop violence against women.

"People are entitled to their views but those who understand the evidence understand that gender inequality is globally recognised as a cause of family violence," she said.

Broderick says at her behest, Batty spoke to corporate chief executive officers earlier this year and was able to get them to understand family violence, "not just with their heads but with their hearts".

Latham wrote: "Seemingly, there's nothing left in the relationship between people that can't be commercialised and cashed out as 'entertainment'.

"There was a time, in the dignity of working class life, when grieving was conducted in private. In the 1960s, nobody tried to enlist the parents of Adelaide's missing Beaumont children as celebrity speakers."

There was a time, I remember, in Australia, when the lives of the working class were completely hidden. When trying to get those stories into newspapers was a war which went on in morning news conferences every single day.

When we did not write about Aborigines or single mothers.

When we ignored family violence because it didn't happen to 'people like us'. I remember being told by an editor that "blacks don't sell papers". That we couldn't use a photo of an Australian Chinese family on the front page of the paper because they weren't "representative of our readers".

And I remember reading so much about Mark Latham's battle with testicular cancer. They were brilliant stories because they shone a light on something men didn't like to talk about. And they also gave hope – that it was possible to survive this disease and go on to father wonderful children.

Latham once told a reporter that he'd been watching a segment on the ABC's 7.30 Report on testicular cancer and he'd had some disturbing symptoms himself.

"I saw a GP the next day and then a week later was on my back in the operating table of Camden Hospital, having the testicle - the cancerous testicle - removed. So, um...I always say that the ABC saved my life."

That's all Rosie Batty is trying to do. Save someone's life. She couldn't stop Greg from murdering Luke but by talking to everyone on behalf of all Australians she might be able to stop that happening to another family.

Why would anyone begrudge Batty a meagre living as she tries to speak out on behalf of the women and children at risk every day?