Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO WHITE RIBBON DAY BREAKFAST

ADDRESS TO WHITE RIBBON DAY BREAKFAST

 

MURAL HALL, PARLIAMENT HOUSE

 

WEDNESDAY, 25 NOVEMBER 2015

 

Good morning everyone.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay my respect to their elders both past and present.

I would like to address my remarks this morning to the thousands of families and the tens of thousands women and children who in the last few days and weeks would have experienced family violence.

Family violence is still far more common than we would like to admit, even in this very powerful gathering.

I can imagine it now, in the last few days perhaps.

Dad comes home.

The conversation at the dinner table stops.

It is the start of yet another night of emotional Russian roulette.

What will be the mood? Will it be a good night or will it be a bad night?

He’s drunk, he’s unhappy with his job. Whatever the reason, whatever the resentment, it will be the wife who gets the blame and is the focus of the anger.

He could growl, he could yell, perhaps he could just fall asleep at the table in front of his dinner or on the couch in front of the TV.

All evening he may stir, he can smoulders, he’s wakeful.

There will be thousands of families who will be tiptoeing around this person. They will be placating, they will turn down the music because they will be doing their homework, they will cajole.

Children will become adults and diplomats merely to assuage the anger.

They are always on tip-toes, waiting for the eruption.

Always, always waiting for the eruption.

There are tens of thousands Australian children who acquire bat-like hearing, that imperceptible tremor of the anger starting.

And as survivors know, and children know, it doesn’t always end in physical violence, but it can be the threat. The anxiety. The fear.

Children growing up long before they should.

That’s what today is really about for me.

Not the numbers alone, as shameful and confronting as they are.

It is, as Malcolm said, about cultural change.

For me, it cannot come too quickly. It is not a theory.

There are millions of Australian women and children who have this waking nightmare, every day or at least parts of their lives.

And let’s face it ladies and gentlemen, no woman ever signs up to this nightmare when they form a relationship. It wasn’t the way it was meant to be.

And then you stay in the relationship because you hope it is going to get better.

It’s like a boat that’s in a wave and you hope it will regain equilibrium and it never does.

And then there are the children. Born in love. They have no chance to remedy the situation. They didn’t ask for it.

Then I think of the women who stay in those relationships to protect the children.

Some of you here have lived the struggle.

Some of you have devoted your lives to rebuilding other people’s lives broken by these acts emotional dysfunction.  No doubt learned in a cycle of abuse in an earlier generation and repeated again.

I am here today to keep the promise I made when I wear this white ribbon.

A promise to stand up, to speak out and above all, to act to prevent men’s violence against women and children.

And I’m very proud that my wife Chloe is also participating in a number of events as an Ambassador in the Victoria against Violence campaign.

She has help opened my eyes to what can be done.

And there are thousands more involved – we are not alone here.

That is another message to people currently in these horrible situations which are all too real, you’re not alone. There are a lot of us who are on your side.

That is why today is powerful. It is as power as mighty as the engines that propelled those aeroplanes this morning.

There are political leaders, there are community leaders, there are business leaders and there are journalists – and how we talk about family violence does matter and the language we use is important.

But above all else, what counts is our deeds.

As you know, when you make first decisions as a political leader or a politician, there can only be one thing that can be the first thing.

The first funding commitment I made as Labor leader was not on education, or defence, or innovation – as important as they are.

Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day I pledged $71.6 million for tackling Family Violence – a down payment

Investments in community legal centres because we can’t say we are fair dinkum about protecting women while we are cutting community legal centres.

We want improved perpetrator accountability because why should the woman move house and those mortgage payments become a chain which inextricably links the women and the children to the perpetrator and we have targeted support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

So in the spirit of action, I announce today that if Labor was elected, we will provide for five days’ paid family violence leave in the National Employment Standards.

Women affected by family violence should be able to take leave to access legal and financial advice, counselling services and medical appointments.

As any of the survivors here, and trust me there is more of you than we may care to admit, and as any of the children in these relationships, and trust me there are more than any care to admit, you know that this is an impoverishing and isolating experience.

Survivors should not have the added stress of missing work and all the financial uncertainty that creates.

If we do not provide them this support, they are more likely to have to stay where they are.

They should not suffer the dislocation, and the upheaval that can flow from losing their job altogether.

We can help change this, we must.

I pay tribute to some of the many employers who already provide family violence leave: Telstra, NAB, Virgin Australia, IKEA, Blundstone boots and there will be many small businesses who don’t seek to pump up their own tyres who are standing by their staff when this happens.

But all of these companies, great and small, have led the way, they demonstrate that family violence leave actually:

  • improves productivity

  • increases employee retention

  • and reduces absenteeism


I salute the advocacy and leadership of Australia’s trade unions. They don’t always get a good wrap, but when it comes to family violence leave,  they have helped negotiate arrangements which cover over 2 million people.

Today is about action.

I know that there will be thousands of Australian women and children who hopefully may hear some of what passes in Canberra, some of it breaks the white noise in the day to day.

I think they will feel better and a little bit of that anxiety and burden will come off their shoulders because they will understand they are not alone.

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