Bill's Speeches

ADDRESS TO THE TARA COSTIGAN FOUNDATION’S NATIONAL FAMILY VIOLENCE SUMMIT

QT CANBERRA 

THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2016 

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Good morning everybody. 

It's a real honour to be here with you again, nine months since we came together launch this foundation and just over a year since Tara was taken from the people who loved her. 

I want to begin with paying my respects to all of you here who knew Tara and loved her and were loved by her. 

The scars of grief are invisible to the eye, but they take a very long time to heal nonetheless. 

I am conscience today is another hard day in a long year of hard days. 

It's a hard year because it's full of firsts. 

The first Christmas with an empty place at the table. 

The first Birthday marked but not celebrated. 

And the moment you relive every time you think: 

“Tara would have loved this. I wish she was here. I wish I could talk to her just one last time.” 

I cannot imagine the sadness that you might be feeling. 

I can marvel at the courage demonstrated to turn grief into this this foundation and this cause. 

This day and this foundation is a monument which is more powerful, more poignant than any piece of sculpture or a line of verse. 

Before I came here today, I went on to the website to see how far things have come since we last met. 

Of course, these days everybody has a website and generally, your invited to click onto the heading 'about us'. 

On most occasions this will lead you to a standard-issue corporate mission statement, perhaps a collection of vague aspirations and buzzwords, but not this foundation. 

Your description begins: 

“On 28 February 2015, Tara Marie Costigan was killed by her former partner with an axe as she held a five-day-old baby girl. 

Her nine and 11-year-old sons were powerless to stop it as they watched on. 

Tara's 18-year-old babysitter and her boyfriend were also injured as they bravely fought off the attack.” 

Sixty words. 

Sixty words of clarity, honesty, speaking about a moment of horror, unimaginable and lifetimes scarred by trauma, sadness and loss. 

Violence against women is a national disgrace. 

But for far too long it hasn't been met with national outrage. 

Instead, for decades, we've lived the lie that family violence was a family matter. 

We have opted for a closing of the curtains, a turning-up of the television, a collective shrugging of the shoulders, a crossing over to the other side of the road to avoid this issue. 

If those days are not over yet - and they are not - they are coming hopefully to a close. 

It's the courage of people like you, it's the willingness of people like you, to give of your time, to say: enough is enough. 

And we need to do more. 

The blind eyes which were once closed are now opening. 

That change is important, the lifting of awareness matters a great deal - but awareness is only a beginning. 

Elevating respect, changing attitudes counts for a lot too - but that is not the end of the road either. 

We will not eliminate violence in this country until we properly fund the people who are out there on the frontline. 

Of course respect is fundamental. 

But elegant words don't actually change too much unless they are backed up by action. 

Long before I come and speak to any of you, I've got to face myself in the mirror and say what have I done to help tackle family violence? 

When you are a political leader in this country, it's a very privileged position. But with leadership comes the expectation that you will be more than your words and that you will at least be your words. 

The question I ask myself on family violence, on violence against women, on violence by men against women, is what am I doing which will actually make a difference? 

You're making a difference. 

You're being here, you are talking and pushing. 

We have choices in our lives about what we spend our time on. 

You are choosing to spend your time in part on this. 

But we need to back up the people at the frontline. 

When I use the word "frontline", it's not a nebulous context. 

I'm speaking about people in community services. 

When you see a survivor come in and say "I cannot do this any more, I can no longer guarantee the safety of my children". 

You could be a councillor, you could be a social worker and many times, and I'm sure this is the story for some of you in this room, some of you are survivors and others are the first point of contact with a survivor making the first steps to do more than just survive. 

So what I believe is that we must face up to the structural flaws in the system. 

Respect is important. Respect is fantastic. 

But if I really respect the importance of equal relationships between men and women – I have to ask, what am I doing about it? 

The truth of the matter is in 2016 the odds are still cruelly stacked against women who experience violence. 

Seeking help from our legal system continues to be a demoralising, impoverishing, isolating ideal for tens of thousands of women. 

Let's talk about the Family Law system. 

The too-hard basket which a previous conservative Prime Minister John Howard kicked down the road. 

You can't be fair dinkum about family violence if you're not fair dinkum about family law reform. 

You can't be fair dinkum about family violence if you subject survivors to have to be cross-examined by their unrepresented ex-partners in the Family Law Court. 

You can't be fair dinkum about family violence if you continue to allow men and women going through the family law system to be unrepresented and unsupported. 

And you can't be fully fair dinkum about family that violence if you don't recognise that the family law system, with its notions of looking at shared care, can quite often put the offending partner, ex-partner in a position of power as you negotiate every other detail of the relationship break-up. 

So we need to understand the role that family law plays. 

This can be an uncomfortable topic. God, I see the difficulty the Government is getting into teaching Safe Schools. Family law, that is unimaginable. 

Divorce and separation as you know, mean financial hardship for all. 

But most frequently the burden can fall on women. 

Too many victims of family violence receive a minority share in the assets of the relationship. 

Right now, as we meet here, there are women without a secure roof over their heads, paying the mortgage of a home occupied by the man who has abused them and hurt their children. 

Then they go on to the family law process and receive a minority share of settlement. 

How can this be a reality in the country which we're so proud of? 

For every expense incurred in family law, property disputes are infinitely more complex and more costly. 

There is a deeply held misconception in our community that parents can have equal access, or should have equal access, to their children even when they have been violent and abusive parents and violent and abusive partners. 

This is wrong. 

There are often insufficient specialist services in our family courts for risk assessment or safety planning. 

For a woman to have to confront face-to-face the person who has inflicted the violence on them in the family court system is re-injuring injury. 

And it happens. 

It can be a terrifying encounter in the corridor, can't it? It can be the aggressive cross-examination. 

Imagine how much harder all this is, if you're a survivor with a disability or have limited English. 

On International Women's Day last year, the first funding announcement I made - and as Opposition Leader you can only do one thing first - the first funding announcement I made wasn't about tanks, it wasn't about warplanes, it wasn't about debt and deficit, though they are all important issues. 

The first announcement I chose to make was about family violence.

It was saying that we should have and restore nearly $50 million into targeted legal services so women threatened by violence do not have to navigate the unforgiving gauntlet of the legal system on their own. 

The legal system should be an instrument of justice, serving women trying to flee abusive relationships. It should not be an additional cause of pain and injury and hardship for people who have already endured too much. 

We have also pledged $15 million to help keep women safe in their own home. 

This is money for better security systems, the alarms, the locks, the CCTV, so women can stay in the family home and their children can sleep in their own bedrooms, keep attending the same school and mum can hold down that job without having to move. 

These are down payments, I understand that. There will be more that we will do. 

This summit that you have convened recognises the challenge of eliminating family violence demands a co-operative, collaborative approach. 

No-one has all the answers. 

No service provider can be expected to do everything. 

And acting in isolation only guarantees a repeat of the same outcomes. 

We need to make it easier for women to get referrals, to move freely within the system to access the essential frontline services they need. 

I understand in particular for the family and friends of Tara, that you would much rather be spending time with her today than being here. 

That you would much rather have led lives, and there are many of you here, untouched by the pain of family violence. 

I want you to know that the party I lead is committed to the same mission, that Australia stands with you. 

I do believe we can eliminate family violence once and for all. 

We have managed to tackle other curses and scourges in our community. 

We have managed to lower the road toll, we've managed to tackle cancer relating to tobacco and decrease that. But to me we can do better with tackling family violence. 

So, together we are strong. 

In Tara's name you are strong. 

I promise you, that what I will give you if we are elected, is not just words, I will have action. 

I am sufficiently ambitious for this cause and this country, that I hope if elected I can see you again in 12 months and you would come up to me and simply say "You kept your word, you are trying to make that difference". 

Just like all of you. 

Have a lovely morning.

ENDS

 


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