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It's Time To Act On Family Violence

We've come a long way. It's nowhere near far enough.

29/11/2016 3:01 PM AEDT | Updated 29/11/2016 3:01 PM AEDT
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Chloe and Bill Shorten

The pain and hardship of family violence doesn't end when you leave home, or change the locks. It is only the start of the next phase, an impoverishing and isolating ordeal.

While you're reading this, around the country, there will be women who are desperately seeking secure accommodation. There will be sleepless kids who've woken up in unfamiliar bedrooms. There will be working women dealing with the upheaval of looking for a new job. Survivors who -- every time they go to the supermarket or the cafe or the gym or glance at their phone -- feel the stomach-wrenching, skin-crawling sensation that their abuser is still trying to find them.

Then there is the legal gauntlet.

Despite the progress we've made, the criminal and family law system remains a demoralising, dehumanising, hope-draining process for many Australians.

Our country has come a long way in how we talk about family violence. We know the importance of building respect, of reforming attitudes. But change doesn't begin and end with the words we use. That's nowhere near far enough, it's nowhere near good enough.

For politicians, for all of us, the true test is whether we live up to our rhetoric, whether we match our good intentions with action. We owe the survivors and the people currently trapped in the cycle of violence real action.

Firstly, action in the workplace -- including Family Violence Leave in the National Employment Standards -- full stop. This leave is not for the benefit of the abuser. It is not a cushy entitlement, it is a test of our decency as a society.

Secondly, action in technology. So-called 'revenge porn' should be a crime across Australia. Criminalisation of so-called revenge porn should be a Federal law, not just left to a patchwork of state laws.

It's time for greater attention to be paid to technology facilitated abuse. You know the stories, the spyware inserted by a vengeful ex-partner on the iPhone of the person escaping the abuse.

Thirdly, we need more action in our courts and legal system. There is a test here for our courts. When women go to court seeking justice, when they summon up the courage, and the resilience to tell their story -- they should not have to be directly cross-examined by their perpetrator.

This is trial by ordeal. It is an added indignity, a further injustice, inflicted by the abuser who has already done enough damage. Cross-examination in family violence by unrepresented perpetrators is a re-injury. It is new harm on top of the old, we must put a stop to it.

Let us be as courageous as the thousands of survivors who woke up this morning determined to pursue a better life. Let us be as resilient as the children who are moving schools and rooms, unsure of what is happening, but trusting to the love of their mother.

That's why Labor will amend the Family Law Act, to compel judges in family violence cases to consider better protections for witnesses -- such as video conferencing.

If these mechanisms under the Act are insufficient to protect a vulnerable witness, then the judge should have the power to direct the unrepresented parties -- men and women -- to be represented by Legal Aid.

We will allocate $43.2 million to ensure that no victim of violence is re-traumatised by a system supposed to be there to support them. This is a change that family violence survivors, including the remarkable Rosie Batty, have championed.

The time for more arguments and calling for more evidence is over. We need action from the Parliament, the Government, we need it now. I would welcome the Prime Minister adopting this idea and taking it into the parliament, I would be proud to stand by his side and vote for it.

On White Ribbon Day, we remember women and children whose lives have been scarred, and taken, by family violence. We salute the courage of those who stand up, who speak out, who shine a light on this dark corner of our national life. But White Ribbon Day has to be about more than ritual phrases and familiar promises to aim for better.

Let us be as courageous as the thousands of survivors who woke up this morning determined to pursue a better life.

Let us be as resilient as the children who are moving schools and rooms, unsure of what is happening, but trusting to the love of their mother.

Let us match our words with our deeds, our praise with real change and our promises with resources.

It's time to act. Let's do it together.

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If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.

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