real life

It's killing more Australians than terrorism. So why won't the government do more to fight it?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been talking tough on terrorism again.

On Monday, he unveiled a shiny new counter-terrorism policy involving a national coordinator, new measures to “clamp down on” religious hatred and amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act. These elaborate measures, coupled with his persistent decrying of the “ISIS death cult” and the $632 million in extra funding he poured into counter-terror agencies in the last budget, make one thing perfectly clear: The Prime Minister wants to frame terrorism as the most deadly threat facing Australia.

Related content: Tony Abbott’s national security statement.

But there’s just one problem with his priorities. While he’s investing copious amounts of money and resources into counter-terror measures, he’s close to ignoring another truly frightening security problem closer to home: Family violence.

Trigger warning: This post deals with domestic violence and may be triggering for some readers.

“We’ve lost 14 women already this year to violence. Just because this violence is not public, doesn’t mean it’s not a public issue.”

University of Melbourne social work professor Cathy Humphreys says it’s “absolutely critical” the government starts to pay domestic violence the same level of attention we pay national security concerns.

“Why don’t we pay some attention to intimate partner terrorism? If only they had the same sense of crisis about intimate partner terrorism,” Professor Humphreys, the former Alfred Felton Chair of child and family welfare, tells Mamamia.

“We’ve lost 14 women already this year to violence.”

Related content: Family violence has claimed another life.

One woman dies on average each week from the domestic violence epidemic, and more than a million women have experienced physical or sexual assault by their male current or ex-partner since the age of 15, according to 2005 ABS figures.

Women’s Services Network Australia chair Julie Oberin has also described domestic violence levels to Fairfax Media as “a national disaster”.

Women’s Services Network Australia chair Julie Oberin has described domestic violence levels to Fairfax Media as “a national disaster”.

Despite those frightening figures, Mr Abbott’s allotted $632 million in extra counter-terror agency funding stands in stark contrast to the $300 million he defunded domestic violence in last year’s budget.

That defunding was despite the fact that family violence costs the Australian economy billions of dollars annually — in 2011, the figure was over $13 billion — meaning that to eradicate the issue would increase economic and political stability.

Last year’s budget was also the first since 1984 to fail to produce a women’s budget impact statement.

Read more: “This is how to get a domestic violence order-if you need one”

Professor Humphreys criticises the government’s failure to recommit to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which funds community organisations to assist domestic violence victims to find safe accommodation.


“We still need housing services, both crisis as well as move-on housing,” she said. “We don’t have a housing agreement past June, so how are women supposed to leave?

“The lack of clear commitment in that area is unravelling the sector and therefore the lives of women and their children.”

“The lack of clear commitment in the area of housing is unravelling the sector and therefore the lives of women and their children.”

Ms Oberin told Mamamia women’s refuges, shelters and outreach services were desperately in need of help.

“(They) are already turning women and children away and/or have increasingly longer waiting lists,” she says. “Front line crisis services are putting more and more women up in hotels and caravan parks.”

Some of the women who have lost their lives to family violence or alleged family violence. Post continues after gallery:

Ms Oberin added it’s “critical” that no further cuts be made to women’s health services, women’s legal services, other community legal services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services, which she says all variously “provide a pathway to support and safety for women experiencing violence”.

Professor Humpheys agrees that the legal aid sector — which has been stripped of $43 million over four years — represents a particularly “critical point for women who are trying to leave domestic violence”.

“More women are dying each week this year than last year.”

“More women are challenging the coercive abusive control from their partners or considering leaving him, which in turn causes him to escalate his abuse, coercion and violence,” Ms Oberin says. “More women are dying each week this year than last year.”

Read more: “Domestic violence doesn’t always look like you thought it would”

Now, none of this is to deny the trauma suffered by those targeted by acts of terror in Australia or overseas. There’s also no denying that ISIS and other hate groups pose a threat to Australia, or that the government should take sensible measures to monitor and tackle homegrown terrorism.

But in the name of tackling terror, we must not forget our other homegrown epidemic, which month after month already claims innocent Australian lives.

Related content: “Domestic violence occurrs in every class and community.”

So Mr Abbott: thank you for trying to keep our country safe. But as women of Australia, we need you to take the violence right here in our homes — the pervasive, awful violence that already ruins and takes lives on home soil every week — just as seriously.

As Professor Humphreys so perfectly puts it: “Just because this violence is not public, doesn’t mean it’s not a public issue.”

If you believe you may be an abusive partner, you can receive help via Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277. If you have experienced, or are at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault, you can receive help by calling 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732. If you are in immediate danger please call the police on 000.