"I'm sick of the vigils and the endless violence. We need a royal commission into domestic violence."


Trigger Warning: This post deals with issues of domestic violence and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.


“Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve let a murderer go free.”

In a dozen words, devoid of expletives or a trace of victimhood, my mother, Lorna Cleary, reminded her children why we so loved and admired her. It was just after 6pm on Tuesday, 14 February 1989, the seventh day of the trial of Peter Raymond Keogh for the murder of Vicki Cleary when mum levelled her gaze at the jurors as they fled through the foyer outside courtroom three. Not one of the jurors said a word.

I will never forget Valentine’s Day 1989, or the trauma my family suffered seeing our girl, Vicki, a 25-year-old woman blamed for the violence her ex-boyfriend inflicted on her.

Vicky Cleary.

Keogh had ambushed Vicki outside the kindergarten where she worked and stabbed her to death. Yet he was granted a provocation defence, found not guilty of murder and sentenced to less than four years in gaol. That verdict and that sentence were emblematic of the way our society viewed violence against women by men known intimately to them.

My sister had left her killer three months before the attack.

Our experience in court left me believing that courts were complicit in the violence perpetrated against women. I knew that society had to change.

For the past 25 years, I’ve sat in courtrooms listening to lawyers explain away the killing of women and heard countless grief-ridden stories from the families of murdered women.

I still bristle at the thought of a newspaper running the headline “Love Pulls the Trigger” after Christine Boyce was shot dead in front of her children by her estranged partner in 1987. Defence lawyer Bob Kent was allowed to exhibit nude photos of Christine to show she was ‘an attractive woman both in face and body… and that in those circumstances a juror might say, “I am prepared to say that an ordinary man in this man’s situation may well have lost control and acted in that way” [the photos show]… she is somebody whom we could well understand him to have a great passion for.’


All these years later, our courtrooms continue to deliver Not Guilty verdicts to murderous men. More than 60 women a year are murdered by a man with whom they’ve been intimate. Alongside, the murders are of the women (and their children) living in fear of a violent ex or current partner.

The latest woman to meet the same fate as my sister was 33-year-old Fiona Warzywoda. She had done what so many women are now prepared to do — leave a bad man. The truth is women have never been in greater danger than they are today. How ironic that it’s the modern woman’s preparedness to leave a violent or oppressive relationship that is putting her at risk: stay and be terrorized, leave and risk being killed. It’s a truly shocking and barbaric state of affairs. Unless the society undergoes radical changes, women will continue to die at the hands of possessive men.

The only way we can begin the process to end the violence is with a royal commission. We must demand a royal commission.

Such a commission would dissect the cultural framework in which the violence occurs, the extent to which our courts, police, governments, welfare agencies and media have failed women and identify strategies to offer women the certainty and protection they need.

Nothing short of a royal commission will deliver answers as to why insufficient resources exist to stop men from terrorising women and breaching intervention orders – 820 in Victoria last year according to the Victoria Police – in the way Fiona Warzywoda was killed last week.

Phil Cleary: “We need a royal commission.”

Twenty-five years ago, I spoke in the Melbourne Town Hall at one of the first major gatherings to discuss violence against women. The women who led this campaign came from the battlegrounds, the community centres, refuges, legal centres and anti-violence agencies where frightened women sought protection and comfort from the terror.

We’ve come a long way since those days. No longer do we believe ‘family violence’ by men is private business. No longer can judges make inappropriate comments with impunity in ‘wife killer’ trials, even if juries still find such men not guilty of murder. No longer will the community simply shrug its shoulder when a local woman is killed. No one held vigils in the ‘old days’. Now they’ve become part of the ritual of the epidemic of violence against women.

But I’m sick of the vigils and the endless violence. I don’t want to be crying about another murder and remembering what it was like when the woman about whom we now shed tears was my sister. We need to end the carnage. We need far reaching cultural change. For that we need a royal commission.

If you are affected by abuse, you can receive help via Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277. For 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.

Phil Cleary is a former history and politics teacher and independent member (1992-96) of the Australian parliament. 
He is the author of three books, one of which, ‘Just another little murder’, deals with the 1987 murder of his sister, Vicki, by her ex-boyfriend.
Phil played 205 games with Coburg in the VFA (now VFL) and is a premiership player (1979) and dual premiership coach (1988/89).
Phil has called VFA/VFL football on ABC TV for the last 25 years. He currently coaches West Coburg’s Div One under 16 side and has a mentoring role at the club. His primary work is in communications. He has had numerous articles published in the Australian media and regularly participates in programs on TV and radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.

If you would like to express your desire for a royal commission, you can contact Prime Minister Tony Abbott using this Contact your PM, or tweet him at@TonyAbbottMHR. You can contact Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, using this contact form or on Twitter at @SenatorCash.