Fiona Richardson is known for playing hardball — both as a Labor MP in the Victorian Parliament and as a senior member of the right of the party.
There is no doubt the minister is quirky. She’s vegan and almost always barefoot in her office. When she’s in deep concentration she throws mini basketballs into hoops strategically positioned by her staff. But she’s not one to show vulnerabilities.
Crying can be political suicide and, in Ms Richardson’s words, no-one has ever seen that side of her. That is, until now.
When Labor won the Victorian election in November 2014 it promised to crack down on family violence.
“This really is the biggest law and order challenge that we face today,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says.
“Two women a week are killed by their current or former partner; the leading cause of death and disability among women under the age of 45.”
Mr Andrews rang Ms Richardson to offer her the position of Australia’s first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence. He then set up a royal commission into the issue.
The commission is due to hand down its findings on Tuesday, with Ms Richardson responsible for implementing change.
But when first offered the job, Ms Richardson was taken by surprise.
“I wondered whether he knew, whether he had some inkling or someone had said something to him,” she tells Australian Story.
“I said to him, ‘Do you know anything about my family history?'”
Mr Andrews was in the dark.
“I had no knowledge, no sense that she had been a survivor of the very thing that I was asking her to be the minister for,” he says.
Accepting the Premier’s offer was a challenge for the Richardson family, prompting discussions about the past — discussions that had long been avoided.
When politics became personal
Soon after being sworn in as Minister, Ms Richardson shared a stage with Rosie Batty. Listening to Ms Batty talk about what it is like to be a victim of family violence had a profound effect on her.
“She said it can happen to everybody,” Ms Richardson recalls.
“It doesn’t matter how nice your home is or how intelligent you are, abuse in the home can happen, it can happen to you and you are changed as a consequence of it.”
These words stuck. Ms Richardson and her family members had never spoken about what they had experienced. She thought perhaps if she could prise open that Pandora’s box, their story might help others.
But first she needed to have her mother and two brothers on board.
That wasn’t easy.
“My first reaction was ‘oh hang on a second, do I really need the whole world to know about what is essentially a private issue?'” her brother Hamish Richardson says.
“I think Alastair [Ms Richardson’s other brother] and I were probably a little taken aback in all fairness because we had internalised everything that happened.”