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Sorry, PM: Your new commitment to family violence rings hollow.

Tony Abbott is finally on board with reducing family violence – so why is everyone so suspicious?

Yesterday Prime Minister Tony Abbott stood up and made a commitment to reducing family violence in this country.

He said: “Something like one in three Australian women has suffered violence in a domestic context through her lifetime.”

“I am the father of three daughters, I am the brother of three sisters. The last thing I want to see tolerated is violence against women and children.”

Tony Abbott and Rosie Batty.

At yesterday’s press conference, the PM committed to asking state and territory leaders to agree on a national scheme for domestic violence orders. He also said we needed to look at consistent penalties for breaking protection orders because “[i]If you’re a repeat drink driver, you really have the book thrown at you. But if you breach domestic violence orders, often there are hardly any consequences.”

All of this is true.

We should be celebrating that this issue is receiving national attention.

And we would be.

If.

If the announcement hadn’t been made by someone who over the last 12 months as Minister for the Status of Women has overseen the defunding of a number of services that are essential to supporting women leaving violent relationships.

We might have cheered a welcome change of heart from a government that has, since its election, neglected this vital area.

But.

But for the fact that the initiative was almost a word-for-word re-announcement of an initiative agreed by all Australian governments in a national commitment five years ago (the 2010 agreement committed to “a national approach to domestic and family violence protection orders” and “strong penalties for repeat offences and breaches of sentencing and protective orders”).

The PM’s announcement yesterday reeks of hypocrisy, desperation and a burning desire to distract from his unpopular decision to bestow a national honour on a known racist and associate himself with a popular decision (not made by him): awarding Australian of the Year to family violence campaigner Rosie Batty.

Rosie Batty and Ken Lay led the 2014 White Ribbon march in Melbourne (via Twitter)

Yesterday, the Prime Minister met with retiring Victoria Police chief commissioner Ken Lay and Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, who will sit on a new panel advising the Council of Australian Governments on family violence.

Read more: The system let Rosie Batty down. But she stood up.

The PM said of that meeting, “[Rosie Batty] is determined to ensure that we don’t just make a statement by appointing her Australian of the Year, but that we act as a nation to make a difference, reduce the scourge of domestic violence which is stalking too many households in our country,” he said.

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Campaigners like Rosie Batty know that the PM has form for tearing down family violence prevention initiatives, not for building them up. Rosie is rightfully wary of standing next to a known wrecker.

Massive cuts, which are forcing community legal centres to close this year as part of Abbott’s austerity agenda, mean that women fleeing violent relationships will struggle to access the limited protection afforded by the justice system. Cutting the national rental affordability scheme will put additional strain on women who are forced to flee their homes due to violence and put them at even greater risk of homelessness.

Read more: “I’m sick of the vigils and the endless violence. We need a royal commission into domestic violence.”

National family violence prevention services have been cut, as have men’s behavioural change initiatives. Women’s shelters are closing in Sydney because funding has been redirected.

Violence prevention strategies. Protection strategies for particularly vulnerable groups like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Access to justice and housing initiatives. These have all been decimated by the Abbott government.

Make no mistake, a commitment from the PM to focus on family violence is a good thing.

But we need to make sure it is not a sound-bite that he is allowed to forget when the political heat shifts and the coast is clear.

In accepting her Australian of the Year Award, Rosie Batty set out what she wanted from the Australian Government.

“To the government: We need your strong leadership to change these rising statistics, and your investment into both preventing the violence and long-term secure funding to our specialist women’s services to deliver the intensive support so desperately needed.”

Leadership. Investment in prevention. Long-term secure funding for services.

Not recycled commitments that are 5 years old. Not cuts to vital services for people whose voices the PM will probably never hear. Not media stunts, not hypocrisy, not lip service.

If Tony Abbott is going to make a media opportunity out of standing beside our Australian of the Year, then he’d better be prepared to stand by his commitment to her and to the women of Australia.

This year, like no other, the nation will be watching.

Rosie Batty and Ken Lay (via Twitter)
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