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A footy star speaks: "It's time for an apology to the women we let down."

It’s been 30 years since Phil Cleary lost his sister to domestic violence, but the former Victorian football star is doing his best to ensure her legacy lives on.

The horrifying events unfolded on the morning of 26 August 1987. 25-year-old Vicki Cleary had parked her car on a street nearby the kindergarten where she worked in a south-east Melbourne suburb when she was accosted by her ex-boyfriend, Peter Keogh.

Keogh stabbed her to death in the ensuing fight – but his plea that she had “provoked him” was successful and in 1989 he was given the meagre sentence of six years jail for manslaughter. He served less than four.

LISTEN: Rosie Batty knows the heartache of losing a family member to family violence.

This “sad inditement of male entitlement and the justice system’s failure to properly respect the rights of women” prompted her older brother Phil to push for change.

In an emotional interview with 1116 SEN’s Rohan Connolly on Friday, the former Coburg VFA player and politician spoke about Vicki’s death was a catalyst for change to Australian society’s treatment of women.

Phil recalled a fond memory when – just months before her death – Vicki had surprised him with a cake to celebrate his 200th match post-game.

“I turned and she was there with a cake with candles… to celebrate the game,” Phil told Connolly.

“We had such a wonderful time.

“Could you believe that 11 weeks later after all of that I’m looking at my sister’s body in a coffin?”

Vicki Cleary was killed by her ex-partner. (Image supplied.)

The shattering news of his sister's death hit Phil and his family hard, including his mum, who found it difficult to not imagine the terror Vicki must have felt in her final moments.

But it only got worse when the man responsible was found not guilty of murder "under the claim that she might have said something that provoked a man of his size and character to lose control and stab her with a knife that he'd taken to the place".

Angered by the injustice of this so-called "provocation law", Phil started a campaign to abolish it and "change the cultural landscape".

He said attitudes needed to shift as Australian society had "been born in an old culture in which women weren't properly respected", acknowledging that work still needed to be done.

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Phil Cleary campaigned hard to change the law that saw his sister's killer "expunged of guilt". (Image supplied.)

"The good men have got to be taking a stand and not turning a blind eye to languages and jokes that demean women," he said.

Almost 20 years after Vicki's death, the law was successfully removed in 2005 and replaced by legislation that still had issues, but has now, thankfully, also been abolished.

When asked if he thought this was of a direct impact of the conversation he started after his sister's death, Phil said he believed it was "without a doubt" her legacy.

However, there is at least one more important step Cleary believes needs to happen before we as a society can call ourselves progressed from the old way of thinking about domestic murder.

"No one in 30 years has he said sorry... not only that your sister was murdered, but that our system expunged that man of guilt. That continues to hurt me.

"I've actually said to the State Government - it's time for an apology to the women we let down."

This year Phil has organised his own tribute to his sister and other victims of domestic violence.

The first "Vicki Cleary Day" will be held on Sunday 30 April at Coburg City Oval when the Coburg Lions take on the Northern Blues. At this free event, a minute silence will be observed before the match and other family members of victims of family violence will attend a luncheon.

"I'd love to see the ground full for that day," Phil said.

As for Vicki's killer, in 2001 he committed suicide.

"I wasn't sure whether I was happy about it or otherwise," Phil admitted.

"I wanted to catch him one day. I wanted to back him against a wall and say 'you did this and you got away with it, but you're not going to get away with it'."

Now, thanks to Phil's determined campaigning and the work of others who shared the same goal, no one will "get away with it" under the same law Peter Keogh did.

If you have been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault you can receive help by calling 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732. 

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