Matters of Urgency - Domestic and Family Violence

I was at the vigil in Camp Hill last night when Nikki Brookes spoke bravely for her beautiful friend, Hannah Clarke, and her children, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey.

I want to refer to some of her speech now to remind all of us in this chamber of the important things she had to say. She said:

We are a nation in pain, whether you knew our beautiful Hannah or not, we are all deeply affected by this tragedy.

I see her face on television, her smile like sunshine. She has the face of a friend. And maybe that's what it is that hurts—that she is so instantly relatable and that we are not only heartbroken for her family but we have all become a little scared for our own. I wish I had something profound to tell you: the perfect message of how we stop the violence, how we take away the rage. But, if I had it all figured out, we wouldn't be standing here today. What I will tell you is that in their short lives, Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey loved hard and laughed hard every day. Hannah carried the weight of the world on her shoulders and you never knew it. Her strength of character was only matched by her wicked sense of humour. Giggles filled their days and they were truly happy.

I don't want us to get caught up in a blame game that takes us beyond the animal that did this. There was no excuse. There could never be an excuse—no buts. The blame lives and dies with him. You can do all the calls to arms you want. You can blame the system and demand change, but there is no quick fix. I don't think there's a single law or order that would have saved our darlings. Monsters find a way. So what can we do?

Little boys in pain grow into angry men. I want every person in this crowd to now turn to someone right now and cuddle them. Last night at the vigil, strangers did. She said, 'Get used to saying, "I love you," out loud. Say to our babies that being tough and strong isn't just physical; kindness is emotional strength.' She said:

Stop being so polite. 'It's none of our business', and 'I don't want to get stuck in the middle', are keeping secrets silent and the suffering is breeding …

Those phrases are isolating. Don't back away from your friends for the sake of convenience. Don't be gutless. If you see something, say something. One by one, we can let the world know we won't stand for this anymore.

She said, 'The time is up for domestic violence.' Gosh, she said it well. No parent ever should have to experience what Suzanne and Lloyd Clarke have over the last week. When I think of the cruelty and pain inflicted on Hannah, Laianah, Trey and Aaliyah by a father whose basic duty was to love and protect them, I feel sick. And yet this happens. Murder happens. Perhaps it happens less dramatically and perhaps less visibly, but it happens to another woman every week. It's not okay. It's never okay.

Domestic violence must end. I actually don't like the term. It shouldn't be treated like it is something different or less than because it is connected to the family. If anything, it's worse. It is a bigger breach of trust. It's a bigger betrayal of the oath between husband and wife, between parent and child, and yet every two minutes the police get a call out about a family violence incident. I'm sad to see Senator Di Natale attempt to politicise this sad and complex social issue with this motion, because it crosses generations and cultures, it crosses through the rich and through the poor, and it isn't the sole result of alcohol or other substance abuse.

In 2015, the Not now, not ever report commissioned by the Newman government was given to the Queensland government. This cross-party task force included people who worked in the area of domestic violence, including in Indigenous groups and in multicultural groups, and led by former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce. The report lists a range of factors which contribute to domestic violence and the danger that women find themselves too often in in the trying to get out of dangerous relationships. Those factors include the law, police, culture, different cultures in our community, generational abuse, substance abuse and the availability of safe places to go. When you look at what Hannah had done, it was clear she had good advice on getting out safely. She had reported the latest violence against her to the police. She had moved out. She was living with her parents. She had identified safe houses in her local area. She'd had an order issued that was supposed to protect her. She did everything right—textbook, really. She was smart, well educated, healthy, beautiful and a great example to her children, with a loving, supportive extended family. Maybe that's why it hurts so much, because we don't expect bad things like this to happen to people who look like her, but they do. It touches all walks of life.

What happened to Hannah and her children was pure evil, but the question of what we do next is hard. We as a government can't legislate for people to be kind. We can't legislate for love. Nikki correctly identified that little boys in pain grow into angry men and that it's the parents' job to model and show them how to love one another. They also need to show little girls what conduct is and isn't acceptable to receive from the people they love. Parents are working on this, and there are social workers and chaplains in virtually every school in this country working with children from homes that are not safe, trying to make that change. As I said, we can't legislate kindness, but, in the event that a person finds themselves in a violent situation of this kind, there are now more practical measures in place than ever to help them get out.

Last year, the Prime Minister, along with the then Minister for Women, committed $328 million funding for the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children between 2010 and 2022. It's record funding. There is $68.3 million worth of funding for prevention measures to stop violence before it even happens, $35 million specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community women and $78 million for shelters and women seeking safety from their abusive partners. And, since 2015, the coalition has spent $840 million to help suffering domestic violence victims get out and rebuild their lives. In the 2019-20 budget, the minister secured more funding to speed up parenting payment processing times and property settlements. Seven million dollars was committed to the creation of the Family Violence and Cross-Examination of Parties Scheme—funds for legal aid expressly to ensure that a person injured by domestic violence doesn't have to face their abuser in court. That has been complemented by an amendment to the Family Law Act banning self-representation in these instances. And $31.8 million was allocated to Commonwealth funded specialist units, while $50.4 million went into family law property mediation services. In 2018, the then minister introduced five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave. It was the first time any government had enshrined that as a workplace right.

There is no doubting that family breakdown is among the hardest things a person can ever experience in their life—a situation made more complex when drugs, mental health issues and child safety concerns are added into the mix. We can't expect any government to be able to turn this trauma into a happy time of life, but we as a government, as families, as friends and as communities can and must do everything possible to keep each other safe. It's time we looked not just to the government but also to what we as individuals can do, because more of this just will not do. Lloyd, I gave you a big hug last night, with tears in both our eyes. We won't forget Hannah and we won't forget her kids. We won't give up on making this right.