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Rosie Batty’s next fight

Oct 31, 2019 • 18m32s

Rosie Batty on Pauline Hanson’s family law inquiry, and why governments won’t do more to stop domestic violence.

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Rosie Batty’s next fight

112 • Oct 31, 2019

Rosie Batty’s next fight

[Birdsong and forest sounds]

ROSIE:

Oh I better switch my phone off, I think I’ve left it on.

ELIZABETH:

A lot of lovely birdlife.

ROSIE:

A lot of birdlife. It’s my little oasis, I think, of getting away from it all.

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

After the Morrison government announced another inquiry into the family courts, to be co-chaired by Pauline Hanson, advocates in the sector expressed concern that it was a distraction from real changes. One of them was former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty. We visited her at home on the Mornington Peninsula.

From Schwartz Media. This is 7am.

[Theme music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Thank you so much for having us in your home to speak about this, first of all, we really appreciate it.

ROSIE:

Thank you.

ELIZABETH:

Rosie, let's launch into this family law inquiry that's just been announced pretty recently. What was your reaction when you first heard that, that this was gonna go ahead?

ROSIE:

I was incredulous because I've been campaigning for over three years for reforms to the family law court system. And I know that two previous inquiries have been conducted over the last three years. And, for a third inquiry to be announced when none of the recommendations from the previous two inquiries of have ever had any government commitment to introducing and making any of those changes. So a third inquiry just to me really indicated a lack of willingness from the government to actually take this seriously.

And of course, when I heard the quote of Pauline Hanson making this statement of women exaggerating and lying to gain access to contact visits. I was...my blood boiled because those kind of comments are exactly, ummmm, they’re, they're so harmful. They’re so harmful because we know that a small number of people do lie, do exaggerate, but that is not the majority. And so to understand that someone heading up an inquiry already believes that to be the case, to me doesn't make this a fair inquiry.

ELIZABETH:

How will that affect what the inquiry, to your mind, is able to achieve? Will it affect what the inquiry is able to achieve?

ROSIE:

Well, look, I know so many people who are currently caught up in the system or even through it and have had a terrible experience, would want to contribute to be part of this inquiry so that their voice is heard. But I would be very concerned for those people who do have a story to tell and an experience to share who would be sitting across the table with somebody they know isn't necessarily going to believe them.

ELIZABETH:

The other person, though, he hasn't been as vocal in the media that will be on the inquiry, one of the co-chairs, Kevin Andrews. Have you read much or thought much about what his contribution might be?

ROSIE:

Again, this is a politician who's got very strong religious views on the sanctity of marriage and family relationships. And again, I wonder how much unconscious bias, how such strong opinions factor into an inquiry such as this? I can't see this inquiry uncovering anything that we don't already know. We've had two established inquiries of credibility.

Extensive and very recent. So I can't imagine why we need another inquiry unless we haven't liked the outcome and the recommendations from the previous other ones. And we are determined to try to see if this inquiry will show up different things or can be construed in a different way.

ELIZABETH:

How pervasive is that view that women lie in order to have a different outcome from the family court?

ROSIE:

I think, it astonishes me, actually, how widely misunderstood that is, because when I reflect on that for myself. We have one woman a week being murdered and we know the statistics. So why would we consider, when we know the statistics and we're beginning to understand the prevalence and the enormity of violence towards women and children, why is it we more readily believe women lie and exaggerate? It doesn't stack up. It's why I was compelled to speak out again, because after working so hard alongside so many other organisations to reduce violence towards women. It is sickening that the government has agreed to this third inquiry, and for it to be headed up by a woman whose reiterating and reflecting really the ignorance and the misinformation of those in our society who know no better.

For me it discredits the inquiry before it even starts. It sets it on a tangent, I believe that is going to be harmful. It really gives voice to those who are perpetrators of violence, who are using this as an opportunity to undo a lot of the positive work that is being done over the last few years where we are recognising family violence is an issue that we all need to play a part in and condemn.

ELIZABETH:

The number you just put forward is more than evidence enough for that view to be discredited. But the other kind of figure that comes out is that the Australian Institute of Family Studies says 3 per cent of court ordered arrangements involve a no contact order between children and a father. It defies belief that the cases that make it to the family court that only 3 per cent of those cases could require a no contact order.

ROSIE:

Look, I think that it is important to consider those percentages. You cannot be a good parent if you are violent and abusive person. And 70 per cent of these families are experiencing family violence. So, it's not going to go away; it's not going to get better.

And we know that children are used in the most horrific ways as revenge and methods of power and control. And I only hear, I guess, the horrible stories. The stories that I can't believe can happen and the way that children and people are treated by people who are perceived within the court system to have expertise. The families cannot reach out for help anywhere, they're silenced and they have to accept the court's decision.

ELIZABETH:

Can you describe that a little bit more? Why can't they go to the media, why can't they seek help? How have we got a situation now where families in need are not able to speak to anybody?

ROSIE:

My understanding believe it's clause 121 which silences families who are in the system. So this is to protect children and keep their stories anonymous. And that is important. But unfortunately, what it also does mean is through that cloud of secrecy, lots of things get heard and no one can ever speak out. And sadly, often the only way politicians and things change is through the shame that sometimes the media can bring to an unacceptable situation within our community and within our society. And I believe that this is where clause 121 works against all those families.

[Music starts]

ROSIE:

If a spotlight was able to be shone these situations, we would be so horrified it wouldn't be allowed to continue. And that is why I don't want another 18 months to go by without any type of reform.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Rosie, the government, they’ve announced this inquiry into family law. You work in the sector since 2015. Have there been changes since that time, what have you observed?

ROSIE:

The key change that we advocated and campaigned for at the time of Malcolm Turnbull's leadership was the ability for a perpetrator to be able to cross-examine the witness. And this had not been allowed in the criminal system for many years, but was still able to be done through the family law court system. So we did campaign and that actually that legislation came through, I believe this year. It's not a small change is a significant change, but just one change that I'm aware of.

ELIZABETH:

Rosie, just as we've been discussing this, I’m thinking, how did we get here? Because of course, on paper we all agree that children should be put first in this. And we, we can all agree on those principles. But how do we end up in a situation where the reality is so far removed from what we can all agree is the goal?

ROSIE:

We've really just waking up a lot about family violence. And as much as, you know, we haven't really had a lot of conversations about it. So we are still a community in a society that are still understanding that we’ve, in the past, blamed victims for the violence that they experience. And we've done that in ways that we didn't realise was so damaging.

Decades ago, a woman experiencing violence, if they rang the police, they didn't come out to help them because it is just another domestic.

So these are attitudes that we have always had, I guess, but never really understood how harmful, how inaccurate, how damaging they are. But through improved conversations, through debates, through better education, we're starting to realise that it's not a woman's fault for being in a violent relationship, the fault is with the perpetrator for choosing violence. And so I think that it's a continued journey of really us realising our victim- blaming attitudes play out very strongly through the court system and without improved education, without an understanding of the complexities of family violence, we just perpetuate the problem.

ELIZABETH:

Rosie, why do you think the family court and this issue is so political?

ROSIE:

This is one of the biggest societal issues that we have. I think we all agree it's unacceptable. But I haven't seen the degree of funding, political focus and campaigning with genuine intent, like I've seen in front and centre of what they're doing. I don't know how we get the government to genuinely invest in this broken system. I know I tried. And others have been trying a lot longer than me. And it's just so disheartening.

Just over a year ago, I really had to step back from a lot of the public limelight and the media activity I was doing and felt really overwhelmed by the volume of emails and messages that people would send me. It got to the point where I could, could barely face another one because every email that you get, you want to be able to fix it, you want to be able to stop it, you want to be able to do something.

And some of the people, it's not that they expect you to be able to do anything, they just want someone to know because it seems like no one cares and no one can ever do anything. As isolating as it is for them, they don't realise how commonly shared it is. And so I think sometimes it's just being able to tell somebody. That they feel will understand and believe them. But it’s unrelenting.

ELIZABETH:

And that burden must be immense…

ROSIE:

And it doesn't slow down. And I have got piles of those letters in my filing cabinet. I've kept every single one. I've got hundreds of emails stored on my computer. I've kept every single one and I've replied as best I can. I'd in the end, I think. But what can I do? I'm still recovering from my loss. I'm still traumatised and overwhelmed with grief for the loss of my son, what more do these people want from me? I can't give any more.

Just not being able to do more, made me feel so inadequate. And as much as I have really tried to speak out for five years, you still wish you could see change happening, so much faster. And one of the things I've had to really understand is that change takes decades. And for some, it's not going to happen soon enough. But the impact on a child and its development and the ongoing trauma that they will have. It just breaks my heart because they will be compromised without a doubt.

[Music starts]

If you've been abused, if you've been neglected, if you've experienced violence as a child, you will be impacted for the rest of your life. It doesn't mean that you will become a perpetrator. It doesn't mean that you'll become a victim. But you will always carry that experience with you. And it will shape up who you become.

I do know that people genuinely go to work believing that they are doing their best. So this, this needs to assist those people with the professional expertise, to know that they are doing the right thing, in the right way. And it will be a journey of change. And we need to start it now rather than later.

ELIZABETH:

Rosie, thank you so much for having us here.

ROSIE:

It’s a pleasure.

ELIZABETH:

If this episode has raised any concerns for you, the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service is available at 1800 737 732.

[Music ends]

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[Theme music begins]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

Supermarket giant Woolworths has admitted to underpaying thousands of employees as much as $300 million, in what is believed to be the biggest wage underpayment case in Australia’s history. In a statement, Woolworths said it had so far identified more than 5,500 staff that it had underpaid over the past decade. Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said the company is “deeply sorry” and that affected staff can expect to begin receiving back-payments before Christmas.

And UK voters will be heading to the polls for an early election on December 12. Following months of parliamentary deadlock, MPs backed Boris Johnson’s bid 438 to 20 in the House of Commons on Wednesday morning. The result came after Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour supported the election, calling it a, quote, “once-a-generation chance to transform our country.” Pending approval from the House of Lords, Parliament will dissolve next week for five weeks of campaigning.

Special thanks today to Michelle Macklem, who produced this episode.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Friday.

[Theme music ends]

After the Morrison government announced another inquiry into the family courts, to be co-chaired by Pauline Hanson, advocates in the sector expressed concern it was a distraction. One of them was Rosie Batty.

Guest: Anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty.

Background reading:

Family law needs reform, not inquiry in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh, with Michelle Macklem. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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112: Rosie Batty’s next fight