Tony Abbott Women
As published in The Age newspaper
ls it drawing a longbow to say political life might look profoundly different for Tony Abbott had he not stood smiling in front of those misogynist banners 'Ditch the Witch'and 'Julia... Bob Browns (sic) Bitch' during his push to become Australia's 28th Prime Minister. Imagine if he'd shown genuine leadership and courage and torn asunder the hatred of women that bristled in those banners. Instead, campaigners against the epidemic of violence wondered how he could not grasp the deeper significance of his complicity in the banners.
Had Tony Abbott not lent his name to words that mimicked the tawdry courtroom depictions of murdered 'wives' as bitches and witches, maybe his creation of an advisory panel on family violence would have looked like the actions of a genuine prime minister. In the absence of a documented passion for the anti-violence cause his announcement of an advisory panel wreaked of opportunism in the face of the opprobrium that flowed from his knighting of Prince Philip. Without as much as talking to the campaigners he created a panel then offered not an original thought about the extent of the violence against women, it's origins or how we as a society might begin to deal with it. Don't get me wrong. Former Victoria Chief Commissioner of Police, Ken Lay, is a passionate and admired campaigner against the violence, and the symbolism of Rosie Batty's appointment, along with her experience with the institutions entrusted with the task of protecting women and children will be invaluable.
But what's the point of an advisory panel if you're up to your neck in cuts to the funding of front line services crucial to the safety of women? If only Tony Abbott had committed funds to fortify and extend those services rather than promised an unpopular, paid parental leave policy. If only he'd promised to sweep away the platitudes and address the inconvenient truth that it's violence against women by men that is our problem and that the murder of Luke Batty was an act of male revenge against a woman, identical to Robert Farquharson driving his three sons into a dam in 2005 and Arthur Freeman throwing his 4-year-old daughter, Darcey, off the Westgate Bridge in 2009.
When Arthur Freeman appeared in court over the murder of his daughter, his lawyer David Brustman said 'Very few cases could induce more prejudice...it is the easiest thing in the world simply to say that these events are nothing more than an evil man...' Brustman was right, for there were no such prejudices among the jurors who found Peter Keogh not guilty of murder in 1989 after stabbing my 25-year-old sister multiple times outside the kinder where she worked or delivered the same verdict on James Ramage after he strangled his estranged wife, Julie, in the family home in 2003.
No defense lawyer has ever said publicly that a wife killer might be viewed as the embodiment of evil. Rather, history shows that defense lawyers have traversed every nuance of the law to find an excuse as to why a man stabbed, strangled or shot his wife. So desperate was the search for excuses, our justice system gave the law of provocation carte blanche to obliterate the rights of women. Tony Abbott was in the parliament in 1994, the year I asked Labor Attorney General, Michael Lavarch to put the law of provocation, a symbol of the denigration of women, on the national agenda. I have never heard him express concern that despite it being abolished in Victoria in 2005 this discredited law continues to operate in several other states. The sad truth is that we don't regard the life of a murdered 'wife' as being as valuable as that of a child.
When a child is murdered by their father, it's invariably described as an inexplicable act and the source of unimaginable pain, as if the loss of a woman to a man who claims to love her isn't equally as painful for her parents. Children are always innocent, whereas too often a murdered 'wife' must run the gauntlet of guilt. Faced with the opportunity to expose these contradictions and the hypocrisy and stare down the attitudes that have fostered the killing of women, Tony Abbott failed to deliver the appropriate leadership. After 25 years of campaigning I'm not interested - nor are the campaigners I speak with - in politicians or commentators who camouflage the origins of the violence, disregard the lessons of the campaign, or won't say that the problem is men. Rather than inspiring me, Tony Abbott's decision to create an advisory panel on family violence left me believing he didn't understand the nature of the violence stalking modern women. It is just one more reason why his leadership of the country is under threat.
We've come along way since the days when violence against women was secret men's business. So far have we come that it is now politically acceptable to select the mother of a boy killed by his father as Australian of the Year. Unfortunately, like so many times in his recent political career, Tony Abbott did not seize the moment. How different it might have looked had he said he would not and could not entertain those who blame the Family Court or mothers for the violence of a vengeful father and that it's 'Un-Australian' to kill your 'wife' If only he'd posed for a photo with the parents or siblings of women murdered by an estranged man, especially those devastated by the misogynist provocation law or failed defensive homicide law in Victoria.
Like so many campaigners I long for the day when the murder of 60 women a year by intimate partners, estranged or current, produces the same sorrow and outrage from a Prime Minister and his Opposition counterpart as the killing of a child and inspires a condolence motion of the kind moved by Tony Abbott for the victims in the Martin Place siege. For that day will mark the beginning of the end for the 'wife killers' and bashers.