On February 19, in Camp Hill, Queensland, Australia witnessed one of the ugliest murders from domestic violence. Hannah Clarke and her three children were killed in a car fire by her estranged partner.
On February 26, the Senate referred an inquiry into domestic violence, with particular regard to violence against women and their children, to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee. The inquiry would report by August 13.
On May 20, the inquiry closed.
The inquiry’s final report was tabled without any submissions or public hearings. It ended on the basis that ‘conducting another lengthy, broad-ranging public inquiry into domestic and family violence in Australia at this time would be of limited value’.
Let yourself sit with those words: ‘of limited value’.
In 2020 alone, 21 women have died from domestic and family violence. And those are the ones we know of.
As the inquiry’s formal report notes in its introduction statistics from the 2019 Fourth Action Plan:
‘Every two minutes, police are called to a domestic and family violence matter. Every day, 12 women are hospitalised due to domestic and family violence. Every nine days, a woman is killed by a current or former partner.’
And later, the Committee view chapter notes:
‘…and the trend in sexual assault against women is on a slight upward trajectory. The prevalence of intimate partner violence against women since the age of 15 years remains unacceptably high, with one in four women having experienced it since the age of 15 years.’ (6.1)
‘The number of women in Australia who have died at the hands of a current or former partner has not reduced significantly since 2010, with between 72 and 105 women killed in this way in each year since, and the numbers fluctuating rather than reducing.’ (6.2)
Investigative journalist Jess Hill has been writing about domestic violence since 2014. In 2019, she released See What You Made Me Do, the winner of the 2020 Stella Prize.
She writes in the first few pages:
‘Domestic abuse cuts a deep wound into our society. It has been experienced by one in four Australian women. It accounts for nearly 60 percent of the women hospitalised for assault. It drives up to one in five female suicide attempts. Of the escalating numbers of Indigenous women in prison, 70 to 90 percent have been a victim of family violence.’
We continually see the aftermath of violence but yet we, as a nation, continue to scratch our heads and question how it all happened.
“Time and time again, we are shown in this country that our women are not as important. And this is just another example of that,” said Marlee Silva, a proud Gamilaroi and Dunghutti woman and storyteller.
“To hear that an inquiry has shut down because it is not perceived as ‘of value’—that is pathetic.”
“We are on track to maintain, one woman every week. We have had 21 women die at the hands of domestic violence in the last 21 weeks,” Silva said.
“When those statistics around the Aboriginal community come forward, it is at the criticism of the Aboriginal community. But why aren’t we talking critically about our whole society in a way that we don’t decrease those statistics around domestic violence?”
And that is it, why aren’t we talking critically about our whole society?
If another ‘lengthy, broad-ranging public inquiry into domestic and family violence in Australia at this time would be of limited value’—then why have we not moved beyond inquiries? Why have we not stepped forward?
Dr Hannah McGlade is a Noongar woman and human rights lawyer, who graduated with a PhD from Curtin University. She is the senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University and a member of the United Nation’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
“We have been at this war on violence, I am 51, it has been my whole life. I was 18-years-old working in a young women’s refuge. There were women, Indigenous women, multicultural women, we were all in there, knowing and supporting women who had nowhere to go because of violence in the home,” Dr McGlade said.
“I don’t see any need for any more inquiries, we need commitment to a proper plan.”
“The justice responses are always very important and [so is] addressing discrimination in the justice system for Aboriginal women. The way women are being punished around the child protection issue for being victims of violence … we need a lot more investment and focus in prevention and supporting cultural shifts and change around violence and victim blaming.
“We have no real resources in the Aboriginal community, which is pretty horrific when you think of the high-level death rate of Aboriginal women. We don’t even have toolkits, culturally appropriate resources for our young people or adults with high trauma and no culturally appropriate healing programs.”
So perhaps the inquiry is right? We don’t need another ‘broad-ranging public inquiry’ because instead we need action.
This is one of the darkest parts of our national identity.
Every two minutes the police are called to a domestic and family violence matter; and on March 22, 2019, one of those calls was mine.
We need planning, we need action and we need commitment. Because without it, we will continue to lose one woman a week.
We need change, and we need it for Christine Neilan, Maude Steebek, Alexis Parkes, Hannah Clarke and her children, Kim Murphy, Lesley Taylor, Jacqueline Sturgess, Erlinda Songcuan, Ella Price, Britney Watson, Loris Puglia and for all the women we lost this year whose names we do not know.
By Rachael Knowles