White Ribbon Day motion | SPEECH


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 11:30 :44 ): I move:

That this house recognises White Ribbon Day and encourages all men to swear an oath to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.

White Ribbon Day, as I am sure members will know, is 25 November every year, and it is a very important day on the world calendar. It is certainly celebrated in Adelaide every year, with a very well attended and genuinely well-supported breakfast. I will not be able to attend that breakfast this year but I will be at a White Ribbon Day breakfast in Jamestown which is run by the Jamestown community, and I wholeheartedly look forward to supporting them in their local endeavours on this very important topic.

The White Ribbon foundation is a worldwide organisation committed to, ideally, ending violence against women. That is not because the people who started this cause are opposed to violence against men—I am sure, of course, that they are—but, overwhelmingly, violence is committed by men against women, so that is the first and most important place to start. The White Ribbon foundation does this very important work in many different ways, but one of the most important is by asking all men to swear an oath. It is important because it is simple, because it is effective, because it makes people think about the issue, and because (certainly in my mind) there is absolutely no reason why any man should avoid doing that. That is one of the reasons I brought this motion to the house, to ask all men here to swear that oath, and I have no doubt that all men in the South Australian parliament would be of the appropriate character to do that very comfortably and without hesitation.

It is an important question to ask: why men? As I mentioned before, overwhelmingly violence to women is perpetrated by men—not exclusively, but certainly overwhelmingly. There are a lot of statistics that support that, Deputy Speaker, a lot of places I could suggest that you and fellow colleagues go to have a look. Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) is one that provides a lot of that information. I will not dwell too heavily on statistics, but I will share with the house some that come from the ANROWS website. This is based on 2012 ABS figures, so they are very much Australian information but were published only in May this year so, while they are 2012 figures, they are the most recent available—to me, at least:

alarmingly, one in five Australian women have experienced sexual violence;

one in six Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner;

one in four Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner; and

one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence. One in three women, on average across our nation, have experienced some form of physical violence.

To any clear-thinking reasonable person, that is completely unacceptable. Nobody could ever support doing nothing to try to correct that. From a personal perspective, this is not about trying to turn every man in the world into a SNAG, a sensitive new-age guy. It is not that sort of thing. You can be any sort of responsible man you want to be: you can like the footy or the ballet, whatever you like. It really does not matter to me.

Mr Gardner: Both.

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN: Or, as the member for Morialta says, you can like both. You can enjoy sports, or you can enjoy being a computer nerd, it makes absolutely no difference to me. But however you like to describe yourself, however you like to live your life, however you like to pursue your own life in a responsible way, violence against women just cannot be part of it.

It is not about trying to turn burly footy-playing blokes into ballerina-loving computer geeks, or whatever inappropriate stereotypes I could dream up. It does not matter who you are, just take violence to women out of your life, out of your mind, out of anything you could ever contemplate or actually participate in. People are different, they deserve to be different, but not on this issue.

One of the foundations of the White Ribbon organisation is the oath, and it asks that men never commit, never excuse and never remain silent about violence towards women. There are some myths that I will share with the house, which I got from the White Ribbon website, and I will work through them quickly. They set a tone, and they are worth talking about and considering, as they set some misconceptions right.

There are 10 commonly-held myths. The first is that violence against women is an issue that only concerns women. Clearly, we know that is not the case and, in addition to the points I made before, it is men’s wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who are affected by violence towards women. It is a men’s issue because a minority of men treat women and girls with contempt and violence. So, it is very much a men’s issue. Another myth is that there is nothing we can do to stop violence against women. That is absolutely ridiculous. Research shows that violence against women is the product of learned attitudes and norms, and it is crazy to think that there is nothing we can do.

The third myth: women should just remove themselves from abusive relationships. That is probably one of the things that is harder for men to understand than for women, and it is probably harder for women who have never confronted this issue to understand than women who have confronted this issue. Really central issue to all of this—and I do not pretend to be an expert—is that the reality is that we could all understand that a women who is fearful, who has less power in a relationship, who worries for children, or who has lack of knowledge, low self-belief, or self-esteem, could find themselves trapped. The fourth myth is that some people deserve to be beaten for provoking the violence. What a ridiculous, crazy, disgusting concept. Responsibility for violence must rest solely with the abuser.

Another myth is that violence against women only occurs in specific groups. This is another really important issue. Violence against women occurs across all religious beliefs, all levels of education, all sexual orientation, all occupations, all community positions and all cultural or ethnic backgrounds. That is just a fact. We cannot pigeonhole people and say, ‘It’s people like that who do this’, because it is just not true.

Myth 6: violent people are mentally ill or have psychopathic personalities. It might be true, but it is certainly true that violence against women is committed by people who do not have those problems as well. The vast majority of violent men are not suffering from mental illness and could not be described as psychopaths. Most abusers would appear to be respectable men who are very much in control.

Another myth is that some people need the violence, enjoy it or are addicted to it. That is an absolutely disgraceful concept once again. Myth 8 is that violence against women is caused by drugs and/or alcohol. Almost even numbers of sober and drunken people are violent—a fact that is important. It is a little bit like having a mental illness. It may be the case or it may not be the case, but it is certainly not the case that violence against women is limited to people who have difficulties with drugs or alcohol.

Violence only happens to a certain sort of woman. Again, research has repeatedly shown that violence crosses all boundaries and can happen to women from all social, economic and cultural backgrounds and family situations. The last myth is that violence only affects a small number of Australian women. I have provided some statistics already which show that one in three will be affected by violence. Violence is the biggest cause of injury or death for women between the ages of 18 and 45. One in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

I thank the White Ribbon foundation for making that information so readily available on their website because I think it is very important to try to explode some of those myths and, by doing so, take away the excuses. That is what it is about. If you can expose the myths for what they are, you can take away the excuses for people who commit this sort of behaviour.

Back to the oath asking men to swear that they will never commit, excuse or remain silent to violence against women. I have a personal preference. I do not suggest for a minute that I know any more about this topic than the White Ribbon foundation or any other organisation that works in this space, but I have a personal belief that the pledge should actually be to not commit, excuse or remain silent about violence towards ‘a’ woman, not towards women, and the difference for me is it makes every individual victim a person in their own right.

It is not about all Christians or all Muslims or all Aboriginal people or all non-Aboriginal people or all women or all men. It is about violence against a person. It is about violence against a woman, and I think if people think about it in those terms maybe the point hits home just a little bit harder. Maybe people will actually understand that it is not against a section of the community or it is not against a class or a big group or whatever: it is actually physically hurting a person. That is just a personal view.

There are three sections. Never commit violence towards a woman. This is pretty straightforward. It is hard to imagine that any reasonable person could have any concerns about that whatsoever—a man, a young boy, a teenager, a middle-aged man or an older man. It is pretty straightforward: just do not hurt women. Do not physically hurt a woman or any women.

The next phase, I have to say though, gets a little bit harder. Not for me personally, but for people it can get harder. The next is never excuse violence towards women. That is where people can say, ‘I never do it and I never would do it’ and any man could say that, but they might just turn a blind eye to it if they are aware of it and it does, if you ramp it up, become a little bit easier to avoid your responsibility to contributing positively to addressing this issue. It is, quite understandably for a lot of men, a harder thing to do.

Then I come to what I think is actually the hardest part of this for men in general: never remain silent about violence towards women, because that is actually about asking men to take some positive decisive action about an issue that they are not actually directly involved in themselves. The man who is not the perpetrator of the violence is asked to say something about it if they are aware of it happening and that is a really important step.

I am often reminded of a situation that I was in as a 21 year old, working in the hospitality industry, going upstairs late at night to return the tills, the cash, the paperwork and everything for the night to the manager’s home within the establishment. There was a system whereby you did not go into the home but you could drop the gear off in a secure place without entering their premises, and, from outside the door, I did not hear any violence but I did hear this man’s wife yelling and crying, saying, ‘Don’t hit me again, don’t hit me again, you bastard.’ I did not do anything. I waited to see that essentially it was over. I stayed there for about five minutes to make sure there was no more violence going on at that point in time and then I left.

That was nearly 30 years ago, and I still feel a bit ashamed about that. I am not sure that I need to put too much pressure on myself about what I should have done differently, but since then I have tried to take some positive responsibility for making a difference and fulfilling all three parts of the White Ribbon oath—not to commit, not to excuse and not to remain silent about violence towards any woman.