Australian of the Year Rosie Batty made an obvious but nonetheless arresting point in her National Press Club address on Wednesday. Whereas governments spare no expense responding to terrorism threats, they develop short arms and deep pockets when it comes to combating domestic violence, which has so far claimed the lives of at least 39 women this year. "Let's start calling family violence terrorism, and then maybe we can start to see funding flowing to this area," Ms Batty said.
The suggestion that domestic violence ought to be accorded equivalence with non-state sponsored terrorism is not far-fetched: both are characterised by the use of indiscriminate violence against victims, usually at random times. It is the impetuosity of these attacks that empowers the perpetrators and debilitates their victims. However, nominal equivalence will probably never occur – if for no other reason than that this might give rise to uncomfortable questions about why Australian counter-terrorism agencies continue to be funded to the tune of billions of dollars when death or injuries are so rare. The economic costs of family violence, by contrast, have been estimated at about $15 billion per year.
Territory, state and federal governments have been talking tough on domestic violence for some years, though frequently without stumping up the sort money that anti-domestic violence campaigners like Ms Batty say is necessary, not only to meet increased demand but to reduce its prevalence over time. However, there are encouraging signs of change. In this week's ACT budget, for example, the Barr government earmarked an extra $250,000 to enable the Domestic Violence Crisis Service, the Rape Crisis Centre and the Canberra Men's Centre to better respond to growing calls for help. It also allocated $615,000 for the development of respectful relationship awareness programs in ACT public schools, and named a senior bureaucrat in the Justice and Community Safety Directorate, Vicki Parker, to be the territory's first coordinator-general for domestic and family violence.
More commendable still, the government has used the renewal of its purchase agreement with the Australian Federal Police to ensure that ACT Policing tackles domestic violence with renewed attention. With some state forces reporting that as much as 40 per cent of their work involves domestic violence, police need little motivation to tackle this scourge. Nonetheless, it is reassuring that ACT police chief Rudi Lammers said he hoped that "over a period of years, the actual incidence of family violence goes down or is eliminated altogether".
Even the federal Coalition, condemned for its derisory domestic violence funding measures in last month's budget (and stung perhaps by Ms Batty's comments) appears intent on lifting its game. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was confident all politicians would be "very happy to link arms on the cause", and assured Parliament that money would be made available to respond to the recommendations of the Council of Australian Governments' domestic violence advisory panel, which Ms Batty co-chairs.
"This is not a women's issue", Mr Abbott said. "It's a men's issue. It's a national issue. And all of us, the men in this chamber in particular have a real challenge to rise to [it]." Ms Batty, and others, will hold him to that sentiment.