I wrote my first story about domestic violence in 1979. About three months ago, I thought I'd written my last. When Hannah Clarke and her three children, Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey, were murdered by her former partner, the prevalence and pain of Australia's domestic violence epidemic roared across our country. So many soundbites, so many stories, so many politicians saying never again. So many people saying the same thing over and over again. So much rage.
Hannah Clarke was the eighth woman to be killed this year. Now it's 21 - seven women since May 3.
To mark these 21 deaths, a dogfight broke out over a parliamentary inquiry into domestic violence this week. A Senate inquiry into domestic and family violence, established in the wake of the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children, was shut down without a single public hearing, and without seeking any submissions.
Does that matter? The fact that it was set up in the shadow of the murders of Clarke and her children makes this inquiry meaningful to ordinary Australians. It looks as if we are trying to do something, anything at all.
This inquiry was set up under the aegis of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee References Committee, and its terms of reference were specific. Those terms noted there had already been a number of inquiries relating to domestic violence. So, so many. The most poignant part of the terms of reference was that it would deliver a report by August 13 this year. That report has now been delivered three months early. This month, August, no difference really. It's hard to see how these inquiries can make substantial change.
I really understand the mass outpouring of anguish. I understand Senator Rex Patrick's fury. This particular inquiry was his idea, he championed its formation in the Senate on February 26, he devised the terms of reference - but he wasn't a member of the inquiry. He says the early report is unprecedented for a Senate inquiry and released dissenting comments which said the inquiry "failed in its duty in the shadow of the most horrific recent incidence of domestic violence, the death of Hannah Clarke and her three children".
"Instead of making substantive recommendations for action, the committee has merely posed questions. The committee members squibbed this completely," Senator Patrick said.
The problem is, we have all squibbed this completely. The way we approach this, time after time, is all wrong. And politicians do it in the heat of the moment - I understand that. Let's act now. Let's do something. A mother and her children, murdered in front of everyone. Let's have an inquiry. Let's throw some more money somewhere. Let's talk.
We won't forget Hannah and we won't forget her kids. We won't give up on making this right.Senator Amanda Stoker
I'm personally sick of talk. We all want an end to domestic and family violence. And I'm desperately sorry that this was the inquiry which came to an early end, instead of the pointless Joint Select Committee on Australia's Family Law System. You'll remember this particular committee. It was basically set up as a response to Pauline Hanson's ludicrous view that the Family Court discriminates against men. Hanson's taken up the flag of the men's rights movement, because she will dance with any derangement. And you'll remember that the inquiry was set up even though the Australian Law Reform Commission had already made recommendations after its own review.
The first week of the Hanson inquiry was a shitshow, dominated by those making unsubstantiated claims, including that women lie about domestic violence.
Last year, the Law Council of Australia called for the inquiry to be abandoned after One Nation livestreamed hearings and allowed comments about witnesses. You can only imagine what they were saying. This week the Law Council is expressing regret that this latest inquiry has been cancelled.
I asked Claire Chandler, the Tasmanian Liberal senator who is on that committee, whether this particular inquiry had a broader approach. Her spokesperson wrote:
"Domestic Violence is a serious issue, and one which the Parliament treats with the upmost importance.
"The Joint Select Committee on Australia's Family Law System is currently looking into the family law system, which is inextricably linked to the issue of family and domestic violence in Australia. The publicly available terms of reference, and the publicly available submissions, indicate that domestic violence issues will be considered extensively. A number of public hearings have been held already around the country.
"Without wanting to pre-empt the findings of the Committee, I am certain that the Committee's work will be highly relevant to the issue of domestic violence."
So careful I could cry.
No one is making this right for the women and children of Australia. The closest we've come is in Victoria, where former judge Marcia Neave oversaw a well-resourced royal commission. I remember she was sceptical it would ever work. But in the end the Victorian government agreed to all 227 recommendations. Her commission made that possible. It made family violence real and present in the public eye.
Alison Macdonald, the acting chief executive officer of Domestic Violence Victoria, says that the most recent inquiry was barely visible. And she says that the Neave royal commission gave us an insight into what needed to be done and how. Early intervention, primary prevention, well-resourced recovery programs. We know that perpetrators need to be made accountable both institutionally and socially. We know that family violence is everyone's responsibility. We also know that stopping it will take vast generational change. We know that this all takes a lot of money and a real desire to make change.
If we want change, we don't need one more review or inquiry. Follow Victoria's lead. Have a national royal commission. Let survivors tell their stories. Let experts share their success.
Ditch the Hanson inquiry. Don't grieve for this most recent committee. Do something big.
Let's remember Senator Amanda Stoker's words after the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children. She said: "We won't forget Hannah and we won't forget her kids. We won't give up on making this right."
A royal commission might go some way to making that possible.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.