Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Domestic Violence

Anxious Young Man

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [5.43 p.m.]: It was a very appropriate recognition of Rosie Batty's contribution to exposing the problem of domestic violence that she was made Australian of the Year. But her terrible suffering was a tragic precursor to the bestowing of that high honour. Her loss simply should never have happened. I wish to speak about domestic violence, which is a topic on which I have no first-hand knowledge. But my absence of any first-hand experience is the very reason that I choose to do so. Like many people, I have been shocked by the often-quoted statistic that about one person every week is killed in Australia in an act of domestic violence. For every person killed, there are many more other tragic relationships in our community where violence is ever present.

I suspect that drugs, alcohol abuse and mental illness are significant contributors to domestic violence. But because men are statistically a significant cause of this terrible social problem, we need to talk about what it is about our current male culture that has led to this problem. Has there been a decline in our male culture in recent times? Boys go to primary schools with few male teachers. Often on the home front, the father is not present because of work, a court order or a family breakdown. Physical play that develops discipline and restraint in young boys is not encouraged in our schools. Fathers and mothers are working long hours. Are the values against domestic violence that I grew up with being passed on to the current generations of young men? I have always told my now 14-year-old son, "You never hit a woman." That was my father's simple message to me as a boy growing up. It is cowardly and unmanly to strike a woman.

All men, especially fathers, have a big role to play in the prevention of domestic violence. But it seems that hitting women is part of a range of cowardly conduct that is accepted by some men today. The coward's punch, gang violence, instances where several men physically attack a single man, or pulling a knife or worse on someone, are all examples of cowardly male conduct. I remember being brought up with a different dominant male culture. Growing up in Newcastle in the 1960s and 1970s was hardly a soft environment. But there was a clear culture of proper manly behaviour. Those universal values now seem to have been lost. Hitting women, coward punches, ganging up on a person or cutting another man's grass were all things which, when I grew up, would result in censure from your mates. But I can think of well-publicised examples of each of these behaviours; in recent years the media has given us examples of this behaviour by elite sportsmen off the sports field, and sometimes on the sports field.

What has happened to the male code of conduct? We need to re-establish a proper male culture. Men need to speak to each other about what is acceptable behaviour in their relationships with other people. This must include mates taking a strong position against their mates who commit violence against women. We need to get back to an appreciation of what is truly manly conduct. Domestic violence is not something bound by postcodes, although there are higher rates of domestic violence in some socioeconomic areas than there are in others. Just over a week ago I met members of the Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services in my electorate office. This is a valuable and vital service that has 28 offices across New South Wales. Under new government reforms to streamline the response for victims, the advocacy service is required to be in contact with a domestic violence victim within 24 hours of a report to police, then support the victims in various ways, including in their court appearances.

The service informed me that domestic violence is very much a factor on Sydney's North Shore, but that in many cases it is "hidden", as women who are victims are loath to report it because they wish to protect the dignity of themselves, their children and their family name. I was dismayed to hear figures relating to the number of domestic violence cases on the North Shore of Sydney. Figures presented to me showed that in the 20 days before that meeting in my office there had been 31 referrals after reports of domestic violence to local police. The Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services recorded 902 clients with more than 4,000 contacts last year alone. That is just the official record of women who have stood up and reported domestic violence to the authorities. Many, many more are too fearful to do so, as I have mentioned. Men must take stock of themselves—it is not cool or macho to strike a woman under any circumstances. As a society we need to restore our focus on manly values and re-establish a culture of self-discipline in men's relationships with other people. If it is not any longer, then it should be "the Australian way." I thank the House.