Rosie Batty’s National Press Club Address

14 mins
Author: Rosie Batty
Posted: 3 Apr, 2024
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    Good afternoon everyone.

    I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we gather today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. I pay my respects to Elders past and present and to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the room or watching today.

    I also want to acknowledge the incredible strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivor-advocates, in particular Shirleen Campbell and the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Council, who continue to fight fearlessly to end family violence in communities, and many others who have shown me immeasurable kindness and solidarity throughout my journey.

    Ten years have passed since my son Luke was murdered by his father. He was 11 years old.

    That day, I stood before the media, shattered by grief, but determined to speak out against family violence.

    My story did not fit neatly into the mold of what society expects from a victim-survivor.

    But that’s the thing about family violence, it doesn’t discriminate.

    I stand by what I said a decade ago: no matter how nice your house is or how intelligent you are, family violence can happen to anyone.

    And each of you gathered here today, in this room, has been a witness to that truth in some way or another.

    You are here because you understand the urgency of the situation. Because you believe in the possibility of a future where every person – regardless of gender, age, or background – can live free from the threat violence.

    Sometimes I think that people forget why they know me, why I’m standing behind a microphone or why I became Australian of the Year in 2015.

    I haven’t forgotten though. And truth be told, the decade gone by weighs heavily on me in many ways.

    Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Luke. No awards, no applause and no accolades will bring him back to me.

    But, as we continue to change the story on domestic violence in this country, I take some comfort in knowing that I honour his memory in everything I do.

    Between many things I’ve grappled with since Luke’s death, large among them is the feeling of absolute despair I carry, that – despite my campaigns, despite the hundreds of speeches I’ve made, despite marching, crying and shouting from the rooftops about family violence, despite a royal commission and millions of dollars of resources to prevent violence against women – women and children are still being murdered at an alarming rate in Australia.

    One woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.

    Last year, 64 women were killed in incidents of violence in Australia.

    64 women with hopes, ambitions and a place in this world.

    64 families, devastated.

    64 deaths that we as a society could have prevented.

    Yet regardless of these staggering statistics, many still cling to the misguided belief that violence is an issue that happens elsewhere, to other people.

    But violence is happening, in every community, every suburb, and it’s happening to people you know.

    A recent study showed that more than 39% of Australian children were exposed to family and domestic violence.

    And we know that it’s rarely an isolated event. One-third reported being exposed to domestic violence more than 50 times in their childhoods.

    How can we let this continue? And where do we look for answers?

    There’s one hard truth staring all of us in the face – nearly everyone who has experienced violence in this country, mostly women and children, did so at the hands of a man.

    More than 94% of perpetrators are men.

    We must hold those perpetrators to account, yes, but we must also instill in our boys something better than this narrow and damaging definition we use to describe a “real man”.

    This definition tells our sons that they must keep their fears to themselves or be an outsider in our culture.

    We must teach them instead that being stoic, tough and in-control means nothing without also being compassionate, thoughtful and kind.

    That lesson means much more if equality is at the heart of our society.

    Yes, transforming our culture is a long game, but we must maintain hope.

    The kindness of other people who’ve been impacted by grief and violence has kept me going for the last 10 years.

    There’s silent language that we share between us, an embrace that lingers just a little longer, the warmth of hands enveloping yours, your pain mirrored back in their eyes and in their hearts.

    Over the last decade, I’ve spent a lot of time with these people, mostly women.

    Fierce advocates, whose empathy and genuine care has been a light in the darkest times for me.

    Many of these survivor-advocates, you already know by name: Ann O’Neil, Anj Barker and Aunty Shirleen Campbell.

    And some of them are here today. Thank you for being here, and being who you are.

    Because of your determination and commitment to what’s right, the way we understand family violence in Australia has changed for good.

    ‘Hope’ is not just my story. It’s a story of the collective strength of survivors, whose resilience and determination motivate us to continue the fight against family violence.

    It tells the stories of courage in the face of unspeakable violence, and the stories of women and children whose names we must promise to never forget.

    Olga Edwards was a loving, intelligent woman. A lawyer who would have had a voice for powerful and lasting change.

    Her estranged husband, Jack Edwards, murdered their children, 13- and 15-year-old Jennifer and Jack in a quiet suburb of Sydney.

    Not surprisingly, Olga was soon-after hospitalised and treated for a severe state of shock.

    I knew only too well what Olga was going through. The deep tunnel of numbness and unbearable pain her body and mind would enter, with no route to escape.

    I reached out to Olga and had the pleasure of hosting her at my house for a weekend.

    Olga was happiest when she was talking about Jack and Jennifer. Being surrounded by images of them gave Olga comfort. Whereas I still struggle to look at photos or videos of Luke.

    Of course, we shed many tears, but we also had some moments when it wasn’t all about being sad and crying, we shared laughter too.

    Five months after her children were murdered, Olga took her own life.

    As a nation, we looked on in horror through the seven-month long coronial inquest. We all bore witness as it revealed that Olga and the children had endured years of abuse.

    The inquest found a series of systemic failings. And in the end, the coroner ruled that Jennifer and Jack’s deaths could have been prevented.

    Olga’s was a story, like mine, that had Australians asking: how many more?

    How many more Olgas, Jennifers and Jacks will we lose?

    How many more preventable deaths will we permit?

    How many more, before we realise how deep disrespect towards women and children runs in our culture?

    In the face of this unimaginable horror and pain, it’s easy to become a pessimist.

    I have, more than once.

    In times of overwhelming sadness, I will myself to remember that change is already happening, and we are making progress.

    We have seen significant political leadership on gendered violence, family law court reform, and new positive duty laws that ensure employers take action to prevent workplace sexual harassment, rather than just responding when it occurs.

    We have seen critical investment in national monitoring and research mechanisms that support the growing evidence base on how we stop violence before it starts.

    We have seen the promise of a standalone national plan to address the disproportionately high rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

    All these advances are markers of the progress that survivor-advocates have campaigned for over decades, and they are worthy of our continued attention.

    Change must continue through appropriate, secure and continued funding for services across the spectrum of prevention, early intervention, response and recovery.

    Services like those provided by the legal assistance sector, including community legal centres, that enable access to justice for women experiencing violence.

    Services like trauma-informed healing and recovery programs that support long-term recovery for victim-survivors and help to break the cycle of violence.

    I take pride in being a part of the movement towards a safer, gender equal world where women know their rights and have access to appropriate specialist services.

    When I was a young girl, I grew up believing, like every other young girl, that it was my own responsibility to “be safe”, “be careful”, “don’t make yourself a target”.

    But we don’t tolerate this kind of victim blaming anymore. And the media have had a crucial part to play in this noticeable shift.

    Telling our stories with empathy and accuracy, by amplifying the voices of survivors, you have contributed to real, tangible change.

    I truly believe in the goodwill of journalists. You are committed to holding governments and key institutions to account on their promises and to educating the public on the prevalence of family violence in our society.

    We share a refusal to be silenced, we speak truth to power and we demand change.

    And we will continue to work together to educate Australians about the cultural shifts required to end the scourge of gender-based violence.

    By zooming out from the details of individual acts of violence, we can join the dots and recognise the culture of gender-based violence in which we live.

    A culture where one in three men believe that a man should use violence to get respect if necessary.

    A culture where one third of Australians think it’s common for women to exaggerate sexual assault allegations as a way of getting back at men, despite irrefutable evidence against that view.

    A culture where 2.6 million adults reported witnessing violence towards a parent by a partner when they were a child.

    Now, we know that this violence is not a private matter, shrouded in secrecy behind closed doors, but a public, national crisis – a crisis that demands our continued collective attention and action.

    Stopping this violence before it starts is everyone’s responsibility – we must all work together to create a new normal, where everyone is respected as equal.

    All of the research tells us that gender inequality and violence against women are inextricably linked. They go hand in hand.

    Every single act of gendered violence begins with disrespect, and the belief that women and children are worth less than men.

    So how do we end violence before it begins?

    If gender inequality is how violence starts, equality is how it stops. This knowledge forms the basis of primary prevention work.

    We’ve seen the power of primary prevention strategies in transforming societal attitudes towards issues like smoking and drink driving.

    Through public health campaigns, we’ve shifted the cultural norms that condoned these behaviours to a place where they are no longer acceptable.

    By educating and empowering individuals to make healthier choices, we’ve created a ripple effect that has saved countless lives.

    We can save many more by addressing the drivers of gendered violence and supporting women and children to reach their full potential.

    Primary prevention is planting seeds for a better future. It is hope.

    A long-term goal that is laying groundwork so that one day, we won’t constantly have to put out fires.

    We must continue to grow a culture rooted in respect and equality to prevent violence from happening in the first place, rather than only reacting to tragedies as they are happening.

    To create lasting change, ongoing funding for prevention, early intervention, crisis response and recovery are all equally essential.

    We have seen the impact of equipping our children with the tools they need to build healthy, respectful relationships.

    Not only are we helping them to articulate what gender equality means in practice, but we are seeing the beginnings of change in school policies, culture and ethos across the country.

    Now, let’s commit to listening to children’s voices, believing their experiences, and empower them to speak out against violence in all its forms.

    It’s not our children’s job to solve this problem, it’s ours: every single one of us in the country – yes, Ministers and journalists, but also parents, friends, coworkers and acquaintances.

    There are no easy answers, no quick fixes. But all of us, together, we can make a difference.

    We are on a difficult journey, one that requires balancing reflection and hard conversations about our mistakes, individually and as a society, and learning from them.

    But we have a responsibility to honour the victims of family violence – to honour Luke, Olga and the 16 women who have already lost their lives to violence this year – by saying to Australia, “we will not tolerate this violence anymore”.

    Saying it, through everyday actions that challenge generations of disrespect towards women.

    And through expert-led media reporting that keeps the perpetrators in view.

    What we’re trying to achieve is massive, multi-generational change. And at times that’s overwhelming.

    But I encourage you all, before you get overwhelmed, just do your part.

    Promise yourself that next time you see disrespect, you’ll call it out. Commit to challenging everyday sexism and know that your words and your actions matter.

    Talk to the young people in your lives about healthy relationships and consent. Encourage your workplace to review their policies and practices to ensure they are fair and equitable for women.

    Whether you sit in a boardroom, a classroom or a seat on the bus, you have influence and you can contribute to the seismic shift towards a world free from violence.

    When we feel powerless, that sets the stage for inaction. I am asking you to commit to warding off that powerlessness and face the very real role we each have to play in stopping family violence.

    My life changed irrevocably on 12 February 2014. Life as I knew it ended that night and it has and never will be the same again.

    Through circumstance more than design, I have found purpose and meaning. Becoming Australian of the Year gave me the direction and impetus I needed to keep going. While there are some things I’d do differently in hindsight, I am proud of what I have achieved in my name and in Luke’s name.

    There are times when I have walked this path alone and times when I’ve been carried by the people around me, but at every point, I continue to move forward.

    Even the smallest step forward is a step closer to ending violence – that’s progress.

    Over the past ten years, we have seen thousands of small steps and it’s our job to keep up the momentum and keep up hope.

    Remember that what we’re walking towards is a world where all women and children can lead full, happy, productive lives free from the threat of violence.

    As I stand here today, I call upon all Australians to walk beside me on a path to stopping violence before it starts.

    And to the Australian media, I urge you to keep this conversation alive, to keep championing a safer, more compassionate society.

    Together, we will create a future where every individual, every family, is able to thrive.

    We must stay hopeful.

    Thank you.

    On 3 April 2024, Rosie Batty AO, 2015 Australian of the Year, addressed the National Press Club of Australia in partnership with Our Watch, on the topic “Ten years after the murder of my son, and amid a national domestic violence crisis, how do we maintain hope that violence against women can be stopped?”