Left Wing Ladies Still Flying High


In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly declared November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the White Ribbon has become the symbol for the day.

The White Ribbon Campaign in Australia is led by more than 1000 White Ribbon Ambassadors. These men are leaders in their careers, sporting code or communities and actively support the White Ribbon Campaign, and encourage other men and boys to become aware and engage in the campaign.

Women also support and expand the campaign through their networks, workplaces and community organisations as White Ribbon Champions, but not all women are happy with the high profile and amount of money channelled into this foundation.

Respect For White Ribbon Day’s Aims, But…

In the Herald Sun online, journalist Nina Funnell gave  “10 reasons why I will ignore White Ribbon day” and although I don’t usually read the Herald Sun, her article came up when I Googled ‘White Ribbon.’ One of her points resonated:

” Since its inception White Ribbon has happily leant on the work done by decades of women’s organisations and in private it still attempts to foster positive relationships with feminist organisations.

But in public, it’s a different story. As Clementine Ford writes the White Ribbon Foundation has done this “in order to align itself with a more corporate, mainstream agenda that ignores the hard work done by underfunded women’s health services across the country”.

Look White Ribbon, I get it. You’re trying to impress your corporate dude-bros. All that corporate slick and polish is important to you and feminist organisations don’t really meld with that image you’re going for.

But just don’t expect us damsels to passively sit by and cop this crap.”

We All Stand On The Shoulders of Those Who Came Before…


Left-Wing Ladies
The Union of Australian Women in Victoria, 1950 – 2012 (2nd edition)
2nd Edition Published 2012 by UAW  Ross House, Flinders Lane, Melbourne

This book sheds light on the policies and practices of Australian governments, political parties, trade unions, security and intelligence organisations, the Churches and the women’s movement. It has relevance for anyone interested in the politics of the Left, women’s issues and feminism, the peace movement – and how to organise at a grassroots level.


Anna Burke MP and Anne Sgro 2014


Last year, the Union of Australian Women was 65 years old.  President Anne Sgro visited the Southern Branch in Mordialloc, to revisit UAW history by referencing the above book and reminding us why it is important we remain resolute in the fight for social justice.

To paraphrase Paul Keating, we continue to be ordinary women achieving extraordinary things!

Version 2


Anne reminded us  we need to celebrate and acknowledge our aims of peace, social justice, gender equity and a fair go for women. Aims still as relevant today, if not more so, than when the foundation members began the organisation.

The fight to redress and reduce family violence very much a case in point!



In 1950, communities were recovering from WW2. Women needed equal pay and better housing. Change needed – and women knew what they wanted.

Those women would be amazed we still only earn 82% of the male wage!

The equal pay campaign – equal pay for work of equal value still to be won. Some occupations like teachers better placed than others, but areas considered traditionally women’s work still lacks value. A car park attendant can earn more than a childcare worker. Pay equity still a necessity, despite huge advances basic demands still to be achieved.

Zelda Soprano


The founding women were from the Communist Party, the ALP and Christians from churches working for peace and social justice. The first UAW President, Aileen Dickie, a devout Christian, courageous and tenacious working for change.

Ordinary women with progressive values looking at ways to make change happen. They organised and attended international conferences, forums and community meetings. They challenged a conservative Australia with those in power pushing the message women must go back to the kitchen, housework and home. John Howard’s white picket fence.

Many of the women who initiated radical change came from the southern area – the south-eastern suburbs: Betty Olle, Molly Hadfield, Dot Young, Nola Barber, Eileen Cappocci…

Molly Hadfield and Edith Morgan featured in the SMH during the 1998 waterfront dispute


Over 15-20 years these women trail blazed, fundraised, and lobbied – councils, state and federal governments, corporations and individuals. They understood practicalities and can take the credit for establishing 13 kindergartens, several libraries, countless bus routes, and the election of female councillors and mayors.

Zelda Soprano chained herself to railings, Yvonne Smith and Betty Olle also – drawing attention to UAW demands and ideals. Yvonne Smith achieved remarkable advances in the health field by setting up the DES Society for women affected by the morning sickness pill (Diethylstilbestrol), which led to their children being born ill.

The Nothing on A Plate exhibition illustrates what some in sensible shoes, hats and sturdy constitution can do!  The well-known tram ride, where the activists paid 75% of the fare garnered great publicity, getting the population onside for the push for equal pay.


The campaigns to expose how drinking in Women’s Lounges in hotels cost more and for women to be allowed to drink where they wanted saw a lot of women chaining themselves to bar stools. It was about the principle of equal access and cost.

The equal pay campaign usually carried out at demonstrations with placards, hiccupped during the Vietnam  War years because of a ban on placards. However,  innovative UAW activists put slogans on aprons and walked single file or in pairs on the pavement – just not in bunches!

The Kennett years saw an expansion of these crocodile marches – making a fuss in small groups: single file, aprons plus a megaphone, stopping in a key area so that 20 activists looked and sounded more like 100!

The Grandmothers Against Detention have adopted similar tactics to ensure they take over the footpath. Aprons in the 60s, placards in the 90s, and direct action still today as UAW activists use their voices to make a difference.


The UAW wrote submissions for the Arbitration Commission on behalf of women workers in the sweatshop industry, lobbied for affordable, decent, public housing in the post-war era.

It seems like déjà vu with a lot of these issues, but passion hasn’t lessened. Methods of action and of organising have changed. The UAW has kept up with digital technology and social media, recognising young women activists operate differently today.

However, the UAW are effective at putting in submissions and had their say at the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The UAW has always opposed family violence even although in the 50s and 60s no one talked about it.

They established friendships and relationships with Women’s Liberation in Victoria and supported the movement setting up Women’s Refuges in the 70s. Anne Summers piece in the book, Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence edited by Samantha Trenoweth explains the setting up of Elsie, the first women’s refuge in Sydney and is a sobering read.

The UAW is proud of the long-standing campaign to free Heather Osland, who spent 14 and 1/2 years in gaol for the murder of her violent husband when it was her son who actually committed the killing.

Anne reflected on how Dot Young spoke at a UAW forum and said, ‘when I was 19 and had a small baby, I shot my father.’  Dot’s father had been a violent abusive drunk and she was protecting her mother, herself and her baby.  

Family violence does not only affect women but the majority of perpetrators are male. Women suffer at the hands of abusive men with on average 2 women a week killed in Australia! 



We could do with a sign like this here! 


The opportunity presented by the Royal Commission must not be wasted. If these deaths were attributed to terrorism there’d be a public outcry for action; it would be classified as urgent. Ex-police commissioners, Christine Nixon and Simon Overland introduced some good initiatives and Ken Lay has continued their work but so much more needs to be done.

What is wrong with our society that this violence against women and children continues? Not only men must soul search and change.

We need gender equity, society must value women and the work they do, their nurturing and caring roles as well as other contributions. Men are still seen as the breadwinner, blokes considered more important therefore disparity continues.

Men wouldn’t punch their workmates and get away with it, yet they are violent at home.

When Germaine Greer wrote the groundbreaking Female Eunuch in 1970 she said, we don’t want what blokes want, for us the gender equity recognition is about something different.


Maybe we need to try different approaches to deal with violent men. In Glasgow, they are immediately taken into custody for 24 hours, and there are programs in schools to change attitudes and behaviour. Maybe we should look at making men responsible with compulsory stints in prison.

We have to continue to look at the feminist dream of the 70s and work to create a fairer and more just society.

Wear a white ribbon on November 25, but instead of buying merchandise donate the money instead to an organisation on the front line of family violence because they definitely need it! Here are just a few…

Domestic Violence Victoria

WESNET The Women’s Services Network

Safe Steps (formerly Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria)

Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Forum

Women’s Health in the South East


No To Violence 


Respect and Gender Equity To End Family Violence



Earlier this year, Janice Munt, the former Member for Mordialloc, and now an advisor to the Hon Fiona Richardson MP, Minister for Women and the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, addressed the Southern Branch of the Union of Australian Women meeting at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House.

Although only June, a cold snap in mercurial Melbourne broke records. Winter already taking its toll on members’ health, but the chilly weather suited the topic as we gathered to hear a sobering, informative speech about family violence and what the current State Government is doing about this tragedy.

Janice’s introduction forthright, “this will not be a light and fluffy speech – rather a plethora of facts and information, particularly newly released statistics from police.”

She rightly referred to family violence as the “most pressing, urgent and pervasive scourge” our community faces. We are well beyond crisis point, “the system having failed too many women, too many children, too many families.” 

Fortunately, since the Andrews Government announced the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Minister and her team have been working like women possessed consulting and researching people and groups touched by family violence. The consultation includes the large chain of public authorities impacted by family violence: hospitals, courts, schools, and all associated departments.

Janice shared the following shocking statistics from the Victorian Police:

  • 68,134 family violence incidents attended by Victorian Police in 2014
  • Children were present at 34% of family violence incidents attended police in 2013-4
  • Family violence incidents have increased by 8% between 2013 and 2014.
  • Since 2010, family violence incidents have increased by 72%
  • In 2014,  29 family violence incident-related homicides recorded in Victoria.
  • In 2013-4, family violence incidents represented 41.7% of all crimes against the person offences in Victoria.
  • Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death and disability and ill health for Victorian women aged between 15 and 44 years.
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15 (25% of women compared to 14% of men).

Statistics for the City of Kingston (the local refuge for this area being the largest in Victoria) are just as frightening with the following recorded Family Violence offences:

2011:     865
2012:     1025
2013:     1229
2014:     1331
2015:     1297

The National Community Attitudes Survey of 2013 indicated that attitudes that justify, excuse and minimise violence against women persist in a significant proportion of our community.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 people believe a woman is partly responsible if she is sexually assaulted while drunk or affected by drugs
  • More than 1 in 5 think the violence is excused if the perpetrator later regrets it
  • Up to 1 in 5 believe there are circumstances where women bear some responsibility for the violence
  • Nearly 8 in 10 agree it’s hard to understand why women stay in a violent relationship

The same survey measured community attitudes towards gender equality:

  • Up to 1 in 4 believe women prefer a man to be in charge of a relationship
  • Up to 1 in 4 consider men make better political leaders than women
  • Up to 28% of Australians endorse attitudes supportive of male dominance of decision-making in relationships, a dynamic identified as a risk factor for violence against women and children


In 2009, the annual cost to Victoria’s economy of violence against women and children was estimated at $3.4 billion.(An estimate based on the National cost of $13.6 billion!) This cost includes all the associated services: police, courts, hospitals, refuges, counselling, relocation, housing, interrupted employment and schooling.

In Australia, on average women suffer a 19% pay gap and as we heard from Robyn Dale at a previous meeting, this is rising.

Robyn was the Director of the Union Research Centre on Organisation and Technology. (URCOT, Participation, Research, Innovation.) In 2004-5, URCOT’s research examined the extent and causes of gender pay inequity in Victoria and identified some options for addressing the continuing pay differential between men and women.

Robyn concluded that Australia still has one of the most sex-segregated workplaces, with gender discrimination built into their DNA.  Before Workchoices, it was estimated it will take 73 years to close the gender gap and there have been no real gains since Workchoices. Women’s pay has stagnated.

Not surprisingly one of the main supporters of Workchoices was our recently deposed Prime Minister, Tony Abbott whose attitude to women was often questioned by the media:


Finances are commonly used to exert dependence; therefore, women risk and fear homelessness and destitution if they leave the family home.

The National personal Safety Survey of 2012 indicated:

  • 1 in 3 (34%) of Australian women have experienced physical violence
  • 1 in 5 (19%) Australian women have experienced sexual violence
  • 403,200 women (aged over 18 years) experienced physical violence in the last 12 months
  • 102,400 women (aged over 18 years) experienced sexual violence in the last 12 months.
  • 1 in 4 Australian women had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner
  • A woman is killed in Australia almost every week by a partner or ex-partner.

 Sadly, these statistics have not improved in 2015!

In 2013-14, Victorian women comprised over half (52.9%) of all victims of crimes against the person, 79.2% of sex (non-rape) offence victims and 90% of rape victims.

Female victims of crime against the person increased by 4% in 2013-14, whereas male victims decreased by 1.5% in the same period.

The increase in crimes against the person (females) since 2012-13 includes:

  • 6.8% increase in homicide
  • 3.4% increase in sexual assaults (non-rape)
  • 7.9% increase in rape
  • 4.2% increase in assaults
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced partner violence: 16.9% cf 4.5% men

The shocking statistic that an estimated 67% of women have NOT been in contact with the police after their most recent incident of physical assault by a male should alarm us all.

Plus the horrific statistic that 27% of women who present to the Royal Women’s Hospital are currently being abused by their partner, many for the first time while they are pregnant. Women are particularly vulnerable when they are pregnant!


A recognition that gender inequality is the leading cause of violence against women – the evidence base developed by the Victorian Health Promotion in 2007 and supported by the World Health Organisation, underpins approaches to violence prevention by governments and agencies in Victoria and nationally.

Janice dispelled some of the myths and misunderstandings about family violence by explaining:

  • It is women and children who bear the heaviest burden and it is men who are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. Women are usually the victims, many of the statistics for men come from same-sex relationships. Pets are at risk too!
  • Gender inequality and poor gender stereotypes are the fundamental drivers of family violence. Countries (particularly Scandinavia and Northern Europe) with greater equality have fewer rates of family violence.
  • Victims don’t leave because they are fearful of the lives of themselves and their children. Statistically they are at the most risk when they leave a relationship.
  • We need to ask why the perpetrator is not held to account, what will be done to stop causing the harm, and if behaviour doesn’t change then, he should leave.
  • Family violence thrives under a cloud of shame and secrecy – it needs a bright light like the spotlight being shone on the RC church and its abuse of children. We must believe, not blame the victim!
  • The tragic death of a woman at the hands of her partner needs to treated in the same way as the tragic death at the hands of a stranger – it is murder.
  • Our societal attitudes towards women and children and our cultural attitudes towards violence contribute to our national shame. Our culture must change, not just the laws.

We all have a role – not just those who suffer or have suffered.


The Andrews Government has put in place the Royal Commission to conduct a root and branch examination of our system. There is $40 million, set aside to hear from victims and service providers and a commitment to implement all recommendations. Already hundreds of people and organisations have put in submissions and Janice encouraged those present to do so or spread the word to others.

Extra emergency funding has been made available for duty lawyers, children’s counsellors, crisis accommodation and transport, service providers, crisis lines and support agencies. A Family Violence Index has been announced working like the Consumer Price Index.

All indicators for examination: police reports, hospital admission reports, impact on children from education reports, data about homelessness, court costs, working days lost, police referrals to family violence services, and the variation of community attitudes to family violence.

A baseline established of the real cost to the Victorian economy and ministers can go to Treasury and get funding for the relevant programmes.

The cause of family violence is a bad attitude towards women and support of gender inequality. When males treat females as inferior, or limit their capacity to live their lives the way they choose, it encourages some men to bully, using physical power to dominate and control.


There is hope the royal commission will encourage the resourcing of a  world class prevention system in Victoria to stop family violence.

  • There’s been an 82% increase in family violence since 2010, but the data based on crime statistics offers an incomplete picture
  • High-risk groups(Aboriginal, rural, CALD) are not receiving the necessary services
  • The cost nationally anticipated to be $15.6 billion by 2021
  • Family violence a factor in 50% of substantiated child protection cases
  • Family violence connected to 35% of homelessness services
  • Family violence is 40% of Victoria Police’s work in crimes against a person
  • 284% increase in intervention order breach cases in courts over three years.


Already these ten gaps identified:

  1. Poor data collection of the scale and breadth of the problem
  2. Lack of consistent and sufficiently resourced prevention frameworks and programs
  3. Limited understanding of the short and long-term impact on children and youth
  4. Poorly resourced and underinvestment in responses as demand for services grows
  5. Inconsistent and poorly tailored responses for high-risk groups and specific cohorts, including failure to be culturally responsive
  6. Weak legal consequences failing to hold perpetrators to account
  7. An inaccessible and complex justice system; victims don’t always feel safe
  8. Lack of integrated response model; insufficiently robust governance structures
  9. Barriers to sharing information
  10. Challenges to working with the Commonwealth Government

The Federal Government spent $30 million on an advertising campaign and wanted half of that from Victoria, but the Andrews Government’s Royal Commission will ultimately be of more benefit.

The needs are:

  • Talking about issues and solutions and changing attitudes
  • Integrated services, and better training for those responding, effective governance making systematic use of data to support decision making, sharing information to support early intervention, crisis response and perpetrator accountability
  • A one-stop “shop” for victims with access to multi-disciplinary professionals and services – strengthening and rolling out conventional risk assessment tools – an entire workforce in family violence system trained to identify and manage risk in a similar ways
  • Reform of court system so victim and perpetrator don’t use same door, same waiting area – innovative justice actively avoiding the re-traumatisation of victims
  • Affordable housing, with public and private, strategies for emergency accommodation. Victims must be able to leave violent situations quickly. Opportunities to use legislation to ensure third party organisations overlay their hardship criteria and policies with a family violence lens
  • Make perpetrators more visible and accountable, have early intervention strategies that converge policing, health and legal services for perpetrators. Strengthen and follow-up compliance with orders
  • Shine a light on bureaucrats, professionals must lay cards on the table and ensure responses are not public servants covering their arse
  • A whole new approach, not just more money and resources – a whole of government family violence education agenda. An integrated community care model with high-quality specialist family violence expertise
  • Good decent men have to speak up and challenge the misbehaviour and bad attitudes of other men in their circle – community education program for prevention – schools, workplaces, health centres, community sports centres
  • Acknowledgement of the spectrum of disrespect for women and that discriminatory societies breed family violence

No more defending the status quo!

The Government’s aware this is not working and will refuse to shy away from the problem – a bright light will be shone, and solutions found. The Royal Commission’s task to provide practical recommendations to overcome failures in the system.

  • Gaps addressed and opportunities to improve seized
  • Currently, the focus is on response to victims, not enough on holding perpetrators accountable and stopping them repeating violence
  • Focus now on the legal lens – but the impact is often to compound pain, trauma and fear
  • Currently, not using technology to its fullest capacity (warning systems, like mobile phone Apps etc.)
  • More needs to be done to free victims financially and lessen the impact of bureaucracy
  • Delivery of a tailored response
  • Currently, victims bearing the burden of complex system – ease of navigation must be improved
  • Need to mobilise the many loving, decent men to change collective behaviour
  • Educate men in ways to stop the violence
  • Gender equality at the heart of family violence solutions
  • There must be a change in behaviour and attitude – crude, sexist remarks against women one end of the spectrum, family violence at the other
  • International evidence shows that societies that have inequality built into their laws and cultural norms will have higher levels of violence against women and children.


Janice affirmed that it is the job of government to help people understand the connection between gender inequality and family violence.

She asked the meeting to reflect on all those lost and the thousands of women living in fear in their own homes.

Daniel Valerio’s bruised, sad, little face gave us mandatory reporting in Victoria. Rose Batty gave family violence a voice. We must now examine our broken system and put forward practical measures to end the violence.”

The meeting was stunned by many of the statistics Janice shared and questions and discussion followed. This is an issue the Union of Australian Women has consistently raised and thought about. Members praised the Andrews Government for the decision to have a royal commission and voiced optimism that at last we may see the current broken system, fixed.




Injustice and Inaction In Our name – ‘Suffer the little children’

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Nelson Mandela

There has been a lot of talk this week about crime and punishment and the rights and wrongs of government sanctioned killing by administering the death penalty. Two Australian citizens, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, part of the infamous Bali Nine face execution.

The mothers of these young men, their families and many in the wider community are devastated and in parliament there were emotional pleas and a unanimous vote for the Indonesian President to grant them clemency. Amid this bipartisan anguish the Human Rights Commission report into Children in Immigration Detention, The Forgotten Children National Inquiry 2014 was released by the Federal Government, although the Attorney General, George Brandis received the report in November 2014.

Australia is treating almost 1000 children as though they were adult criminals. The report is confronting reading, but there is no bipartisan outrage or rush of compassion for these children and their families because both major parties have mandatory detention as policy and have done since The Tampa.


“Mandatory sentencing – which I prefer to call compulsory jailing – is a nasty insidious creation of our generation that not even the convict settlement introduced. What is more – compulsory jailing legislation expressly abandons the internationally agreed principle of imprisonment as a sanction of last resort, with priority given to other interests.”
“We are now the only developed country in the world which practises indiscriminate indeterminate incommunicado detention of asylum seekers. Alone of all countries in the world, including Canada, the United States and the nations of Europe and Scandinavia, we have indiscriminately detained all of them – the elderly, the children, the sick and the pregnant – at a cost by the way of around $50,000 per person per year….”
May 2001 – The Hon Justice Marcus Einfeld (AO, QC, PhD) in a speech at the Jessie Street Trust Annual Gathering. Parliament House NSW
Transcript available at ABC Radio National Background Briefing (2 June 2001)

Thank goodness there is a groundswell of progressive and caring groups and individual activists determined to challenge the politicians. One of the most recent is Grandmothers against detention of Refugee Children.

As grandmothers we are in a unique position to bring intergenerational insight into the very special needs of children. We believe that for Australia to incarcerate refugee and asylum seeker children is unconscionable. We find it imperative to stand up and be counted in defence of these vulnerable children.


The women who came together at the inaugural meeting were concerned about the impact on brain and social development of traumatised and detained children knowing development impaired can be repaired, but children in detention have no access to appropriate facilities. Instead they are crammed into confined and bleak living quarters. In Darwin, the detention centre does not even have safety rails on bunk beds used by young children.

About 70 friends networked and gathered at an initial meeting in Fairfield (one lady even attended from Frankston). The women, from fields of childhood education, or those affecting the development of children, were versed in the appropriate environments which allow children to flourish. Outraged at children being detained; aware of how harmful mandatory detention is for adults, and appalled at children being locked away indefinitely with no idea of what decision could be made about their status, motivated the group to action. The commonality was the horror at children being mistreated. By August last year the  group numbered 200. In 2015, their supporters are in the thousands.

Recognition of the damage to the mental health and wellbeing of these children, and others in detention is not new, but those in power have spent over a decade not listening:

“….the truth of the matter is that 85% of these people will become Australian citizens, or at least be released into the community on temporary protection visas.
And I believe that we’re taking survivors of some of the most ruthless political regimes and destroying what little resilience they have left.
And we’re really breaking people and making it extremely difficult for them to make an ongoing productive contribution to Australian society.
And I suspect that this is going to place a large burden on the health system, as people get released from detention.
And there’s already substantial evidence to support that in services being provided to some of these people after release.

Dr Zachary Steel, co-author of Silove D & Steel Z.(1988), The Mental Health of and Well-Being of On-Shore Asylum Seekers in Australia.. Psychiatry Research and Teaching Unit, University of NSW.
Zachary Steel, Clinical Psychologist  University of NSW, quoted from ABC “Asylum Seekers in Detention”, Winner of the 2001 Walkley Award for Best Radio Feature Documentary or Broadcast Special.

By highlighting the inhumanity of mandatory detention Grandmothers Against detention of Refugee Children hope to influence Australian citizens and politicians to action and avoid creating a generation of children with terror and hate in their heart. Churches have been supportive allowing their premises to be used free of charge for meetings and in September last year I took part in a sobering and poignant protest the group organised in the city centre.

A makeshift cage and hundreds of dolls represented the children detained. Passersby were asked to ‘free’ a child and sign a letter to their local member of parliament.

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A young man spoke about his experience escaping the Taliban, of spending four years in detention on Christmas Island. He has excelled at school after being granted refugee status and aims to study medicine to give back to the community.

Sadly, as he spoke abuse was yelled from a passing tram. I fear it is these loud, xenophobic, angry voices that determine the policy of our government.

Although there is hope when the Sydney Morning Herald champions a change in policy by repeating troubling questions raised by nine Christian denominations in their report on immigration detention titled Protecting the Lonely Children, July 2014.

The Herald believes detention of children is a vastly disproportionate policy response to stopping boats, and that treating children humanely would hardly affect deterrence. They have suggested the current government is trying to ‘shoot the messenger’ instead of accepting the need for dramatic changes to the treatment of asylum seekers, especially children.

Anna Burke and Melissa Parke are two Labor members of parliament who have voiced the need for the ALP to change their policy on refugees. Anna Burke spoke at the AGM of the Union of Australian Women in November 2014  and agreed that accepting and supporting asylum seekers is just the right thing to do!


There is a refugee crisis throughout the world, but not for us. Worldwide it is a huge issue creating a humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, and even Europe, but this is not impacting on our borders. The issue should never have become a political football or divisive issue. Refugees are human beings.

Prime Minister John Howard created ‘the other’, scaring people, waging a campaign, which led to fear and loathing and the demonisation of people attempting to find a safe country. At the time I wrote a short story Stormy Passage published in Byways an anthology by Bayside Night Writers as a creative writer’s response to a terrible situation. (It can be read here Stormy Passage, a short story)

Scan 1

Both main parties have raced to the bottom on the issue ever since Tampa,  manipulating and politicising an issue that should be free of party politics. Australian voters should seek a bipartisan solution.

There are changing dynamics within the world. Not all those fleeing are economic refugees, or fleeing starvation or conflict. There are anomalies, but everyone has the right to flee persecution and fear. The United Nation’s figures suggest over 50 million people are displaced and seeking refuge – a world record. There are more Syrians out of Syria than remain there! In our region we need to acknowledge and deal with why Tamils and Hazaras still need to flee.

Seven million people seek asylum, but most just want to go home. If internal conflicts are solved most would return home. 3% of those 7 million seek to come to Australia. Most Tamils first preference is Canada because there is a large Indian community there. Of the 3%, Australia takes 13,000 as our humanitarian quota. The ALP policy pre-election was to increase this to 20,000 – it has never been increased.

Canada, America and Australia are the only 3 countries who will take refugees who have made transitory stops. The crisis in Africa and the Middle East is flooding Europe with refugees. Climate change will result in many more refugees, especially in the Pacific. New Zealand already is dealing with this and an increase in the number of Pacific islanders seeking refuge. Australia must face reality and discuss our responsibilities in this global crisis.

This is not an easy issue and politicians have a fear of electoral backlash, but I hope for the sake of the children in detention politicians of all political persuasions will find their moral compass.

“No longer can we turn a blind eye to the sexual, physical and psychological abuse that these policies of indefinite detention are inflicting on children.”

Sarah Hanson-Young

Congratulations, Rose Batty – Let us All Raise Our Voices and Condemn Family Violence!

I want to tell people that family violence happens to [anybody], no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are.

Rose Batty, Speaking on February 14, 2014


I feel as if I have been campaigning against domestic violence all my adult life, but perhaps at last there will be concrete and recognisable, change. In the early 1970s, the Victorian Women’s Liberation Movement put sisterhood into action and established women’s refuges for women and children escaping family violence. I worked at Maroondah Halfway House, a refuge in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne where I grew up, and the second such refuge in Victoria.

I have used my writing skills to raise awareness of this issue by writing articles, poems, short stories, and a one-act play I wrote, The Bitter End, was performed at a Domestic Violence Forum hosted by the UAW 2004.  Family and friends have experienced family violence – it is tragic, far reaching and personal!

In 2012, Maroondah Halfway House was recognised for their work in preventing and addressing homelessness at the inaugural National Homelessness Services Achievement awards in Canberra, but how sad it still exists, and so many more houses, are necessary because of the increased scourge of family violence!


As a member of the Union of Australian Women, I’m glad that at last there seems to be a concerted effort in Victoria, not only to spotlight domestic violence, but actually do something to tackle a longstanding problem in our community.  The new Labor  Government has announced a Royal Commission into Family Violence, and the trade union movement, the Union of Australian Women and many other groups played a hand in making this decision happen.

On April 12th 2014, a small dedicated group of UAW members gathered to hear Jennifer O’Donnell-Pirisi the VTHC Women’s Officer speak on the topic of Domestic Violence. Jen is a member of UAW and has been VTHC Women’s Officer for six and a half years. Her passion and commitment to women evident as she talked, and although the topic is one we discuss regularly, Jen provided fresh and astounding information.

uaw southern branch 12th april 2014

In 2008, she met with then Victorian Minister Morand and several academics to discuss inserting a Family Violence Clause into industrial awards and agreements to enable affected workers to apply for paid leave when necessary. Gillard Government federal ministers Macklin and Shorten supported funding for academics and union representatives to gather information to enable this to happen.

We all think we know the statistics but they still shock. Jen revealed that 60 women a year are murdered because of domestic violence and 20 children a year are also victims. (The tragedy of Luke Batty  put domestic violence in the spotlight and has led to Rose being Australian of the Year 2015.)

Victoria has the highest rate of domestic violence in Australia and even accounting for the fact more women are reporting the assaults,  it is an epidemic and we are not alone trying to deal with this issue. In Italy, a woman is murdered every 48hours, and in some countries husbands have the right to beat, rape and even murder their wives.

Between February and July 2011, the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC) at the University of New South Wales conducted a national online domestic violence and workplace survey. The survey on the impact of domestic violence at work was completed by over 3600 union members. A full copy of the report is available on the website.

Key findings were:

The majority of the respondents were women (81%), two-thirds were in full time employment and nearly two-thirds (64%) of the respondents were aged 45 and older.

Nearly a third of respondents (30%) had personally experienced domestic violence.

Nearly half those who had experienced domestic violence reported that the violence affected their capacity to get to work; the major reason was physical injury or restraint (67%), followed by hiding keys and failure to care for children.

Nearly one in five (19%) who experienced domestic violence in the previous 12 months reported that the violence continued at the workplace

The major form the domestic violence took in the workplace was abusive phone calls and emails (12%) and the partner physically coming to work (11%).

The main reported impact was on work performance, with 16% reporting being distracted, tired or unwell, 10% needing to take time off, and 7% being late for work.

45% of respondents with recent experience of domestic violence discussed the violence with someone at work, primarily co-workers or friends rather than supervisors, HR staff or a union representative.

48% of respondents who had experienced domestic violence did disclose the violence to a manager/supervisor, though only 10% found them helpful.

For those who did not discuss the problem at work, the major reason given was ‘privacy’, followed by reasons of shame and fear of dismissal.

Over one third of all respondents who had experienced domestic violence reported the violence to the police. 25% of all respondents who had experienced domestic violence had obtained a protection order, but less than half (41%) included their workplace in the order.

Only 14% of those who had experienced domestic violence are still living in the relationship, and only 40% are still living in the family home. Below average numbers (54%) of the respondents who had experienced domestic violence were currently living in mortgaged homes; above average (32%) were living in rented properties.

All respondents thought that domestic violence can impact on the work lives of employees (100%) and a high percentage (78%) believed that workplace entitlements could reduce the impact of domestic violence in the workplace.

For those unfortunate to experience, or live with family violence the responses to the survey would not surprise; they’d recognise the extremes in workplace response:

My workplace swept the whole incident under the carpet – I felt totally unsupported.
(Co-workers) were very supportive of me, and this included accompanying me to court, inviting me to stay at their homes, signing affidavits.

Therefore, the much overdue Family Violence Clause gained a 7 Star Rating and was endorsed by the ACTU Congress.

ACTU Principles : 7 Star Rating System

Dedicated additional paid leave for employees
Confidentiality of employee details must be assured and respected
Workplace safety planning strategies to be developed
Provide referral to appropriate DV support services
Appropriate training for nominated contact persons
Access to flexible workplace arrangements where appropriate
Protection against adverse action or discrimination

The clause recognises the issue only, union representatives are clear during negotiations that experts must be involved. Leave must be certified and evidence based, involving:  doctors, police, counsellors.

Effort must be made to work out safety plans for employees such as relocation, or varying start and finishing times. Flexible work times are important, especially in places where there is no obvious security or swipe card access. People working in large public places such as hospitals, libraries and schools are particularly vulnerable. Statistically, women who are pregnant, especially during the final stage, are the most at risk.

By 2009, 1.3 million workers had the benefit of a Family Violence leave Clause in their workplace agreement.(It is called Family Violence in Victoria and Tasmania, other states call it Domestic Violence.) In 2010, Victoria became the first state to give paid leave (an employee of a council). The maximum anyone has taken off is a week, and on average the leave is half a day. It is not leave that will be abused, it must be certified.

The clause is world’s best practice, quoted in New York by the UN, with Canadian, New Zealand and European unions lobbying for similar paid leave and using the Australian model and the survey findings as support. In Germany they have paid leave for rape and victims of sexual assault, but Australia led the world seeking acknowledgement that domestic violence is not a private matter – women are murdered going to and from work.

Unions are lobbying to get the clause put into the Fair Work Act and hopefully the new government in Victoria’s response is better than the previous minister Wooldridge whose calendar was apparently so busy she couldn’t meet with Jen. The Minister’s advisor also said the clause would be too costly for the public sector to implement!

Currently, it is the private sector and enterprise bargaining achieving success. Modern industrial relations and practice must reflect modern life. Domestic Violence is the biggest contributing factor to homelessness for women under 45. It is a myth that it is only one particular class or cultural group affected and Rose Batty emphasises this too.

If the clause is in the Fair Work Act it means women are protected. They need to feel safe at work and at home. Work protection is empowering and an incentive to stay employed. Family violence often leads to precarious employment and disruptive work history. This clause challenges employers and work colleagues to acknowledge harassment and stalking, to support women who disclose violence at home. They need support and many women say if they had been asked to disclose the true situation they would have – this clause allows work colleagues to be a witness and support for these women.

There are many contributing factors to family violence, but the biggest factor is the need perpetrators have for power and to exercise excessive control. Women know the triggers: often alcohol and drugs but many men abuse even when they have not been drinking.

I hope the current government begins to improve  support services for family violence victims, including secure housing, ongoing counselling and a preventative education program in schools and does not just wait for the result of the Royal Commission. They should also publicly support the union movement’s push to insert Family violence Clauses in all awards.


1 General Principle
(a) That Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) recognises that employees sometimes face situations of violence or abuse in their personal life that may affect their attendance or performance at work. Therefore, the VTHC is committed to providing support to staff that experience family violence.
2 Definition of Family Violence
The VTHC accepts the definition of Family violence as stipulated in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic). And the definition of family violence includes physical, sexual, financial, verbal or emotional abuse by a family member.
3 General Measures
(a) Proof of family violence may be required and can be in the form an agreed document issued by the Police Service, a Court, a Doctor, District Nurse, Maternal Health Care Nurse, a Family Violence Support Service or Lawyer.
(b) All personal information concerning family violence will be kept confidential. Information will not be kept on an employee’s personnel file without their express written permission.
(c) Understanding the traumatic nature of family violence the VTHC will support their employee if they have difficulties performing their tasks at work. No adverse action will be taken against an employee if their attendance or performance at work suffers as a result of experiencing family violence.
(e) The VTHC will identify a contact in human resources, union Shop Steward or go to person who will be trained in family violence and privacy issues, for example, training in family violence risk assessment and risk management. The VTHC will advertise the name of the contact.
(f) An employee experiencing family violence may raise the issue with their immediate supervisor, their union delegate/shop steward or Human Resources.
(g) Where requested by an employee, the contact person will liaise with the employee’s supervisor on the employee’s behalf, and will make a recommendation on the most appropriate form of support to provide in accordance with sub clauses 4 and 5.
(h) The VTHC will develop guidelines to supplement this clause and which details the appropriate action to be taken in the event that an employee reports family violence.
4 Leave
(a) An employee experiencing family violence will have access to 20 days per year (non accumulative) of paid special leave for medical appointments, legal proceedings and other activities related to family violence. This leave will be in addition to existing leave entitlements and may be taken as consecutive or single days or as a fraction of a day and can be taken without prior approval.
(b) An employee who supports a person experiencing family violence may take cares leave to accompany them to court, to hospital, or to mind children.
5 Individual Support
(a) In order to provide support to an employee experiencing family violence and to provide a safe work environment to all employees, the VTHC will approve any reasonable request from an employee experiencing family violence for:
(i) changes to their span of hours or pattern or hours and/or shift patterns;
(ii) job redesign or changes to duties;
(iii) relocation to suitable employment within the VTHC;
(iv) a change to their telephone number or email address to avoid harassing contact;
(v) any other appropriate measure including those available under existing provisions for family friendly and flexible work arrangements.
(b) An employee experiencing family violence will be referred to the appropriate support services/agencies and/or other local resources.
(c) An employee that discloses to Human Resources or their supervisor that they are experiencing family violence will be given a resource pack of information of current support and referral services.

There have been, and are, so many amazing people working to improve the lives of women and children affected by family violence. It is beneficial for those of us who feel we’ve been struggling forever to remind ourselves social justice campaigners are many – we are not alone.

Let’s hope that Rose Batty’s voice  remains  strong and her campaign and wise words are heard often this year so that her wish to see positive change is granted.

Family violence] is an entrenched epidemic that we’ve lived with since time began, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I do believe the tide is turned. It’s no longer a subject that only occurs behind closed doors

Ms Batty after receiving her Australian of the Year award on January 25, 2015.