Correction: this episode incorrectly refers to Dyson Heydon as a Chief Justice of the High Court. This has been corrected in this transcript to Justice, to reflect his actual title.
Episode 10: Our Power As People, Part 2
Malcolm Turnbull 0:00
Disrespecting women does not always lead to violence against women, but that is where all violence against women begins. And while it is true that some men are victims of domestic violence, the overwhelming majority are women and children. I’m challenging all Australian men to think about what you will do to advance equality as husbands, dads, sons, brothers, colleagues, mates, no matter how small the commitment is.
Former Prime Minister Turnbull’s words go to the heart of the problem of violence and abuse in Australia—disrespect of women and gendered inequality. Put simply, you don’t dominate, hit, maim, manipulate or belittle those you love and respect. And you don’t do this if you accept people as equals. It’s as simple and complex as this.
The Victorian Women’s Trust has been busy in this space for a long time, working to bring about greater gender equality secure in the knowledge that this is the critical means by which our society rids itself of the scourge of gendered violence and abuse.
I’m Lucy Ballantyne. I joined the production team of The Trap in June this year, and on behalf of everyone at the Trust, I am bringing you this final episode of The Trap.
From the outset, our motivation for producing The Trap has been to create positive change. Jess has expertly unpacked the dynamics of abuse and coercive control in family and intimate partner settings. We can all see more clearly now the many ways victims remain trapped in violent relationships, and the reasons why perpetrators might seek total control over their partners and children.
The dynamic of coercive control extends beyond intimate-partner relationships. It is patriarchy’s lethal trap. Those gendered assumptions which feed men’s sense of entitlement, and diminish women’s personhood, causing devastating harm to countless numbers of women and children—in families, workplaces, across our institutions. And, as we’ve heard, patriarchy traps men as well.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Important social change has occurred to get some release from this trap. Struggles have been hard fought, and hard won. The good news is that there is a cultural reckoning now underway which has the potential, we reckon, to speed the change.
In this final episode, we bring you stories of people using their power and agency to better respond to gendered violence and abuse: in professions like the law, in business worlds and in political life.
Christine Nixon 03:02
I’m Christine Nixon. I started as a police officer back in 1972, in the New South Wales Police. There were 130 women and 8000 men in the police.
That’s a police force made up of only 1.6% women—truly patriarchal foundations. For generations, our systems of policing have let down victims of domestic abuse. Until the 1970s, domestic violence remained a hidden problem, rationalised, ignored and underplayed. Women suffered. Christine Nixon went on to become Australia’s first female Police Commissioner. She tells an important story about how things started to change:
Christine Nixon 03:46
So we basically started out lecturing school kids, and doing traffic duty, you know, getting the kids across the road. So you also had to be over five foot six, you had to have typing, you had to have, you know, finishing school qualifications, there was a whole series of things. So these women were way smarter, and had way more qualifications than the blokes. This one woman who was European, she spoke seven languages. She was an amazing woman, but she was a Senior Constable for 25 years, because there was no way she could get promoted, to become a sergeant. And that’s sort of the way they just kept the women down, of course, until, till it all broke open.
In line with changing community attitudes during the 1970s, female police officers began moving into more operational areas. With that, came a different perspective on family violence and sexual assault matters that police were called to respond to. Important reforms started to be put in place. The more women in operational policing, the stronger the changes, especially in areas such as sexual assault.
Christine Nixon 4:56
And up until that stage, there were no proper hospital facilities, you had to go around and find a doctor to do an examination, let alone really support and treat. As a police officer, I’d obviously had to attend family violence incidents. And I remember going to my first time as a police officer, and I was really, you know, pretty young, I guess. You know, one of the decisions I took was I kind of put an apprehended violence order on this fellow, which basically he had to report every week to the police station. There was no such legislation, I just told him, he had to report every week, and I had to make and I made him get a job. And I made him, you know, do a lot of things, and used to check up with his partner every week. Because there was really no proper processes and procedures, and of course the police very much saw that it wasn’t their responsibility. The foundation for me was then through the 80s, about looking about, at how you changed policing response to family violence, and how you worked with with the broader community, the broader women’s support centers, all of the all of their rape crisis, all of those people who are involved in it.
Christine’s operational background, and focus on reforming police responses to domestic abuse, put her in a strong position to further improve policing when she was appointed Victoria’s Chief Commissioner in 2001.
Christine Nixon 6:16
I spent the first bit getting to understand the community, understanding members of Victoria Police, and looking at the crime stats. It was pretty early days where I looked at the crime rates particularly and saw three of the more traditional reported crime, stolen motor vehicles, break- and-enters and robberies, and I had to go out and explain the crime stats. And of courser the media wasn’t going to ask me about what’s happened to family violence, they were gonna ask you about robberies and break-and-enters and all of that. So off, off, we go to the big press conference, everybody turns up. And I remember thinking to myself when I announced that, that we were going to look to work with our communities to understand how Victorian police could improve its response to family violence, and we will be reaching out to people to help us to understand how to do better. And even someone like me, who is at that stage, you know, some people described as the most powerful women in the country. I looked around and when can I do this? Is it okay to say on the behalf of the State of Victoria, this is what we’re doing? I went who cares, we’re doing it, and did. And announced it. And of course, off we went.
Reform around domestic violence needed new thinking, new people. The windows opened to fresh air.
Christine focused on getting the right people in, doing research, unpacking the deeper layers to the problem of family violence. She also knew there were tough questions to be faced by the force itself, such as the presence of abusers within their midst, and a culture of protection by their peers, a problem we explored in episode 6.
Christine Nixon 8:00
We brought in people who were across the community, magistrates, there was a range of people. About 12 of them who became part of that taskforce. But all understood that if we were going to go forward on this, it needed cultural change, it needed legal reform, needed funding to be able to do better than we were doing. So being the partner of a police officer and abused is a very tough space to be because their partners know that if they were to report them, then a couple of things can happen. One is nothing, because you know, their colleagues will do nothing about the offence. The other of course is the person’s career can be terminated on the basis of that, that committing that offenses. So there was a piece that also recognizing that one of our problems was within the organization was the level of abuse by police officers on their partners. So we started to talk about that.
At this stage, the cultural norms of policing had deemed domestic violence a private matter, of no public concern. Very little data were collected, and frontline responses to calls for help weren’t given proper consideration. At last, it was now to be seen as a crime.
Christine Nixon 9:17
Instead of seeing family violence, as you know, a dispute between two people in their personal relationships, that it was a crime. And that we needed to investigate the crime, we needed to see the impacts on women and children. And it was mostly women and children. We looked at education programs, we looked at a range of things. I think you have to tell the stories of the impacts in what what difference you can make in someone’s life when you intervene and you take steps. We really focused on, on also legislative reform, apprehended violence orders, and of course, you also put more resources in so that you deal with it. We also looked to then put many more people who were properly trained, we held people accountable.
Christine found herself often confronted by people who would ask her “why do abusers abuse?”
Christine Nixon 10:11
And I said, because they can.
After many, many decades of ambivalence and inaction, It took the best efforts of people like Christine Nixon to establish domestic violence as a crime. But as we explored earlier in the series, the reform agenda remains huge and confronting; and every day of delay is more devastating harm and damage to victim-survivors.
One thing is sure. It is going to take the very best use of people’s power and agency in leadership positions to reform policing, and the criminal justice system more widely, to stop the violence and abuse of women. It will take nothing less than the sort of effort and reform process we have seen more recently in the establishment of the Victorian Royal Commission on Family Violence.
Marcia Neave 11:03
Well, I think injustice, particularly injustice to the powerless, to powerless people, is something that has ever since I was a small child, enraged me and made me want to do something about it. And so I think if there was a sort of a theme, that’s a very important theme in my life. But I have worked for a long time, on issues to do with women and children. So injustice to people who can’t defend themselves is something that I will want to address for the whole of my life, I think.
The world’s first Royal Commission into Family Violence commenced its work in Victoria in 2015. It is a story about a powerful intersection of forces for change, of people coming together and using their power and agency at every level. It was an election commitment of the Andrews Labor Government, a promise borne from mounting pressure from the community for an urgent focus on family violence. Marcia Neave was the Royal Commissioner, along with two assistant commissioners, Patricia Faulkner and Tony Nicholson.
Marcia Neave 12:21
We heard from a large number of witnesses, experts, people who had experienced family violence, people from police background, people from service provider background, but we did a lot of other things as well. The public hearings were not our central focus. We heard, we had lots of consultations with people affected by family violence, we had some individual sessions talking to people who are affected by family violence. And we met lots of the groups that provide services to people affected by family violence. And we received, we received over 1000 submissions from members of the public.
A Royal Commission has gravitas, it provides a platform and opportunity for people to testify, to bear witness, to share their pain, and register their experiences of when systems fail to protect. Within their respective careers, Marcia and her Deputy Commissioners might have thought they had heard it all. But some stories left indelible marks on Marcia, which at the same time highlighted the power we all have to notice, to show compassion and help victims.
Marcia Neave 13:33
We spoke to one woman who had, after years of experiencing family violence, left home, and she had lived in her car with her four children for a great deal of time before she ended up getting any accommodation and she had tried to seek help. And for instance, she was told that she could be found accommodation with two of the children, but not the other two. So not surprisingly, she did not want to do that. In the end, it wasn’t a government system that helped her, it was the chaplain, I think, at the school where her children went, who noticed that she would drive the children to school and wait for the whole day to pick them up, because she had nowhere else to go and she couldn’t spare the petrol to drive around. And this person spoke to her and said, you know, why are you here all day? And she said, Well, I haven’t got anywhere to live. And that person, member of the community, found her somewhere to live. Now that the government didn’t, at that point of time, help with her housing in any way that was acceptable to her.
In relatively quick time, and drawing on the wealth of community knowledge and understanding of the problem, the Royal Commission carved out a reform agenda
Marcia Neave 14:50
So there were three things that we focused on, we thought a lot about how you would improve the foundations of the current system for responding to family violence, there is a system there but we wanted to look at how that system was working. We then wanted to look at transformation, how we change the way the current system, the system that was current at that time, was working, and where the gaps and problems were and how you change those issues, so as to make a much more effective response. And the third, the third component was building structures to change the system so that it provides a better response to family violence across the board.
The Royal Commission made 227 recommendations all of which the Victorian Government agreed to implement; and $2.7 billion has been committed to support the necessary changes. Importantly, it signals to other governments, state and national, that if they are serious about reducing violence and abuse, they need more than plans. They need to listen to people across the community, work with experts across sectors. They need to appreciate the double disadvantage meted out to our First Nations people and their experience of the criminal justice system. Governments must make major investments, recalibrate budgets and continue to do so until victim survivors everywhere are guaranteed safety.
Marcia Neave 16:23
The law is very important but we’ve probably gone almost as far as we need to go in the area of law reform. What we really need to do is think about how we get the whole community to own this problem, how we educate people to reject violence, to react to it, to support people who are subjected to it, and until we do those things, until we bring about that change in culture, then we will not have effectively dealt with the problem of family violence.
Marcia is right to call for community ownership of the problem of violence and abuse. As we pointed out in the last episode, families and peer groups are sites of critical interventions and support and so too are businesses and workplaces.
The human toll of domestic abuse is immeasurable, and it’s only now we’re getting an understanding of the costs also to the Australian economy, which is about $22 billion a year. The direct cost to businesses in lost productivity alone is almost $2 billion each year. This is why domestic abuse leave provisions are a welcome reform. But clear and focused business leadership can play a wider strategic role—helping create the cultural shift necessary to eliminate gendered violence and abuse.
David Martin 17:49
The moment for me was actually when Eurydice Dixon was murdered in Melbourne, that was 2018. It was the final straw for me. And that’s when I decided to work out what we could do. Have a very strong partnership with our HR manager, Katherine Woodman, and we discussed it.
This is David Martin who heads up a printing company, Spicers, a respected brand in the Australian business landscape for over a century. It remains predominantly male, with men forming two-thirds of the workforce. David had long realized that domestic abuse was a problem. But what to do?
David Martin 18:29
I guess the struggle when you come to that realization is that you actually don’t know what to do, in the roles that we have there’s a, there’s a problem, there, may be four potential solutions, and then you solve that, and you move on to the next problem. And I think the overwhelming feeling for me was that I actually had no idea what, how else, how we could change it, and what else we could do, so.
Business leaders reach for their corporate toolbox to solve problems that occur within their organisations, product streams and market segments. Over time, they intuitively know what people and resources to reach for. But what about when they identify a problem outside their normal business process?
David Martin 19:11
So in business, the problems are varied, but they, I guess they’re not that varied when you look at it over an experienced period of X number of years. And typically, the functions that are set up in business are designed to be able to solve the typical business problems that arise. So to be able to look at a problem and pull the right team together to say, this is the team to actually solve that problem, it’s actually quite intuitive as to how that works. And then you have a lead time of either 24 hours or three months, depending on the problem. And that’s, that’s not the case in this situation. So it’s, from my perspective, you know, recognizing the problem, and then building the motivation to do something about it. But then to think to yourself, actually, I don’t I don’t have the resources or I don’t know where to go. What is, I guess, part of, in part frustration, but in part, it was more around, to be honest, probably hardening up a little to be able to search for actually how to get that done.
David brought himself up to speed on the issue of domestic abuse, its extent and its root causes. He is an admirer of Steve Biddulph’s book on raising boys and more recently, was moved by Terry Real’s analysis in one of our earlier episodes.
David Martin 20:30
I think a good number of people actually don’t know how overwhelming it is. The more time that I’ve spent learning around the situation, what I would call the crisis, you really get a recognition as to how really deep the problem is, and actually how the breadth of the manner in which violence can occur is I have to say, is not something that’s that’s dinnertime conversation, even group conversation. So I think it’s a matter of bringing others to a realization first, and then trying to actually influence a group on how to think about a problem and how to actually understand the depth of the problem and move to make some change.
David quickly learned that his desire for addressing domestic abuse wasn’t necessarily shared by his peers.
David Martin 21:23
You need to recognize that your excitement and bringing the story along is not everybody else’s particular focus or, even understanding. One in particular, was actually quite a renowned person who, responded in a manner that I wasn’t prepared for and quite shocked me to be honest. But I think my major concern was that the others around the table actually didn’t voice concern at the response. So they told me early on that you definitely need to be bringing others along. There’s a very high likelihood that when you’re talking to a group of others that there’s definitely going to be a 180 degree perspective there somewhere, focusing on domestic violence, it’s quite a raw topic. It takes some courage to be honest, for people to bring that through, and that shouldn’t have to be the case
He might have found the response from his peers off-putting, but that hasn’t stopped David building an approach within his company that enables people to have open discussions about safety, respect and above all, accountability.
David Martin 22:32
The work we’re doing at a company level is around looking to influence employees. You know, in part, there’s a personal realization, if you can take the defensiveness out of a conversation, it’s just a much more productive workplace, whether it’s via MS Teams or whether it’s in the office itself. You have to just create that flow. If you have fear in the workplace, either because of position, title or, or gender, it’s a workaround that you really don’t want to have to manage. So I would say our conversations are less formal. I think we’re actually quite a, not completely casual, but I think we’re a less formal workplace. Building a group that are really going to be of like minds, let’s call it the willing coalition, to me is, is going to be a simpler road, being able to share how I’m emotionally and personally feeling about the situation than taking a position and and wondering why people don’t feel exactly the same way. But if there’s no conviction behind accountability, then it just won’t work. It won’t work in business, but it also won’t work in building a culture.
So here’s the challenge for other corporate and business leaders. Understand that workplaces are important sites for the cultural change necessary to reduce violence and abuse—within businesses and beyond. Dedicate yourself to the task. Form, as David would say, coalitions of the willing.
Earlier this year, millions of Australian women marched for justice because they have lived with the quiet fury at having been assaulted, harassed or demeaned by men at different stages of their lives. This abuse is all part of the coercive control mix, where acts of domination, entitlement, the abuse of power and the attempted silencing of women, take place without compunction or sanction.
Clip: Channel 9 newsreader 24:43
‘An increasing number of alleged victims are now pursuing compensation, their lawyer describing Heydon’s conduct as “the legal profession’s dirtiest secret.”’
Kathleen Foley 24:55
Sexual harassment is certainly something that, in particular, women lawyers and women barristers have experienced and are much more inclined to speak out about these days, and there’s a much greater awareness of it as an issue. It’s my sense now that most people would not disagree that it’s a real problem, And the attention of the legal community has really turned to what can we do about it? Rather than debating whether it happens at all. So that’s been quite a shift. I think, in the past five years or so.
We’re listening to barrister Kathleen Foley reflecting on the impact of the sexual harassment allegations against former Justice of the High Court, Dyson Heydon. She sees many more people now prepared to challenge and change this age-old, elite profession to reduce sexual harassment and abuse from within its own ranks
Kathleen Foley 25:50
I started out in practice in 2004, I can tell you from that time until now, you know, this shift has been quite dramatic. And the kinds of things that as a junior lawyer, I would see and experience that no one would ever have spoken out about, that now women are feeling capable to say not good enough, not going to put up with that. But also men are saying not good enough, I’m not going to put up with that. And men and women together are having these discussions about how to fix it, you know, what do we need to address and really considering the underlying causes of this kind of behavior.
Six brave women called out sexual harassment against former high court justice Dyson Heydon. High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel responded immediately, commissioning an independent report by Vivienne Thom, former inspector-general of intelligence and security. The report was unequivocal. It said there was ‘‘a tendency by Mr Heydon to engage in a pattern of conduct of sexual harassment’’ during his stint on the bench from 2003 to 2013. Chief Justice Susan Kiefel took the highly unusual step of naming Mr Heydon and issued a public apology for the harassment of these women. ‘‘We’re ashamed that this could have happened at the High Court of Australia,’’ she said.
The media was all over this story at the time, and deservedly so. After all, the High Court is the foremost legal institution in our country, and rumours of senior legal men behaving badly are bound to make the news. But the media caravan has moved on. The really striking story now is that there is change underway across the profession. The action of the women who called out the abuse in the first place, and the response from Chief Justice Kiefel, has created a ripple effect, leading many others to start serious cultural reform from within this uber traditional masculine profession.
Kathleen Foley 27:51
There’s lots of examples of situations where there’s a lot of attention on a particular set of allegations, and then it just fades away after time. That certainly isn’t what has happened here. I think that people will look back on what Chief Justice Kiefel did and her report into those allegations and see it as a seismic shift in the way that those issues would be dealt with within the profession. Just to give you one example, in the aftermath of all of that, the Chief Justice here in Victoria, Chief Justice Ferguson of the Supreme Court instituted a review which was conducted independently by Dr. Helen Szoke, of sexual harassment and like issues within the Victorian court system and that review has now been published and the Chief Justice and the Attorney General have committed to implement those reforms. And those reforms are really very significant reforms. So to give you quite a concrete example, which is happening kind of right now, the Chief Justice announced that in order to become a senior counsel, a Queen’s counsel in Victoria, from now on, you have to undertake training and education about sexual harassment issues. Anyone who wants to become Senior Counsel as of next year, needed to attend that session, it was a two hour session, and then included some very senior figures in the legal profession talking to barristers about sexual harassment, bullying and leadership generally.
Chief Justice Keifel’s report was no doubt uncomfortable reading for a profession that sees itself above the law, so to speak. Defensiveness is too often the default position when allegations of men behaving badly are aired. In this case, however, it seems the report has galvanised many within the legal profession into action, bringing women and men together as allies in the cause.
Kathleen Foley 29:47
Probably one that I think has been really eye opening for me and I think for others involved is an initiative that the President of the Court of Appeal Chris Maxwell instigated, one of the things that he decided to do was bring women and men together at the bar, in a setting where junior women and senior men, and separately junior women and junior men could come together in an environment where the women could really explain to the men what life is like for them, and the issues that they experience. And this wasn’t limited to sexual harassment. In fact, we weren’t limited at all in what we might want to say and how we might want to convey our experiences. But of course, in talking about our experiences, sexual harassment was something that often came up. And those sessions which were held in a group of about, you know, 20 people, and were really moderated by President Maxwell, were really great, because a lot of the men in that room had known the junior women in a work context and had worked with them, but had never actually had the woman explain, hey, this is what life is like for me and this is what it’s like to be treated in this way. And those changes might be on a smaller scale, or they might be on a larger scale. But plenty of men who were involved in those sessions, you know, called me afterwards or called other women afterwards and said, I’m really shocked by what I heard and it’s made a pretty deep impression on me and these are the things that I’m going to think about changing, what do you think? And so then we’d have this ongoing dialogue about whether this might make a difference, or whether that might make a difference. So those kinds of things, I think, have been to me really powerful, because they’ve actually allowed individuals to have a change of perspective.
Kathleen took a public stand on the Dyson Heydon and Christian Porter matters. She half expected backlash. None came.
Kathleen Foley 31:37
I felt in a way that people wanted to see a backlash. And that, particularly in social media, there was a bit of a narrative going on that I would inevitably lose my career. It didn’t happen at all. I had an overwhelming level of support from senior members of the profession and junior members of the profession and people not in the profession. No doubt, I’m sure there are people who completely disagreed with what I did, but I certainly haven’t had any impact on my work or any of those things. We have a female Chief Justice on the high court and a female Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court. I appeared in the High Court last week, and there were, I think, four women counsel in one of the cases that I was in before the High Court, and women justices on the bench. So that’s a really big difference for me in the way that I practice in this profession. And I actually feel quite optimistic about it. That is not to say that there aren’t the mutterings that there aren’t still a lot of men who go to male-only clubs. But I do feel as an overall thing, we are moving in the right direction.
Contesting powerful male-dominated institutions on sexual harassment and abuse has its personal challenges, especially in a profession like law which seeks to enshrine impartiality, value freedom and being apolitical.
Kathleen Foley 32:56
I’m a single parent, I’ve got two young kids, I’m the breadwinner in my house. And I had to really think hard about whether or not those decisions would have an impact on my ability to work. Because one of the things about being a barrister is if the briefs dry up, that’s it. One thing about the legal profession, and particularly when I started out is you were told, really to leave your personal and political views, you know, to one side, and that in the workplace, you need to be neutral and apolitical. And you don’t want the court to be associating you with personal views or political views that might undermine the position you’re putting for your clients. I was pretty careful to keep myself neutral. The first time I think I departed from that was really with the marriage equality debate. Because I felt so strongly about that as a social issue that I just couldn’t, you know, remain silent about it. And I also felt well, it’s a human rights issue as well. And as lawyers we’re meant to be supportive of human rights, and it’s just such an important thing. So I took a more public stand about that than I ever had in relation to other issues.
And then I think, moving ahead to the Dyson Heydon allegations and the Christian Porter thing. For me, it just came to a point where I couldn’t really ethically, you know, remain silent anymore. And I felt that it was too important. And as a profession, I think we’ve all realized that these are things that have to be spoken about. We can’t remain silent about them. We need to talk about them in order for women coming into the profession to be comfortable.
The legal profession has for generations been built and maintained by men, very much reflecting their lived experience as white, educated, privileged members of society. From the beginning it has been both overtly and covertly hostile to the professional presence of women. But Kathleen’s reflections tell us that genuine cultural change is underway. Women and men are coming together to take actions that challenge the unwritten behaviour rules which license men to prey on young women lawyers. Cultural systems of abuse, power and control over others are now being addressed, making the profession a safer space for women as well as helping change the way the law delivers justice for women who have suffered at the hands of male perpetrators.
Clip: Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech 35:23
“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man, I will not. And the government will not lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever. The Leader of the Opposition says people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs.”
This is the early part of Julia Gillard’s famous Misogyny Speech. It’s a speech that could have easily been made 100 years ago, or yesterday. When Gillard became our first female Prime Minister in 2010, we watched with horror the unrelenting and destructive attack that ensued both from her political opponents within the parliament, but also from their powerful networked mates outside of parliament. The then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and the direct subject of Gillard’s now famous speech, saw nothing wrong in standing under protest banners which screamed Gillard was ‘a witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s bitch’. The menacing and demeaning abuse which flowed from privileged and entitled men, gave licence to many that disrespect of women was merely part of the fabric of life.
Domineering behaviour, bullying, intimidation, sexism, and misogyny are simply portrayed as part of the rough and tumble of politics. It’s normalised. It is reinforced by cronyism, patronage and playing fast and loose with our democracy. It’s a culture which makes it harder for women not only to enter politics, but to want to stay in the game let alone aspire to leadership positions.
Clip: Malcolm Turnbull, 7.30 37:23
“Look, the big problem here is a cultural problem in parliament, in the political culture. I’ve talked about it, I talked about it when I was prime minister, that’s why I changed the ministerial code of conduct, you know in my ministerial code of conduct, I talked about leading by example and the importance of ministers leading by example in the way that they treated others with respect. You know, the reality is that that culture has not improved enough, to be honest with you I don’t know if it’s better than it was when I was there, I haven’t been PM for two years, but women are treated with disrespect regularly, I would say almost institutionally in parliament, it reminds me of the corporate world in the 1970s.”
Malcolm Turnbull’s observation is painfully true of the tradition of doing politics in Australia. White male privilege, entitlement, the marginalisation and disrespect of women has been the bedrock of our political culture. This has been the case for successive generations, and it remains so to this day.
Clip: Sarah Hanson-Young, ABC News 38:35
“This is a really important decision.”
“The federal court has ruled that Hanson-Young was defamed when former Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm made remarks about her on the ABC’s 7.30 and other programs including Sky News In June and July 2018. Ms Hanson-Young has given the ABC permission to replay one of Mr Leyonhjelm’s comments.”
“Telling people to f off or stop shagging men is normal, robust language.”
“Ms Hanson-Young said the comments suggested she was a misandrist and hypocrite, injured her character and reputation, and caused her substantial hurt, distress and embarrassment. Mr Leyonhjelm also said the Greens Senator told parliament all men are rapists during a debate about self-defence. Justice Richard White today ruling that she did not say words to that effect, and ordered he pay $120,000 in damages, money Ms Hanson-Young says she’ll donate to two charities that tackle female inequality and discrimination.”
In 2018, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young became the first Australian sitting politician to sue another politician, Senator David Leyonhjelm for defamation. This story of sexist abuse has a bitter-sweet edge to it. According to Kate Ellis in her book, Sex, Lies and Question Time, when Senator Hanson-Young stood up and called him out, her action had come from a place of desperation. She had been dealing with this kind of behaviour for months. It got to the point where she didn’t want to speak in question time, even when it was her portfolio, because she knew what happened every time she stood up.
The sweet part of this story is that Senator Hanson-Young’s action was supported by hundreds of donors across the Australian community, clearly fed up with this repugnant side to political life and choosing to do their bit.
Sarah Hanson-Young’s decision to assert her agency wasn’t taken lightly. But it was exactly what is needed – a rallying call that ‘enough is enough’. It’s time to pay respect to women across the board – in our homes, families and in our parliaments. Sexual harassment is sustained by the very same dynamic, that destructive ‘power-over framework’, that allows domestic abuse to flourish. It flourishes when gender relations are so unequal. We need to see our parliaments achieving gender equality, rather than resisting it.
Phil Cleary 41:15
I vividly remember being in the hospital three hours after Vicki was attacked, and watching the doctor tell my mum that her daughter was dead. I remember my mum wailing as I cuddled her and she said, Philip, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? In the courtroom, under the defense of provocation, the killer was turned into a victim and my sister was transformed into a provocateur.
This is Phil Cleary. His sister Vicki, was attacked by her ex boyfriend on the 26th of August 1987 as she parked her car outside the kindergarten where she worked. Vicki was 25 years of age, the man who attacked her with a knife had a history of violence. A hidden dark history that Phil knew nothing about.
Phil Cleary 42:20
I watched in disbelief when the foreman of the jury declared that the killer was not guilty of murder, but only guilty of manslaughter. In fact, due allegedly, to the provocative behavior of my sister as she parked her car and fended off her attacker. We watched then in disbelief again, as the killer was sentenced to three years and 11 months. Little did we know that woman after woman was being killed in circumstances like those in which my sister died, only to find killer men being found not guilty of murder due to provocation. Thankfully, we brought down the law of provocation in 2005.
The story of Vicki’s perpetrator serving only 3 years and 11 months for her heinous murder speaks to a system which is fundamentally stacked against victims. Which protects perpetrators, blames victims, and ultimately perpetuates violence in all aspects of our society. Things are changing, but not without a fight.
Phil Cleary 43:40
And everyone should remember that it was the women’s movement and their allies who exposed the complicity of that law in the violence being perpetrated against women. It’s astounding that we don’t have the actual numbers. We have the numbers on the road toll but not the numbers in relation to the homicides of women by intimate partners, invariably, in the context of separation. That’s not explaining the violence away, simply a way of saying that as women have expressed their desire for independence, they’ve been met with deep and dangerous resistance at many levels in our society.
We need to campaign for gender equality, and we need to accept that gender inequality is the backdrop to the violence being perpetrated against women. Today, we must affirm in all our institutions, and in our culture, the right of women to pursue independence. Our society has an obligation to stop the violent men and protect women like my sister from those men. That is my message.
Phil is right. The dynamic of coercive control flourishes in intimate partner relationships, in workplaces, in our built systems and social institutions because of the deep-seated gendered inequalities which exist in our society. It is a simple but demanding equation – achieve even greater gender equality and reduce the extent of violence and abuse of women.
Gender equality has been a work-in-progress for many decades, happening in small ways everywhere, happening after long struggles, and with occasional big societal steps. Phil is also spot on in his recognition that generations of Australian women have been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to tackling men’s violence. He knows this has to change and that men – in their homes, families, communities and workplaces—readily and in increasing numbers, must stand alongside women and scale up their efforts in dealing with entrenched inequalities.
Josh Bornstein 46:15
The question then is how to contribute to change? And that’s a huge issue for each of us and to some extent, we’ve got to try and be strategic about it, and work to our strengths. Ultimately, the issue for me is political and progress in this area has to be seen as part of a political endeavor. The need to organize politically, to advocate politically, and to act collectively is critical.
This is Josh Bornstein, a leading employment and industrial relations lawyer with Maurice Blackburn based in Melbourne. Coincidently, he is representing several of the women who filed allegations of sexual harassment against Chief Justice Dyson Heydon.
Josh Bornstein 47:11
Typically, sexual harassment and sexual violence in the cases that I’m involved in involve a man in his 50s or 60s high, high up in a hierarchy in a workplace, and a woman in her 20s and 30s, much lower in the ranks of that hierarchy. And that’s why the legal profession is such a high-risk profession. And that’s why I think I’ve now I’m now dealing with cases against five judges, all involving very young, junior women, much lower down in the pecking order.
While accepting that his role as an employment lawyer is to deal with the complexities around sexual harassment in workplaces, Josh knows that these are symptoms of a larger structural problem in our society.
Josh Bornstein 47:59
We’re not going to address sexual harassment, sexual violence against women properly unless we recognize that it is a part of our manifestation of a much broader problem, which is the problem of gender inequality.
And so that to me, inexorably leads to the distribution of work outside paid work, and needing to adjust our culture, our laws, our policies, and ultimately, our relationships with one another so that there’s a more even distribution of responsibilities outside paid employment, or what we traditionally recognize as paid employment. In other words, we need men to take much more of a role in childcare, early, early childcare, to, to introduce schemes which encourage or mandate men taking substantial paternity leave and sharing, sharing that load with women in the first 12 months or two years of a child’s life just for starters. So, so I use what soapbox I can about that, to pump out opinion articles, to present at seminars, and so on and so forth. But ultimately, I recognize this is a huge political issue. So what do I try and do? Well, I’m fortunate in that the work that I do allows me to have a platform and to advocate from time to time in in really important cases, to then use that to consult with politicians about law reform and policy reform or inquiries, investigations that are conducted about the legal profession in a smaller way I contribute to changes that are going on in our workplace
It’s crucial to keep turning up, using whatever platform one has, seizing opportunities, all the time keeping in mind the vision of a future where domestic abuse is a thing of the past.
Josh Bornstein 50:17
Power is never ceded willingly. Progress is sometimes slow, you can’t always see it happening and feel it happening. And sometimes it feels like it’s not when it is happening. And you’ve got to celebrate the incremental changes while aspiring for much more ambitious change. And I don’t always feel optimistic. I don’t always feel like we’re winning but I feel enough progress and enough satisfaction about helping the people that I do to make me want to keep punching for as long as I’ve got some punch left in me.
It remains a startling fact that more women have been killed by their former or current intimate partners in the past decade in our country than the numbers of Australian servicemen and women killed during the Vietnam War.
Worse still, this domestic ‘war’ takes no account of the hospitalisations, life-long injuries, psychological harm and the heavy costs to families, communities and society.
Albert Einstein is said to have written something along the lines that we can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. The Trap has set out to deal with violence and abuse in new ways, offering new insights. All we ask of you is to think long and hard about the possibilities for real change—and the role you might play.
You’ve been listening to The Trap, proudly brought to you by the Victorian Women’s Trust and its harm prevention entity the Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls.
This series stands on the shoulders of victim-survivors. We acknowledge their courage and resilience and thank them for speaking to us for the benefit of sharing their experiences with you, the listener.
To all the people we interviewed, thank you for your wisdom, sharing your experiences, your time and your generosity.
Thank you to Jess Hill and Georgina Savage for their series efforts.
The Trap has been a great team effort from the staff at the Victorian Women’s Trust. In particular, we’d like to thank co-producers Ally Oliver-Perham and Maria Chetcuti.
We would also like to thank all of our supporters and donors. Special thanks to Equity Trustees & the Phyllis Connor Trust, the Bokhara (pronounced Bock-hara) Foundation, Jo Baevski and a private donor.
The last two episodes have been developed by Leah McPherson and Mary Crooks with special thanks to Jess Dugdale-Walker, Lily Mooney and the team at the Trust. The Trap was mixed by Pariya Taherzadeh.
This podcast has been produced in Sydney and Melbourne and we respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of this land, the Gadigal of the Eora nation and the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.
If today’s topics have raised any issues for you, help is available. Contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or, if you are seeking specialist LGBTQI support, contact With Respect, on 1800 542 847, or see our show notes for a full list of support services.
For more information about this podcast including show notes and resources, visit vwt.org.au/thetrap and follow @TheTrapPod on Instagram
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Thank you for listening.