An open letter to The Australian Financial Review - Women's Agenda

An open letter to The Australian Financial Review

I am writing this open letter to you with regard to the column you published recently, written by ex-politician Mark Latham.

I have written about Mr Latham’s columns in the past, when he has used the platform you give to him to launch attacks on “mummy bloggers” and on a respected female writer’s candid revelation of her anti-depressant medication use.

There came a point where I decided not to waste my time writing about his opinions. However, his latest one takes the biscuit. I have to ask you why you continue giving this man the opportunity to spout his views? Not because I want him silenced (though educated would be nice) but because I have to wonder what sort of audience you are trying to appeal to.

In this column, he lambastes Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty. She has not only been a victim of domestic violence but also lost her son to it in horrific circumstances when he was beaten to death in front of her by her ex-husband. She has worked tirelessly to keep domestic violence in the spotlight ever since in an effort to combat what is an enormous problem in our society. As part of her efforts, she speaks at events. Mr Latham has reduced her efforts to “a bizarre form of celebrity” and trivialised the important work she does as “commercialised and cashed out as entertainment”. His inference is that Ms Batty is cashing in on her personal tragedy however it has been pointed out by Jenna Price that Ms Batty has, since her appointment as Australian of the Year, “done more than 70 separate speaking engagements. And only charged for 12. Of those 12, half were discounted.”

In my personal opinion, one that I know is shared by many, Ms Batty is doing work that very few people could do. Few share her perspective and few have the strength and courage it must take to keep standing and fighting after what domestic violence has cost her, personally. I’m not sure why Mr Latham is so affronted that she derives some income from it. Is he implying that she should work constantly for free? Because we surely can agree that what she is doing is work and not something done for her own enjoyment and surely comes with it’s own expenses. I am sure Mr Latham gets paid for his work, so why should Ms Batty not be paid?

Mr Latham goes on to criticise Ms Batty for being public about her grief and then, in more low blows, he swings at Mia Freedman for discussing her mental health and Alan Stokes for discussing his alcoholism. He seems to want to return to the past, when domestic violence, mental health issues and substance abuse were treated like dirty little secrets. What exactly does this backwards, outdated attitude bring to your publication?

Domestic violence is an enormous problem in our society. Mr Latham argues that it is actually a socio-economic issue and not a gender based one and states that Natasha Stott Despoja is incorrect in her assertion that “Violence against women does not discriminate, regardless of ethnicity, social status and geography.” and argues that it is “concentrated in Aboriginal and other underclass communities”.

It’s certainly true that Indigenous women are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence. However, I’d like to know why you would publish a piece that labels Indigenous Australians an “underclass” community? Is the Australian Financial Review not interested in keeping or gaining Indigenous readers? Is it the opinion of the Australian Financial Review that Indigenous people are an underclass- or just that the AFR finds this offensive generalisation is acceptable for publication?

I would be interested to know what purpose it serves to publish erroneous opinions about the root causes of domestic violence? It is widely accepted that gender inequality is a root cause of violence against women. This isn’t some arbitrary correlation I’ve made based on the fact that women are far more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and men far more likely to be perpetrators, but something that has been acknowledged time and time again by governments (including our own) and agencies like the World Health Organisation and the United Nations.

Mr Latham next targets the Our Watch campaign, complaining that it asks journalists to take the focus away from “stranger danger”, saying “But surely, if some lunatic is randomly attacking women in a particular locality, it deserves maximum publicity.” This is nothing but a strawman argument at best. There is nothing in the Our Watch Reporting Guidelines that says that someone attacking women in a particular locality should not be publicised to alert the community. All it says is that the idea that women are most at risk of violence from strangers is not true. Statistics prove this. This document gives an overview of domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia and states that the most likely scenario in which an Australian woman will be murdered is in her own home and at the hands of an intimate partner.

The point is to highlight that fact- not to pretend that women are not attacked at random by strangers. They are- just no where near as often as they are attacked in their own homes and by intimate partners. Mr Latham says that “Journalists are being encouraged to write up violent attacks on women by strangers as a non-event” which is simply untrue- I could find no evidence of this assertion on the Our Watch website at all.

I know this was an opinion piece and we are all entitled to an opinion- but we are not entitled to our own facts. I would love to know why you’d publish an opinion piece that ignores facts? To add insult to injury, you’ve published a piece that displays outdated attitudes and dishes out nothing but contempt for Rosie Batty, our Australian of the Year, for her efforts to raise awareness, to bring about change and to save lives. What can this possibly bring to the Australian Financial Review?

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