I was away on holidays last week and in an attempt to ensure my break was a break I avoided the news. Studiously. I resisted opening Twitter, I ignored the various news apps on my phone and checked my emails infrequently.
It was bliss. In this line of work it was a small luxury I considered necessary. My ignorance-is-bliss bubble was burst quickly upon reacquainting myself with current affairs. Oh look Australia’s favourite “trollomnist” has taken aim at Australian of the Year Rosie Batty! Welcome back!
It’s fair to say, in my estimation Mark Latham’s contributions to the public discourse are dire. I have come to accept and expect that. Week after week, armed with few facts, a propensity to generalise and little regard for accuracy or his subjects’ humanity, he will dissect a person, a group, or even an illness, he disapproves of. It’s increasingly difficult to believe he’s motivated by anything other than a desire to inflame.
How else to explain his gratuitous attack on Rosie Batty and the various Our Watch initiatives designed to prevent family violence, promote greater understanding of the issue and encourage responsible reporting?
The only thing less bearable than his “trollumn” was the willingness of a national newspaper to publish it.
That is the problem I cannot resolve. Is it surprising that Latham would denigrate the most articulate, visible and prolific anti-family-violence campaigner Australia has ever seen? A woman who last year lost her only son at the hands of her former partner and has spent every day since advocating for change? Forcing politicians, business leaders and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians to confront and understand this issue? Not at all.
Is it surprising that The Australian Financial Review would lend the weight of its own reputation to his inaccurate musings? Sadly it’s not.
As was the case with Latham’s scathing column on Lisa Pryor (which is the subject of a defamation suit in the NSW Supreme Court) laden, as it was, with stunningly inaccurate and dangerous assertions about mental illness, the AFR published it.
Notwithstanding that depression and mental illness present legitimate health, social and economic problems for Australia. Notwithstanding that it was Post-natal Depression Awareness Week. Notwithstanding the stigma that dogs sufferers. Notwithstanding that newspapers are required to report accurately, responsibly and sensitively about mental illness. The AFR published the column anyway.
Notwithstanding the flood of feedback, including from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists described as “concerning” in relation to mental health, the newspaper offered no apology. Instead, it provided Latham with front-page billing to continue his tirade the next week.
The AFR & Latham have continued the same ugly pattern in selecting Rosie Batty as the next target. Except Rosie isn’t the only target. We’re all the targets. Every single Australian who cares about arresting the scourge of domestic violence. Every single person and organisation that is committed to promoting a better understanding of this violence is a target. Anyone and everyone who works towards prevention, offering victims support, setting up education programs, dismantling the myths that allow this violence to flourish; we’re all the targets.
Our Watch and Rosie Batty and the many vital organisations who work towards the goal of stemming the death of two women a week in Australia, aren’t working in the dark. There is no shortage of information about the causes of domestic violence and the path towards eradicating it. They are on that path and, in no small part because of Rosie Batty’s extraordinary advocacy, there are more Australians supporting them than ever before.
Latham and the AFR can denigrate and mock them as they please but it merely highlights their leadership on this issue. In his last month as the chief of army Lt General David Morrison observed to me that there was a “paucity of leadership” on the subject of domestic violence in Australia. That is a generous label for the AFR & Latham.
Domestic violence is, as Morrison described it, a legitimate business issue for every single Australian employer. It is not a socio-economic issue as Latham sought to frame it. It effects those in the wealthiest income brackets and those in the poorest. Stranger danger is not nearly as dangerous as “familiar danger” – three quarters of the women killed in Australia this year were killed by someone they knew intimately.
Those are just a few of the facts that a national newspaper that seeks to communicate with Australia’s leading employers, ought to know.
There are some social changes that create more resistance than others. As difficult as it is to comprehend resistance to marriage equality, an issue that an overwhelming number of employers support, it’s unfathomable that an individual, company or publication could resist change to eradicate domestic violence. And yet, that’s the position the AFR and Mark Latham are willing to adopt.