The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced the government will elevate domestic violence as an urgent agenda item for the Commonwealth Council of Australian Governments to consider. Abbott hopes to develop a national Domestic Violence Order scheme by the end of the year.
At a press conference in Melbourne the prime minister explained he had spent some time with the 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, that morning.
“Rosie Batty is an extraordinary person. She is a great person and she has suffered much. She is determined to assure that we don’t just make a statement by appointing her as Australian of the Year, but that we act as a nation to reject the scourge of domestic violence that stalks too many households.”
It’s an objective Abbott and Senator Michaelia Cash, the minister assisting the minister for women who appeared alongside Abbott, say is a priority for the government.
“I’m delighted to be here to re-affirm the government’s commitment – and indeed all Australians commitment – to being a country where violence against women and children is not tolerated,” Senator Cash said.
Rosie Batty has offered to provide advice to the government in its plans to tackle family violence which Senator Cash says will be invaluable. As a person who has navigated the system and for whom the system ultimately failed, Batty has a very real understanding of the reality of facing domestic violence.
Ostensibly, it was a heartening press conference. Whether Rosie Batty being named Australian of the Year would be symbolic or the start of a systemic change in the way we tackle domestic violence was a question many Australians immediately pondered upon learning of the announcement on Sunday.
The fact the prime minister was willing to meet with Batty earlier today and hold a press conference announcing his determination that her designation as Australian of the Year would not merely be symbolic is undoubtedly positive.
But what happened next was less positive and, sadly, more revealing. It was inevitable, given the controversy that has erupted since Abbott bestowed a Knighthood upon Prince Philip, that the journalists’ questions would turn to that. And they did. At the expense of more important and necessary questions being asked about domestic violence. These two are the ones I wanted explored:
How can the government reconcile its commitment to tackle domestic violence with its decision to cut funding to the service that support victim of family violence?
On Sunday Rosie Batty explained that domestic violence stems from gender inequality and there is plenty of evidence that indicates the link between sexism and gender inequality, and domestic violence. How can the minister for women reconcile the gender inequality in his own government with a desire to tackle domestic violence?
It is possible, of course, to blame the media present for distracting the prime minister from the nationally significant issue of domestic violence to the far-less consequential issue of knighting a royal prince. And to some extent that’s valid.
But given the fact the discussion around Knightmare extends well beyond the triviality of honouring Prince Philip into the far more consequential issue of Abbott’s leadership viability and judgement, the press couldn’t have avoided it. And Abbott must have known that.
So why did he choose to share the focus on this nationally significant problem with his own political nightmare? That troubles me.