Last night the chief of army, and You-tube sensation, Lt General David Morrison joined Leigh Sales on ABC’s 7.30 to discuss White Ribbon Day and domestic violence. With characteristic insight, he was powerfully articulate in describing how and why this insidious problem continues to take its toll.
On the prevalence of domestic violence
“Most soldiers are exposed to violence, and inevitably, violence is perpetrated against those that are most at risk of harm: women and children. So, on our overseas deployments, yes, it’s something that you expect, but when you start to look at the terrible statistics in this country and not just this country, all societies, all round the world, with the levels of violence that are perpetrated against women and children, it’s breathtaking. And it’s away from the lens of a war correspondent’s camera, it’s hardly spoken about, it’s ignored or set aside by neighbours or even family members, but the consequences are just as life-shattering.”
On why domestic violence is a workplace issue
“At a White Ribbon engagement in Adelaide I quoted the fact this is a workplace issue. Consider this fact: 800,000 women employed in Australia, now, today, are in some ways affected by domestic violence. And as I reminded those people in Adelaide, that would fill the Adelaide Oval 15 times over – something to reflect on when we watch the cricket this summer.”
On why this problem exists
“I’ve got no anthropological training, I’m not a sociologist and I would think that a number of your viewers would say, “Well, it’s a bit odd for a chief-of-army to be talking about these sorts of matters,” but I head one of Australia’s great institutions. It’s overwhelmingly male. Just over 10 per cent of our workforce is women. I think that male leaders in Australia need to take a role here because this is essentially an issue about culture. It’s the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about how we define ourselves as Australians or soldiers or members of the media. Those stories, in my view, my experience, are more male than they are – more masculine than they are feminine. I think that that inculcates a belief in young Australians that there is some inbuilt advantage to being a male, that you have certain rights accorded to you by your birthright that aren’t there for women to enjoy or to see their potential reached during their lifetime.”
On the stories that contribute to the problem
“Any chief-of-army treads on dangerous ground where they could be perceived in any way, shape or form of being critical of ANZAC and I’m not being. The bravery shown by the soldiers in the ANZAC campaign, as it has been in all of our wars and military operations, is beyond question. But the story of ANZAC is interesting. If I was to say five words to you now and five words to your viewers, I can tell you what you will think. Australian First World War soldier. You have thought of a male who is Anglo-Saxon, who is probably from a rural background. Now, that’s OK. I mean, so many of our soldiers were white and Anglo-Saxon, but where in those stories is there a place for women or men and women of Indigenous heritage or men and women from different ethnic backgrounds than Anglo-Saxon? If the stories that we in the Army or the nation are telling themselves about ourselves that are exclusive, how do we then build an inclusive culture, one that respects women particularly, but men and women with different heritages and backgrounds to us?”
On what has led him to champion causes like domestic violence and gender equality at the ripe old age of 58?
“I head a national institution. I think that Australians are very rightly proud of their army and their defence force, but the leadership team of the ADF needs to and does stand for to champion certain key social issues. And one of those is the treatment of women. And as a consequence of that, I have been involved with White Ribbon now for a number of years. I’m an ambassador for White Ribbon. I feel deeply that I have at least a voice in reminding Australians, particularly Australian men, particularly white Australian men such as myself who have never been discriminated against in their lives, that they can’t be bystanders here. They may not perpetrate any violence against women, they may not distribute foul images, but if they know about them, if they know about violence, if they don’t do something about it, if they’re bystanders, then through their actions they need to be held to account, in my view.”
You can watch the full interview here.