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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Call out family violence

Scott Morrison spoke for the nation when he responded to the horrific murder suicide of a family in Brisbane. The Prime Minister said that Australians were “shocked, saddened and devastated” by the deaths of a young mother and her three children at the hands of their father.

capital hill writer Paul Bongiorno
Political analyst Paul Bongiorno

This latest episode was particularly shocking. The bald facts are: former NRL footballer and fitness trainer, Rowan Baxter – already under a Domestic Violence Order and known to police for ongoing infringements – cold bloodedly murdered his family in a premeditated act. The cruelty was breathtaking. He incinerated them after dousing them in petrol as they sat in their mother Hannah Clarke’s car waiting to be driven to school. He then stabbed himself to death. Clarke later died in hospital; the only part of her body not burned were the soles of her feet.

Here, I believe the media has a greater responsibility to tell it as it is so that our shock will force greater awareness and commitment of resources to deal with this scourge. The real story of the Brisbane atrocity gradually came out, but even then in soft terms of “alleged” or “five people died after a car fire”. Baxter, who was dead, deserved no right of privacy or presumption of innocence for his confronting act “of senseless murder” as the Prime Minister called it.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese calls this horrific event part of an “epidemic” with one woman in Australia each week killed by her partner, estranged or otherwise. This appalling reality, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, touched 2.2 million Australians by way of physical or sexual violence from a partner. That was four years ago. The Queensland Police Commissioner, Katarina Carroll said last week that police in her state fielded 260 domestic violence “occurrences” a day. That works out to around 100,000 a year.

There is no place for political point scoring here. Domestic violence cannot be part of the “culture wars”. The pushback from some politicians like Pauline Hanson and her NSW One Nation Party leader, Mark Latham, is cruelly misguided. This is not about “feminazis” wanting to knock men off their perches; it is about facing the facts that women and children make up the overwhelming number of victims.

Rosie Batty, whose estranged husband murdered their son in an act of deranged revenge, has called for reform of the family law system, not the Family Court’s abolition. She says the “assumption of shared custody” introduced into the Family Law Act by the Howard Government should be scrapped. Albanese agrees; he says what courts should be able to do is to take into account the specific circumstances “rather than just assume, because quite clearly we know what a threat (Baxter) was to his family.”

Before last year’s election, the Morrison Government committed $60 million to fund emergency housing for domestic violence “refugees”. It was a start; Batty and others have a longer to-do list.

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