Launch of ‘On Violence’

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I pay my respects to elders past and present and especially to our nations’ first women, the mothers, grandmothers and aunties who have nurtured this land and its children for thousands of years.

I’m honoured to be here today as her friend and fellow advocate- to help launch Natasha Stott Despoja’s latest contribution to Australian public life.

Anyone who’s heard Natasha talk about violence against women and children knows the passion, knowledge and insight she brings to this topic.

And anyone who’s heard Natasha talk about anything knows she doesn’t just describe problems, she designs solutions.

They say, some men see things as they are and ask: why?

Some men dream of things that never were and say: why not?

But Natasha is a woman.

And she doesn’t see things the way they should be, she explains how we can make them better – and she gets to work doing it.

Early in On Violence, Natasha tells us that her book isn’t an explainer, it’s not an academic study or a specialist text.

I would submit it’s all of those – and so much more.

This is a book that tells the brutal truth.

With clarity and rigour, it spells out the facts: both unforgiving and unforgiveable.

On Violence doesn’t shrink from the darkness – but it also doesn’t leave us there, alone.

It arms us with new ideas, positive stories, evidence of tangible change.

And it provides a set of clear and cut-through points you can carry in your pocket.

With On Violence, Natasha has given us a powerful mixture of policy primer, conversation-starter and argument-winner.

And that is so, so important in this area.

Violence against women is an epidemic of ghastly scope and scale.

It costs $21 billion a year.

It causes a third of all homelessness.

It shatters families, scars childhoods, it leaves a trail of destruction through Aboriginal communities

And of course, for so many women family violence is – literally – a matter of life and death.

And yet despite good and important progress in the raising of awareness.

Despite the bravery of advocates like Rosie Batty, despite the success of organisations like Our Watch, despite the public outpourings of grief and sadness when tragedies like Eurydice Dixon occur.

As an issue, violence against women remains at the mercy of dismissal and trivialisation.

The false equivalence.

The inane, inaccurate ‘whataboutery’.

You know, “When’s international men’s day?”

The idea that we still ask “Why did she stay?” instead of “Where would she go?”

The idea that if we talk about family violence as killing more people than terrorism, somehow that diminishes the seriousness of both issues rather than highlighting the fact that a woman’s right to be safe from violence is a matter of national security.

On Violence makes it plain that Australia doesn’t have time for any more of these dispiriting diversions.

If people take one thing from this book, I hope it would be the message of primary prevention.

Primary prevention sets a new goal, it aims for a “new normal” of gender equality.

An Australia where there are no more victims and no more perpetrators – because there is no more violence.

For me, the most important element of the “primary prevention” approach is that it puts the onus on all of us.

After all, there’s a long history of blame in this issue.

Blaming the victim.

Blaming stress and pressure.

Primary prevention says, no, we all have a responsibility to stop violence before it starts.

It’s a version of that old refrain my mother loved:

If not us, who. If not now, when?

And the comparisons Natasha draws are instructive: smoking and road safety.

Because the road toll wasn’t cut by one particular TAC ad.

Smoking rates didn’t drop because of the creation of a particular hotline.

It took a concentrated, co-ordinated, co-operative effort.


Plain packaging.

And really significant shifts in community attitudes to drink driving and smoking.

That cultural change is the key.

Because, really, violence is just the end-point, it’s the last link in the chain.

What we are up against are attitudes and stereotypes, layer upon layer of preconceptions, applied like coats of varnish and left to harden.

As Natasha puts it:

Little boys aren’t born thinking they need to exercise power and control over others to be “a real man”: our society teaches them that – through the countless messages about gender, power, masculinity and femininity delivered every day. And I mean every day.”

Stripping away these layers will be slow-going, it will be hard work.

But meaningful, permanent progress is always hard work.

And if we’re on the side that produces people like Natasha Stott Despoja.

If our instructions and inspiration come from books like this – well, I know we’re on the right side.

And I know we’re on the winning side.

Natasha, I want Mums to read this book with their daughters.

And, just as importantly, I want Dads to read it with their sons.

It’s a great pleasure to wish you and this work well.


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