By Kelly Hughes, Cyndal King, and Ashleigh Piles
This week marks four years since the death of 11-year-old Luke Batty, who was killed at the hands of his own father, Greg Anderson, at a suburban sporting pitch in Melbourne.
The shocking death galvanised the nation’s understanding and awareness around domestic violence.
Alarm bells rang around what was now being deemed a national emergency.
An inquest was held to determine the string of failings by police, child protection services, and the courts to understand the root cause of how someone so close to Luke could have committed such a brutal murder.
They discovered huge holes in the system where perpetrators of family violence were slipping through the cracks, peddling epidemic proportions of domestic violence across the nation.
On Tuesday night, at a Women in Media conference held in Adelaide, a panel of SA leaders unanimously agreed South Australia needs to do a lot more to combat the crisis of domestic violence in the state.
In the lead up to the election, audience members grilled the panel on what policies their parties would be implicating to tackle the growing rate of domestic violence. From 2005 to 2015, 107 women died at the hands of an intimate or domestic male partner in South Australia.
All panel members were in consensus over the urgent need to address domestic violence as a crucial issue this state election.
Premier Jay Weatherill said too many women feel unsafe and unsupported in the home and their workplace.
“An extraordinary number of women die at the hands of their partner, and so many more feel scared and afraid.”
Mr. Weatherill named domestic violence as “the single biggest issue” threatening gender equality in the state.
An obstacle addressed by three of the men on the panel was the rising cost of safe housing for women fleeing domestic violence.
Opposition leader Steven Marshall believed a lot of money was being spent in assisting women in domestic violence in the state but said, “it could be spent a lot better.”
“We should be doing a lot more with the money we’re investing.”
Asked by an audience member if the Liberals would be cutting funding to support the ongoing existence of safe housing, Marshall replied they would not be.
Urgent funding is needed by the state to finance legal support, emergency housing, mandatory rehabilitation programs for abusers and better teaching of respectful relationships in schools.
However last year, the State Government was under fire from frontline workers and victims as hundreds of South Australian women were in crisis accommodation with funding and support over-stretched.
The SA leaders promised to reveal more in their policies regarding better funding in the upcoming election campaign.
Nick Xenophon said he was in bi-partisan support with both Liberal and Labor to tackle the growing rate of domestic violence in South Australia, which is far too high, calling it “an immediate priority” of his SA Best team.
Journalist Tory Sheperd asked panelists if they were doing enough for women in their parties.
Mr. Weatherill said, “The short answer is no, we aren’t doing enough.”
It was admitted that there was a long way to go as the number of female candidates put forward by major parties have slowly been increasing over the past few years.
However, that fact looks less impressive when you see how many candidates are actually put forward in winnable seats.
Mr. Weatherill addressed this situation, saying even though Labor has the highest number of female candidates, 38 per cent for the next election, ideally “50 per cent is where it should be”.
“If we’re not drawing on 50 per cent of the talent [in the population] then we are impoverishing our community,” he said.
Mr. Marshall agreed with the Premier, saying all parties need to do more to address this issue.
“A lot of women don’t want to be running [for Parliament] because it is a very nasty space.
“[And] we hope to address our imbalance between males and females in the next election”, he said said
SA Best leader Nick Xenophon was also adamant the government is not doing enough for women in their parties.
“Of course we should do more and I think that the fact that we’re talking about it and it’s on the agenda is important,” he said.
Mr. Xenophon also raised an idea that would ensure the gender equity issue within parliament be solved by changing the way members are elected.
The proposal was brought to his attention by academics that stated it would be beneficial to offer up both a male and female candidate for each party in each electorate.
“I thought it was quite an ingenious proposal. It would need a lot of work but it means that we would automatically have gender equity.
“[…] I’m not saying I support it, but they’re the sorts of innovative solutions we at least should be considering.”
A member of the audience asked the five politicians how they would like to promote the equality of women in the state.
Stephen Marshall stated that having his deputy, Vickie Chapman become Deputy Premier would be a great start.
This topic of women in parliament also sparked the conversation of women in the workforce and the issue of gender equality and the pay gap.
Mr. Xenophon stated the gender pay gap is one of the biggest issues that women are facing, admitting that work still needs to be done.
Greens leader Mark Parnell said getting more women back into the workforce is a start on assisting these issues.
“We are looking at getting TAFE back under control, especially those programs that allow women who have been out of the workforce for a long time; bringing up kids, to get back into the workforce,” he said.
After being asked by an audience member if those courses will come with childcare, Parnell said it was necessary to take care of the women’s families as well.
“If you want women trying to get back into work, that have kids, you’ve got to look after the kids.”
Mr. Parnell hopes that by opening new opportunities for study, more women will be able to get back into the workforce, ensuring that they are earning incomes to help support their families.
WOMEN PRISON INMATES
Our SA leaders were also asked about the lack of family support in Adelaide’s women’s prison.
Australian Conservatives MLC Robert Brokenshire told the audience the women’s prison system is in a deplorable situation.
“Conditions are not right, the mindset of the department is not right.”
The number of women in South Australia’s prison is expected to reach beyond 3500 inmates in the next five years.
Around 85 per cent of women prisoners are victims of domestic abuse. And more than half of them are mothers.
Leaders were asked if mums in prison should have their newborns live-in.
Mr. Marshall said the issue is a complex area of public policy.
“There is no black and white answer, it does need to be answered on an individual basis.”
Nick Xenophon believes it should be up to the experts to decide whether or not female prisoners should have access to their babies.
“If the experts say that six months postnatal [live-in access] is appropriate, that might be the thing to do but children having access to their mums beyond that is important.”
There was general harmony across the table that children do belong alongside their parents. However, more research into child welfare needs to be done before our politicians will reinstate mums and bubs clinics.
South Australians will head to polling booths on March 17.
Image Source: Cyndal King