White Ribbon Day

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:50): This afternoon I want to take the House back 40 years. It does not take much maths to work out that I am talking about 1975. It was International Women's Year and there were events occurring across the globe and of course across the country. In my own area of the Illawarra there was a forum for International Women's Year to which my mum, Bev Reed, went along with her friend Anne Harrison. They participated in that forum and came back to a meeting of the Mount Warrigal Public School mothers group.

Anne put forward a proposal that the group work to establish a women's refuge in the area. This was taken up by the women in the mothers group and they began the process. They applied to Shellharbour City Council and, under the leadership of Mayor Bob Harrison, the council provided a house as a refuge. It was not in great repair, so they had to run cake stalls, jumble sales and so forth to fundraise. Many of their partners, including my dad Kevin, did the maintenance work on the house, including putting in the sewerage system. They all pitched in to get it into a reasonable condition. A local company, Camarda & Cantrill, donated paint. A group of nuns from Warrawong volunteered to do the night shifts. The Seamen's Union pitched in for repairs and to put down second-hand carpet, the wharfies union had a fundraising amongst their members and raised money to assist, and the Department of Youth and Community Services, as it was then, provided support and were the referral source—referring women to the refuge. This refuge, sadly really, continues to operate today, although it is now in a new purpose-built facility.

This brings me to a subject that many of my colleagues in this place have been addressing this week, and that is the significant importance for us as a community, for us as leaders, for families and for anybody out there who feels and understands the scourge that is family violence to take action. In my own area yesterday there was a White Ribbon walk, attended by about 500 people—a fantastic turnout. New South Wales policewoman Shelly Walsh addressed the crowd. She had survived an axe attack by her father after he murdered her mother and two children. She urged people to speak up. The group was also addressed by Lake Illawarra Police Commander Superintendent Wayne Starling, who said:

White Ribbon Day is the world's largest movement of men and boys working to end men's violence against women and girls. It is also about creating a vision of masculinity where women can live in safety, free of violence and abuse. It is also an opportunity for women to be empowered and speak out against violence. Not only the physical abuse but the emotional abuse.

The walk was organised by the Illawarra Committee against Domestic Violence, and I commend Maris Depers, who organised it, and all of the members who participated. The walk was also attended by a marvellous young woman who is a member of our Young Labor organisation locally, Alex Costello. Alex spoke to a Labor Party meeting on Sunday about these matters, and I want to share some of her words with the House

Today I'll just be doing a quick talk on white ribbon, how I came to be a part of this cause and what this organization does. I am of the belief that to make real change people need to hear personal stories to hear the real effects of dv. I was abused for the majority of my life. I took a count recently and I have had 6 perpetrators in my life. 5 of which were men. They were from different walks of life, different ages, different educational backgrounds. It is an epidemic. It is a national emergency and more needs to be done. The lasting effects of DV on any woman, man or child's life are that, for life. I had a defining moment a few months ago. I thought I can either let it control my life or I can be proactive and make a difference. That is when I joined White Ribbon in their campaign to stop domestic and family violence.

There are very few subjects of such significance and importance to each and every one of us as this issue. I commend all the organisations and the Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, in particular on the work that they have been doing. But let us not just make it a day or a week when we talk about these issues—let us make it a permanent conversation to stop this scourge in our communities.