SPEECH - BLACKTOWN WOMEN'S AND GIRL'S HEALTH CENTRE OPEN DAY - 27 OCTOBER 2015

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I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the Land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I also join everyone here in mourning the recent loss of Aunty Shirley Collins.

 

Aunty Shirley was a well-respected community leader and Aboriginal elder whose tireless determination to foster greater opportunities for all Australians will be greatly missed.

 

Let me also pay tribute to and thank everyone within the Blacktown Women’s and Girl’s Health Centre for hosting this event.

 

We need to only look around at the size of today’s gathering to appreciate just how profoundly your values and vision continue to inspire our community.

 

Through your words and deeds you remind us that, ultimately, our measure as a society, indeed as a nation, is not determined by wealth or power but by how well we stand up for justice, act to strike out inequality and protect and promote that most fundamental of human rights - the right to dignity and to be treated with respect.

 

I have seen firsthand how, every single day, this Centre breathes life into this noble ideal - tirelessly providing much needed support and services to all those who seek it, irrespective of age, social background or ethnicity.

 

I am told that on any given week, this Centre receives 300 referrals for help - that's 10 referrals for every single hour that you are open. A truly remarkable number.

 

And yet, with little more than hard work and dedication, your organisation has continuously helped people in their greatest hour of need, responded to crises, mentored and educated with understanding, fostered support groups, empowered newly arrived migrants, and all the while, you have pushed our community to reach for its most generous, selfless, and compassionate character.

 

Today’s Open Day, therefore, gives us the chance to say thank you and to showcase this Centre's wide range of services.

 

Significantly, it also allows us to officially welcome the North Western Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service.

 

Whilst I am buoyed by this new addition and the message it conveys, I am also deeply saddened by its need.

 

Domestic violence stains every Australian.  It harms our communities, tarnishes our national identity and is an affront to our morality, our sense of righteousness and our conviction that each of us are equally entitled to basic human rights and values.

 

As we all know, domestic violence was for far too long seen as a private matter, best hidden behind closed doors.  Victims, as well as their children were left to suffer in silence.  And as a consequence, abuse could go on for years. 

 

We have made great strides since that time. We have changed our laws, transformed our culture, and improved support services.  And we have done so in no small part because of the advocacy of community organisations, such as this, and the willingness of victims to tell their own stories, despite the hardship it entails.

 

But everybody in this room understands that our work is far from finished. 

 

In Australia today, one in three women will experience physical violence, one in five have been exposed to sexual violence, and one woman per week is killed by her partner or former partner.

 

And that's just the official toll with less than half the abuse being reported.

 

Here in Blacktown, close to 2000 domestic violence incidents were recorded by Police in the last financial year – the highest number of incidents anywhere in NSW.

 

They are sickening numbers and they truly bring the magnitude of this issue to the fore.

 

But when stated by themselves, statistics can also numb - they can hide the individual stories of all those who have suffered.

 

As a former pro-bono duty solicitor for female victims, I am all too aware that the consequences of domestic violence extend beyond the statistics and the immediate injury or economic loss.

 

There are often severe and lasting health outcomes such as sexually transmitted infections, and the social and psychological damage of domestic violence affects survivors, their children, families, and entire communities.

 

These are tragedies that touch our souls - and that call us to action.

 

We cannot change the past or undo the heartache it has caused. But what we can do, and what we must do, is commit to a future which builds upon the progress we have made, continues to raise awareness of the issue and takes real action to bring it to an end.

 

We need to ask not only how we can do away with this scourge, but also how we can collectively address the inequalities and the attitudes on which this scourge thrives.

 

That’s the Australia I want for my daughter.  That’s the Australia that I am sure each of us want for our families and communities.

 

The gathering we see today, and the countless girls and women that we represent, is an invigorating and poignant reminder that this is an objective that cannot wait.

 

Whilst this can appear to be an overwhelming challenge. We need to only look at the spirit and dedication of everyone working right here to know it can be overcome.

 

Look at the thousands of people and organisations who have seen the work done here and have been inspired to do their part.

 

Look at all the women you have given voice and hope to and the lives you have changed and all those who were helped in their time of need who went on to help others.

 

That's the extraordinary impact that this wonderful organisation has had.

 

May we each strive to make that kind of difference in our own lives and may you continue to set a powerful moral example for years to come.

 

Thank you.