“I’M A SUR­VIVOR”

AS A DO­MES­TIC VI­O­LENCE SUR­VIVOR AND MOTHER OF AN AUTIS­TIC CHILD, FED­ERAL POLITI­CIAN EMMA HUSAR RE­FUSES TO LET EI­THER HOLD HER BACK FROM BE­LIEV­ING IN A BRIGHTER TO­MOR­ROW

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy TIM HUNTER Words LAURA JAYES

Out­spo­ken La­bor MP and abuse sur­vivor Emma Husar opens up about her har­row­ing past and why she will al­ways fight for the dis­ad­van­taged.

For Emma Husar, “the last time” was on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, when she was 13 years old. And for Husar, 13 has lived up to its long­stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion as an un­lucky num­ber. That day, 13 po­lice cars pulled up on the street of her fam­ily home, just in time. Her al­ways drunk and abu­sive fa­ther had or­dered Emma and her older sis­ter to start dig­ging up the backyard with a me­tal shovel.

They knew elec­tric­ity ca­bles ran un­der­ground, so it was a po­ten­tially fa­tal job. But he kept two guns in the house. What were they to do? Thank­fully their mother, so often the vic­tim of her hus­band’s bru­tal­ity, still had the courage to call 000. This would mark the end of his reign of ter­ror. But sadly for his daugh­ter, it was just the be­gin­ning.

Most peo­ple in pol­i­tics have made sac­ri­fices and en­dured hard­ships to get where they are; few live the im­pos­si­bly charmed life they con­struct for the public. But only a hand­ful have man­aged through the same strug­gles as Emma Husar. At 37, she is a two-time do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sur­vivor and a sin­gle mother of three chil­dren. One of them is autis­tic.

As she was rais­ing them in the western Sydney sub­urb of Pen­rith, Husar worked part-time in fundrais­ing and event man­age­ment, and vol­un­teered as a dis­abil­ity ad­vo­cate. It was while cam­paign­ing for the Na­tional Dis­abil­ity In­sur­ance Scheme that Husar be­came ex­posed to pol­i­tics. She felt drawn to the cause, and the Aus­tralian La­bor Party in par­tic­u­lar. De­spite al­ready giv­ing so much of her­self, Husar still felt that she had more to of­fer.

“I guess I’ve al­ways been an agi­ta­tor,” she says. “A lot of peo­ple are dis­en­gaged from the sys­tem, but when you’ve got a kid that has spe­cial needs and you need the sys­tem, you need to un­der­stand how the sys­tem works. It be­comes very front-of-mind, very quickly.”

Husar ran for NSW State Par­lia­ment in 2015; it would prove un­suc­cess­ful, but she also proved un­bowed. She fol­lowed the try with a stint as an ad­viser to Fed­eral MP Ed Hu­sic. In July 2016, she ran again – this time for Fed­eral Par­lia­ment in the seat of Lind­say. Against the odds and more specif­i­cally his­tory, she was un­ex­pect­edly elected. For the first time in 32 years, the seat was won by the party that did not form gov­ern­ment. And for the first time ever, the ALP had a fe­male elected in the seat.

Overnight, Husar’s life changed, and she be­came a cham­pion of the left. Soon she would be­come a hero, too. She gave her maiden speech to Par­lia­ment in Septem­ber 2016 and an­nounced that “I have spent 29 out of my 36 years… liv­ing in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.” Sud­denly, she was a voice for those who, like her, had suf­fered in si­lence for so long. She re­counted mul­ti­ple in­ci­dents of flee­ing to shel­ters as a child when her fa­ther’s abuse got too much. He would apol­o­gise. They would re­turn. And the vi­cious cy­cle would con­tinue.

Two months later, when Husar again re­counted that fact in an­other Par­lia­men­tary speech to mark White Rib­bon Day, she burst into tears. The emo­tional power of her speech moved col­leagues and the public at large – it made head­lines and went vi­ral. Look­ing back on that day, Husar says, “I never dreamed, in my wildest imag­in­ings, that I would stand up in Par­lia­ment and share that, and that do­ing so would have the im­pact it’s had.”

Back to that fate­ful Sun­day af­ter­noon. Af­ter the po­lice ar­rived, the drunk

would be gone from their daily life. Or so they thought. Husar’s fa­ther did not dis­ap­pear for good, as they had hoped. He took the op­por­tu­nity to ran­sack their home, re­mov­ing any­thing of value they had left. Af­ter two years, her mother’s men­tal health is­sues started to man­i­fest. “Mum couldn’t cope,” Husar tells Stel­lar. “She was a sin­gle mum with no fi­nan­cial sup­port; she started to fall apart.”

Still, she was tough. When she was preg­nant with Husar’s sis­ter, she was in­volved in the worst com­muter train dis­as­ter in Aus­tralian his­tory. Eighty- three peo­ple were killed when a train crashed ap­proach­ing Granville Sta­tion. Some­how, she sur­vived – with scars to show for it. But the years of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse at the hands of her hus­band scarred her dif­fer­ently. As such, re­calls Husar, “She was pretty tough on us.” When it came to car­ing for her kids, her mother knew no other way.

As Husar pre­pared for her formative se­nior school years, her “pretty tough” mum met a new boyfriend, who did not want her daugh­ter in the way.

Al­ready, Husar was work­ing at Mcdonald’s to feed and clothe her­self. Now she would have to pay her own school fees if she wanted to com­plete her Catholic ed­u­ca­tion. She would be locked out of the fam­ily home so many times that even­tu­ally she did not re­turn, be­com­ing a ward of the state.

Thank­fully, her boyfriend’s fam­ily took her in. Well, sort of. A car­a­van on their front lawn of­fered some sta­bil­ity, and im­por­tantly, shel­ter. Even now, she tells Stel­lar, look­ing back on her youth can be over­whelm­ing. “If I put all of that stuff in front of me on a daily ba­sis, I’d prob­a­bly be in a strait­jacket.”

BY THE YEAR 2000, Husar seemed to have found peace. “I thought I was win­ning at life,” she says. “I hadn’t mar­ried an al­co­holic or a drug ad­dict. My hus­band wasn’t vi­o­lent like my dad. ‘Ex­cel­lent!’ I thought, ‘I’m not a vic­tim, the cy­cle has been bro­ken.’”

Over the fol­low­ing years, she would come to learn just how wrong she was in her as­sess­ment. She walked out in 2015 af­ter speak­ing to a woman – “who was about maybe eight years younger than me, who said, ‘ This is re­ally un­ac­cept­able. The way you’re be­ing treated and what’s hap­pen­ing to you is do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. You need to leave.’”

Husar is re­luc­tant to share the de­tails of what tran­spired – with Stel­lar, with the public, with any­body – as her case re­mains tied up in Fam­ily Court, where it has sat for the past two and a half years. What she will say is that “there was some phys­i­cal stuff… but it was much more [about] power, fi­nan­cial con­trol, con­trol around my home. I wasn’t al­lowed to go to work – but then I would be called lazy. Then when I did go, I worked too long and too hard. I was al­ways in the po­si­tion of not be­ing good enough.”

Don’t feel sorry for Husar. She is clear when she says that she does not want your pity. What she does want is your ear – es­pe­cially if you’re Pauline Hanson. Con­sid­er­ing what she has dealt with, per­son­ally and po­lit­i­cally, Husar is al­ways pre­pared to speak her mind. Last month, One Na­tion leader Hanson called for autis­tic chil­dren to be re­moved from main­stream class­rooms. Husar’s son Mitch, 10, has been di­ag­nosed with autism spec­trum dis­or­der, ADHD and sen­sory pro­cess­ing dis­or­der.

“His melt­downs have been vi­o­lent and ex­treme. I’ve had mul­ti­ple smashed TVS, smashed win­dows. He used to bang his head un­til it bled and he’s given me a con­cus­sion. But it’s tricky be­cause you never want them to feel like a burden. He’s not a burden,” she in­sists.

Mitch has al­ways been very bright. He first went to a school for spe­cific purposes and then a sup­port class in a main­stream school. Now he is just like ev­ery other child his age in a main­stream class and he’s thriv­ing. “He learns from the other kids about how to make good de­ci­sions and what is con­sid­ered so­cially ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour,” Husar says.

Her re­ac­tion to Se­na­tor Hanson’s com­ments? “I lost my sh*t. I was like, ‘She said what?!’ I was in com­plete dis­be­lief.” Husar later brought it up with Se­na­tor Hanson di­rectly. “All she could say is that I hadn’t read her speech. She just kept talk­ing over me. I said, ‘You are will­fully ig­no­rant,’ which pisses me off even more than what she said. She is miss­ing the em­pa­thy gene.” All Husar can hope is the same never gets said of her.

BE­ING A MUM to Mitch, Zhalia, 15, and nine-year-old Evie will al­ways take prece­dence over pol­i­tics. But through her ex­pe­ri­ences, Husar can’t help but be driven to help oth­ers. La­bor leader Bill Shorten calls her “the war­rior from the west” and tells Stel­lar that, “Emma is a re­mark­able woman. She’s tena­cious, she’s pas­sion­ate and she’s a fighter.”

Those are the qual­i­ties she ap­plies to all of her pri­or­i­ties; whether it is re­form­ing the fam­ily court sys­tem, bet­ter ed­u­cat­ing the com­mu­nity on the chal­lenges of autism or mak­ing sure vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence know that they de­serve bet­ter. As she puts it, “Just be­cause it hap­pened doesn’t mean that’s where you stay. I never saw my ex­pe­ri­ence – ei­ther as a kid or as a woman who went through do­mes­tic vi­o­lence – as a strength. It’s just what it is. I never call my­self a vic­tim. I say, you know, sur­vivor – even though I’m re­ally un­com­fort­able with that term. I al­ways thought I’d tell the story of my life, or share it.

“Some­body asked me the other night, ‘Why do you do this?’ And I still can’t put my fin­ger on it. Why do I have that abil­ity to change stuff like that very pow­er­ful room in Can­berra? Even be­ing an MP, I still see my­self as an­other street kid.” She light­ens the mood with a pop-cul­ture ref­er­ence. “What’d she call it? I’m still Jenny from the block!”

Her scrap­pi­ness has led her to the up­per ech­e­lons of Aus­tralian pol­i­tics – and it could some­day take her all the way to the top. Told this, Husar does not shy away from the idea.

“It’s re­ally funny,” she says. “A lot of peo­ple have said I should be, or that they can’t wait for me to be. It’s lovely; a re­ally kind thing to say. I’m your typ­i­cal woman: if you ask me if I have what it takes, I’ll say, ‘Hell no, I don’t!’ Be­cause women, as we know, think they have to tick off the 11 out of 10 cri­te­ria in that job ap­pli­ca­tion. I’ve never wo­ken up and won­dered when I would be Prime Min­is­ter… now, cer­tainly, that op­por­tu­nity is in front of me. If the op­por­tu­nity came up? Sure, I’d go there.”

In other words, you prob­a­bly haven’t heard from Emma Husar for the last time. Laura Jayes is a po­lit­i­cal re­porter and an­chor on Sky News Live.

``WOULD I BE PM? SURE, I´D GO THERE´

JENNY FROM THE BLOCK Husar re­laxes at home; (below left) with her chil­dren Zhalia, Evie and Mitch.

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