AS A young reporter in the early 1980s, one of the key parts of the job was to listen to the police radio so when a crime occurred, you could get straight on to it. Often, you’d hear police talking about an assault, even a stabbing, involving a man and woman. When you called, invariably they’d say it was “just a domestic incident’’.
“It’s a domestic,’’ the newsdesk would be told. With that, the story’s currency would be devalued. It might make a brief on page 34 but mostly it wouldn’t run at all. It was as if reporting on domestic violence, like suicide, was taboo.
Decades on, thankfully, reporting has changed for the better on domestic violence and suicide. By talking about it, we’ve given ourselves permission to help alleviate, to some extent, its pernicious and destructive consequences. In Queensland, the extraordinary outpouring of grief and condemnation of the Alison Baden-Clay murder and conviction of her husband Gerard Baden-Clay showed why reporting on domestic violence is now not only necessary but important.
Baden-Clay’s controlling behaviour on finances and the emotional rollercoaster of violence and infidelity captivated the Australian public. It was as if just about everybody knew a narcissist like Gerard Baden-Clay.
At the start of 2014, Rosie Batty was like any other Victorian mother trying to nurture and protect her son Luke during his formative teenage years. Her world changed forever when her troubled former partner, Greg Anderson, killed Luke in a horrendous attack at a local cricket ground. It was Anderson’s final act of control and vengeance after years of violence.
The Teacher’s Pet podcast series by The Australian’s Hedley Thomas has shone a light on the 1982 disappearance of Lyn Dawson. Her then husband Chris Dawson has been charged with her murder.
What these cases show is across this country, every day, every hour, a victim is suffering in silence until, of course, the combustible nature of the relationship explodes and tragedy follows.
Thomas has always maintained that the Teacher’s Pet series was more than a missing person case. It was about exposing the silent scourge of domestic violence and a case that symbolised a much bigger problem in modern society. To their credit, both Commonwealth and state governments have confronted the issue in recent years. Laws before the Australian parliament propose an amendment to Fair Work legislation that would give all Australian women up to five days a year of unpaid domestic violence leave. Labor wants to propose up to 10 days of paid domestic violence leave.
Labor says that would make it easier for women to escape abusive situations. Some of Australia’s biggest employers, such as Qantas, Westpac, NAB, Woolworths and Telstra already pay domestic violence leave. Queensland and Western Australia pay 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees, South Australia offers 15 days and Victoria and the ACT offer 20 days.
As we approach the festive season, when finances come under pressure and people tend to drink too much, it’s important to acknowledge we all have a duty to call out this scourge.
When it comes to domestic violence, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. PETER GLEESON IS A SUNDAY HERALD SUN COLUMNIST