Moving to Brae Street in 2007 was a deviation from our original vision for our lives in Rockhampton, but was also perhaps the best family decision we ever made. You see, Brae Street is a haven for families. Over thirteen years as residents we have become close friends with neighbours, we have participated in and seen literally dozens of kids growing up. All of us have been there for the births, the deaths, and life events that would never make the papers, but add interface and cross-stitch to the fabric of our community.
And so, it was on a Tuesday evening in June that I arrived home to see flashing lights. Such a scene is assuredly not Brae Street. I immediately thought ‘heart attack’ but there was too much commotion even for such a serious matter. Soon rumours began circulating; a death by stabbing, a woman in her prime with three kids. And now the alleged involvement of a man who was not from, and clearly did not belong in, Brae Street.
This is the second ‘too close for comfort’ family violence matter I have witnessed in a year. It led me to become Treasurer of the organisation now known as Doctors Health in Queensland, because I believe that these things are caused not because of innate evil, but through pressures of mind that build up to a level where compulsion meets with ridiculous, obscene solutions. For many of us, such tragedies are as unfathomable as they are heartbreaking.
The current approach to the scourge known as domestic violence is just not working. It’s not working for people in Aboriginal communities, it’s not working for white people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, it’s not working in Brae Street. It’s also not working for ambulance workers who have to deal with these gruesome scenes, nor for the police that risk their lives to attend numerous incidents on a daily basis.
And why should we be surprised, when the current approach is grossly flawed? Whenever something happens, politicians say ‘this must never happen again’ and increase penalties. If ten years behind bars doesn’t put them off, then what good is fifteen? Then there’s the accusative ‘perpetrator brigade’ which holds that all and only men are responsible. This approach generalises the complex dynamics of any relationship, socio-economic factors, immediate financial and domestic pressures, issues of downright incompatibility, alcohol and drug addiction, mental illness and even worse, the possibility of creative, sustainable solutions for people suffering.
Then there’s the ‘do-gooder brigade’, best typified by White Ribbon, now financially broke. These organisations hold out a ‘membership based’ approach where all recite a chant, pat themselves on the back, and act as if that is somehow going to make a difference. Finally, we have the various government departments and agencies which pretend they can administer and manage these complex issues, but they could never take the place of dedicated parents, and sometimes thrust children back into dreadful circumstances.
Regular readers know I rarely wade into controversial topics without at least a partial solution.
First, every incident of domestic violence involving physical harm should be properly investigated through a coronial-like process. As far as deaths go, the coroner should release the details of such matters if it is thought to be in the public’s – and not just the family’s – interests. Family violence is a matter that cuts to the core of our community. It’s not the bloody detail that is necessary, but a very clear analysis of the surrounding circumstances. Is it culture, drugs, mental illness, or just plain murder? How many times has this occurred? Who knew and said nothing? Knowing these things helps cut through emotion and provides clear and consistent data essential for good policy. The public knowing these things also puts potential wrongdoers on notice.
Second, people who police have visited more than once, or who breach a DVO, need to be removed from society for camp-based rehabilitation. A mandatory jail term should apply for those who cannot or will not comply and courts should have the power to force separation. Mandatory loss of access rights to kids should apply to people who physically assault their partners. Reconciliation should be a formal affair in front of witnesses.
Third, there should be universal income support of up to $40,000 per annum for all people between 23 and 60 years of age. This would help people to plan a life regardless of their near-term financial situation, continue paying their mortgage in the event they lose their job, or begin to make a new life independent of their spouse.
Now, I’ll sit back and weather the backlash. It will come from those citing privacy and procedural fairness, those who have an unfailing belief in our legal system and those that don’t, those reminding me that physical violence is just the tip of the iceberg. What I say to them all, is: this is happening on your watch. I’m not promising a panacea, just suggesting that it might be time to try something different. Communities like Brae Street will likely thank you for it.
Please note this article provides general advice only and has not taken your personal, business or financial circumstances into consideration. If you would like more tailored advice, please contact us today.