A Busy Year in the Fight Against Family Violence
22 November 2016 at 11:28 am
In 2014 Rosie Batty became a household name, rising above personal tragedy to put family violence on the national agenda.
Her 11-year-old son Luke was killed by his father at the Tyabb cricket oval. Just hours after her son’s murder Batty spoke to the media and gave voice to the many thousands of victims of domestic violence.
“When I began to speak out I never for one minute expected… that the journey would be the journey I’m on,” Batty says.
Since that day she has become a passionate campaigner on the issue of family violence.
In 2015 Batty was named Australian of the Year in recognition of her work, and the social sector voted her the winner of Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25.
One year on, and Batty, who has again been nominated for Impact 25, told Pro Bono Australia News, “this year was probably every bit as busy”.
“What is was like to hand over the baton [for Australian of the Year] was possibly a degree of relief because it was an overwhelming year with many demands made of me, but a really rewarding year, a year full of amazing experiences, but really quite unsustainable,” she says.
“So I think I set that year aside to dedicate to being Australian of the Year, but I met someone who used to be Australian Senior of the Year some years before, and she said to me, it doesn’t slow down Rosie, so I was quite surprised that people actually assumed as soon as you pass over the baton… it just stops but it absolutely does not at all.
“This year, I have spoken at over 150 events, I probably declined up to 90 per cent… because I can’t physically do more, and it is still every bit as demanding in many ways as it was whilst I was Australian of the Year.
“So it has been again really rewarding because people have given me so much positive appreciation of the work that I did last year and as I have travelled around Australia – I travel extensively and I’m away a lot of the a time – I do get to appreciate that there is a much stronger awareness of the issues of family violence but we still have a long way to go.”
This year saw Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence report tabled in parliament, after taking evidence from survivors and experts over 13 months.
It made 227 recommendations, all of which the Victorian Government pledged to implement.
Batty was also appointed to lead a new Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council in response to the report.
In May, she fronted a campaign to overhaul the family law system throughout the federal election campaign.
In July she took her place as CEO of the Luke Batty Foundation.
Batty says she is pleased that the issues surrounding family violence are still of public concern.
“I think it was at its highest profile last year as I was Australian of the Year and the government was making fairly major announcements coinciding with that,” she says.
“I do think that a lot of people were really concerned that without having the profile of Australian of the Year it would fade away and other things would take priority, but I think we have still managed to hold it in the public concern.
“I would like to think that it hasn’t been off the radar and the momentum is very definitely still moving forward.”
Batty says she still has a lot of priorities.
“We’ve really only just started to implement some of them in Victoria,” she says.
“But not each state is as advanced and forward-thinking, and not each state has implemented anywhere near the funding in Victoria.
“So the Victorian Government is really setting a precedent but it is certainly not necessarily sustained across the rest of Australia.
“There is definite movement and acknowledgement at a state level, but I don’t think we’ve seen the leadership we need to from the federal government.
“One of my key priority areas is reforms in the family law court system and I think that the whole response to family violence throughout our whole judicial system is of significant concern.
“We are expecting a 30 per cent cut to community legal centres across Australia, and I speak out as much as I possibly can… because ultimately with those kinds of cuts you’re talking a catastrophic impact across communities that will have no access to legal advice.
“So ultimately we still have a funding crisis, we still have very short-term government contracts that don’t give many programs an opportunity to really experience the success that they could have if they didn’t have the imminent threat constantly of funding being cut, programs being shut.”
Batty says the federal government needs to take some responsibility.
“Ultimately we have a whole family court system that is overburdened and underfunded and it is at crisis point and it is incredibly difficult to get the commitment from the federal government to implement the kind of reform that needs to happen,” she says.
“I have been out advocating and lobbying as extensively as I can over the last few months and will continue to do so and until we see that overhaul of a system, that still has a long way to go, that still… doesn’t understand the complexities of family violence and yet the majority of families that are actually going through the family law court system are families experiencing violence.
“It is very disconcerting and that is a clear federal responsibility.
“When we expect people to leave a violent relationship the very first thing that every victim of violence needs to do is potentially seek legal advice in one way or another. Most people struggle… to have to legally represent themselves so ultimately they are disadvantaged from the very beginning.”
Batty says in the face of the challenges it is not hard to keep motivated.
“I’ve always been a very driven person,” she says.
“I’ve always been a very self-motivated person, I don’t think I struggle to keep motivated, I struggle in being overwhelmed and wearing myself out. I do get over-tired and exhausted.
“But I meet amazing people, very passionate, very committed people, who have been working in this area for decades and the fact that they tell me that they absolutely never thought they would experience the level of community support or the conversations that are starting to be had, that is what really encourages me.”
She says in Victoria there is an “unprecedented opportunity for social reform”.
“People who had left the sector because of being disillusioned or burnt out or tired have decided to come back in because of this unprecedented opportunity and so I think when you start to feel that change is actually happening, it may be slow, it may be too slow for some people…but the fact that we are having conversations and it has become an issue that now we are starting to recognise and identify in our society… you realise that it has been worth every bit of everything I have done, I feel rewarded.”
Batty says she feels humbled to know she is making a difference to people’s lives.
“When you meet a victim who says ‘you helped me leave, you were the wake up call I needed and I haven’t looked back’, you start to realise that without knowing it, you really have made a difference in many other people’s lives,” she says.
“And I feel really humbled and I never take it for granted and I hold on to those comments because it means a lot.
“Because at the end of the day you don’t want people going through what you went through and if they have been able to come out the other side with their children and with their lives in tact, you know that eventually they can move forward and rebuild themselves.”
But she says she doesn’t always feel worthy of the accolades she receives.
“I don’t know if bewildered is the right word, I sometimes don’t know how to respond,” she says.
“Sometimes you really want to make a difference in your life and you really want to try to make some change in your own personal story and you do the best you can with what you have.
“When I began to speak out I never for one minute expected that the journey would be the journey I’m on and sometimes I don’t feel I’m worthy of the accolades that people put on me, but I think that is the trait of that isn’t it, not to embrace fully what people are saying.
“So I try to really embrace fully what people are saying and know that it is genuine.
“You don’t always realise because you are not part of conversations that happen in other people’s lives, you only know what you experience and see, so it was incredibly moving to me last year when I passed over the baton of Australian of the Year, to be acknowledged as somebody that really had made the absolute most of that opportunity.
“And the way that the media and the community really acknowledged my efforts, it was really special and it continues to be so, and I do believe that because of that hard work and the genuine intent behind it, I do feel that I will always have that respect from so many people and it will also be something I regard as very special.”
Batty says winning Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25 was also a great honour as it came from the sector.
“A young lady who was introducing me [at an event] said ‘oh you better stop winning awards because it is too long introducing you’ and I thought well, I was a long time before I got an award, and I’ve been incredibly lucky, but I don’t know what comes into the future, I think it will be downhill from here,” she says.
“I don’t think there is much I have not been acknowledged for, and it has all been incredible, [and[ really helped me, feel a great sense of accomplishment and celebration.
“[The Impact 25 award] meant a lot actually because this is an award from the sector and that for me, I know how hard people have worked for a very long time and I feel incredibly privileged.
“It has really helped establish the foundation to know that it can fit with other key organisations and that people will support the work we will do in the future because it is a working relationship that I’ve been able to develop since Luke’s death.”
Batty says her plan for the future is to ensure the legacy of the Luke Batty Foundation.
“I really want to make sure that the Luke Batty Foundation is known for being a very effective, sustainable, national organisation, and that it can continue to do more to help victims of violence, women and children, in innovative ways regardless of my personal journey,” she says.
“I want the Luke Batty Foundation to really have a place as a leading organisation, recognised for… making a difference I guess.
“Obviously I wouldn’t have started the foundation if I hadn’t wanted it to succeed but it is very important for me that it is really well-recognised and is a key organisation, to build on the work that I am currently doing and amplify that work.
“So I think what is on for me next year is really to start to consolidate the work of the foundation, and develop my own professional skills that I am still obviously needing to learn… but I also look forward to taking time to do some travel and make the most of the opportunities that are presented to me, like I have done this year.”
Batty says after a busy couple of years she is aware it is important to have time for yourself.
“It is important for me to build a better balance, that is more sustainable, I know that, and I think I am in a very fortunate position to be able to say, well, there are some things on my bucket list, and I’ve got the opportunity to perhaps make those things happen.
“There’s not one day that I don’t still miss Luke, but I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and I just want to keep making the most of the life I’ve got. And that really has never changed, I’ve always been this kind of person.”
Batty says she just wished her recognition was under different circumstances.
“If it had have been different circumstances I think I would have the best life to be honest,” she says.
“That’s the thing I think last year that was hard for me, was it was such an amazing year, that it was so bittersweet…because it was still very painful and everything was just a reminder and this year I have probably been able to, even though I still have every day moments of intense sadness, I have been able to, I think, feel more comfortable with my journey and embrace it without such a degree of internal conflict and so I think that next year again will be a stronger year for me.
“I may not be as busy… but I just feel that it will be stronger year for me personally.”
Voting is now open for Pro Bono Australia 2016 Impact 25. Help us choose 2016’s Impact 25 here. Voting closes Thursday 1 December.