Daniel Andrews
Daniel Andrews on a family violence royal commission

People in politics talk a lot about priorities. I’m guilty of that, too. Different priorities, we hear, can differentiate one leader from another.

Perhaps this is too simplistic. Perhaps it implies that we get to choose our priorities – that we get to weigh them up and decide their worth.

The real truth is, we don’t choose our priorities. They are imposed upon us all. We either act on them or we don’t. That’s the difference.

When I say that reducing the rate of family violence is one of my priorities, it doesn’t mean that’s a cause I’ve simply decided to choose. 

It means I have no other choice. Because this crisis has become a national emergency. Reducing the rate of family violence has become every political leader’s priority, whether they realise it or not. 

Family violence is the leading contributor to death, injury and disability among Australian women under the age of 45. Just think about that. This is systemic. 

We’ve all heard the figures. We all know a victim, whether we realise it or not. We all know why we must act. So the next step is, what do we do?

That’s where we fall. Because we don’t know what to do. Support groups, experts and victims have many proposals. Some of them are in practice. Some of them aren’t. Some will work. Some may not. 

One thing is for certain: the system as it stands is broken. It doesn’t protect the vulnerable and it doesn’t punish the guilty. It’s just a factory of waiting lists and feeble intervention orders. 

If our solution to this crisis is simply more of the same policies, then we will just see more of the same tragedies. That’s unacceptable. We have to admit the system isn’t working. We have to commit ourselves to its complete upheaval. Another dollar here or there won’t do. We have to change it all. 

Last month, at Victorian Labor’s State Conference, I announced that I would establish Australia’s first royal commission into family violence should I win at the next election.

A royal commission will give us the answers we don’t have. It will hear from survivors, experts and support groups. Nothing will be off limits. 

It’s no mere inquiry. It won’t produce another report that can simply be ignored. It’s certainly not another excuse for a talkfest, as the Napthine government claimed. 

A royal commission is the single most powerful investigative body known to our political system, so extraordinary that it carries the stamp and the seal of the Crown. If a crisis as profound and inexplicable as family violence doesn’t deserve the rigour and the review of a royal commission, then what on earth does?   

Those who disagree with me – many of them former politicians – have all said the same thing: we already have the answers and we don’t need a panel of judges to remind us what they are.

But if we actually had the answers at our disposal, we wouldn’t have a crisis on our hands. The statistics would be getting better, not worse.

Instead, thousands more families will be cast into this nightmare. Hundreds more won’t report their abuse. Dozens of support groups will make submission after submission that will sit, unread, on the shelf. 

Unless, of course, we act. Unless we grant this crisis the national attention and singular resolve it deserves. Unless we find the answers that, as we speak, evade us still.

A royal commission won’t be an elixir in itself, but its recommendations will give us something so much better than what we have.

The royal commission will investigate everything, from the courts and criminal law, to our health system, our school curriculum and our community services.

For the thousands of people who work tirelessly, often without recognition, to make things better: a public inquiry of this scale will only make their jobs easier. It will honour their work. 

A royal commission is a powerful thing. It’s not some weapon to wield against our political enemies. It’s our response to those warnings which, once in a generation, sound too loudly to ignore.

I am determined to get to the heart of this problem and craft the start of our solution. I can’t promise that every family will be safe. But I am prepared to try.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 7, 2014 as "Failing our families".

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Daniel Andrews is the Victorian leader of the opposition.

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