Transcript by The Hon Christian Porter MP

ABC RN Breakfast with Fran Kelly


FRAN KELLY: Some new research shows that while the overwhelming majority of Australians abhors violence towards women and children, too many of us are learning from a very early age to excuse disrespectful or aggressive behaviour by men. Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, commissioned this research and I spoke with him a short time ago.

MINISTER PORTER: Pleasure, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: You say this research is an eye opener. By the tender age of just ten for instance, boys are already automatically blaming girls for violent or disrespectful behaviour. What did you find in this research that opened your eyes?

MINISTER PORTER: Well, I must say personally, having had a little bit of background in and around these issues it’s not personally surprising to me, and I think a lot of people who are on the coal face of service delivery to victims of domestic violence or in the criminal justice system would probably recognise some of the responses that you see in a report like this. But I think for perhaps people who don’t have that level of front line engagement, the type of responses you see are both at once, surprising when you consider them in the context of the wider issue, but also recognisable. And people would sort of recognise these types of shortcuts to decision making and to preclusions, what the research has called heuristics, a very complicated word. But just talking about how people process information in a certain situation and have reached these almost instantaneous conclusions, and it’s the type of reasoning processes which are mental short cuts and which, if you consider them in the wider issue of domestic violence and consider how they can be transferred into more serious situations, are terribly unhelpful.

FRAN KELLY: Well, so, give us a sense of that, what the research sort of threw out, or one – I noticed that in the executive summary, the number one thing is victim blaming, where young males externalise the behaviour by blaming others, young females internalise the experience by blaming themselves.

MINISTER PORTER: Yes, and look, that’s something that, again, people on the front line of service delivery in the domestic violence space would recognise as pervasive. But when we, as sort of Australian citizens, sometimes engage in that thinking which we shouldn’t, but which happens, almost unconsciously. So as you pointed out, there was qualitative research here which posed certain situational issues, and then audiences were asked by qualitative researchers what they thought, and what sort of situation. They were situations where they were deliberately structured to provoke a response, so a young boy throwing aggressively a bottle at a young girl and then the responses were, as I say, eye opening, and there is this –

FRAN KELLY: What were the responses?

MINISTER PORTER: Oh, they were the type of short cut responses where the initial thinking was ‘well, what has she done?’ And so when placed in an evidentiary situation where there is just a wrong being committed by one person against another, the instinctive response is quite often, what’s the victim done in that circumstance?

FRAN KELLY: And the research as I understand it too showed that parents of the boys who might have been engaged in some level of violent behaviour, and we’re not talking top drawer incidents, but might sort of see it as a boys being boys, a bit of a joke, trying to excuse it?

MINISTER PORTER: It’s just a thing teenage boys do, you know, you feel conflicted as a mother because you don’t want young boys to be labelled. You know, some of the responses were along those lines, responses that people can understand why you did it, why you probably felt the pressure to do it. And so, in those sort of situations the responses almost immediately race to ‘what’s the victim done to bring this upon themselves?’ is jumping to a certain conclusion that people will very often do without thinking about it. This report is about, is trying to engage and inform government in a later campaign which will be directed at trying to sort of have attitudinal change particularly amongst young people because it’s quite clear that the type of attitudes that we have, which are dismissive of violence, which blame the victim, which minimise violence, have to be seen as a matter of common sense as a substantial causal basis for far more serious incidents of violence, which we label domestic violence or use other terms.

FRAN KELLY: So then, what should a response be? Should it be, I know the government is going to put money into responding to this, but should it be directed at adults, at the parents? Is that where the, you know, blame the victim mentality or, you know, permissive of violence attitudes are coming from, or will it be directed at the kids?

MINISTER PORTER: Both. But, what the research says in part is that children are influenced, obviously on a day to day basis. And so to influence children you need to speak to them directly, which you can do in advertising or marketing campaigns, or you can have influencers, as the report describes them, speaking to children. So, particularly say for instance with young boys; musicians, media personalities, music stars are incredibly influential people in the thinking and mindset of young boys, as are their mothers, which is a very happy and healthy thing.

FRAN KELLY: We have tried this before, there have been high profile campaigns against violence against women involving sports stars, music stars, rock stars, all the rest of it, and it hasn’t shifted. Why is it so intransigent?

MINISTER PORTER: I think that this is a marathon, not a sprint, Fran. I mean the sort of campaigns that we’ve had before have been helpful, some of the news is positive in terms of some level of attitudinal change, other news is not as positive. But what we know is that as a matter of cultural fact that there’s a whole range of campaigns over the years that have managed to change attitudes and you know, there’s been a great deal of positive change and –

FRAN KELLY: Should the focus be on girls this time, as females are blaming themselves? That’s one of the things that came through from this research, does there need to be more emphasis at that point?

MINISTER PORTER: That’s a very strong part of this as well –

FRAN KELLY: The campaign you’re designing?

MINISTER PORTER: Yes, and look I’m not a marketer or anything of that nature, so we will rely on experts to assist the government in trying to hit those trigger points, and lever points, and influence the influencers in the campaign that’s ultimately developed. But, this research is very much meant to inform government, and inform the development of that campaign because –

FRAN KELLY: So how soon will we see a campaign roll out?

MINISTER PORTER: The campaign is sort of months rather than years away obviously, so it will take a little bit of time to digest this research and have the campaign roll out, and it’s a COAG initiative, so done cooperatively with the states, and it will be multi-faceted. So the campaign is going to be extremely important. It has to be done right, but I’ll just go back to your earlier point about, it’s not all bad news, in a sense, and I’ve had experience as a Crown Prosecutor before politics and even in the time that I was a Crown Prosecutor, the level of attention, the investigative intensity that was applied to domestic violence changed happily and positively during the time I was a Crown Prosecutor, and it wasn’t that long ago in the 1990s and earlier than that, that domestic violence was something that was nowhere near as strongly and strictly policed as it is now, as it properly should be. So, in a whole range of areas there have been very significant positive improvements. I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t believe that we can shift attitudes and we must do.

FRAN KELLY: Just finally, Minister, the opposition is announcing today that if it was in government it would implement to introduce five days of paid family violence leave into the National Employment Standards to give women time off to attend court, meet with their lawyers, counsellors, speak with their kids’ principals etcetera, is that something the government would support?

MINISTER PORTER: Look, I think that all policy ideas should be welcomed in this space, it is such a complicated area. I’ve read what you have suggested has been said in the papers very briefly this morning, it would be something that you’d need to give very considered thought to because it is a very complicated area, but I don’t necessarily myself think this is a day for high politics and some sort of making instant policy conclusions. This report, White Ribbon Day, I think is hitting at this overarching issue about what are some of the root causes

from the problems that we are identifying and if we can have modest and gradual and incremental but positive impact on that, that is the real solution to the problems that we are experiencing.

FRAN KELLY: Christian Porter, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

MINISTER PORTER: No problems, Fran. Cheers.