January 27 2016 By ROSIE BATTY
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and elders both past and present. I would also like to acknowledge the significant impact that Family Violence has on our Aboriginal and Torre Strait Island Communities. Our Aboriginal women are 35% more likely to be hospitalised and their voices still struggle to be heard.
Wow! I am so thrilled to be back.This time last year was the start of the most incredible year of my life.
It’s unbelievable to think a year has already flown by. This time last year I was listening to Adam Goodes deliver his outgoing address as Australian of the Year 2014. I was honoured to be amongst some of Australia’s most amazing and incredible people. Although in some ways I felt overwhelmed and unworthy of being recognised as one of the 32 national finalists.
It had not even been a whole year since Luke’s death. I was still reeling in the very raw grief of losing him, and adjusting to a world without him.
I had no idea what was about to hit me. And no idea what a huge year it was going to be!
Now, as I stand before another wave of equally amazing Australians, I want to take a moment to reflect on my journey over the past 12 months.
When I was named Australian of the Year 2015, I had no real expectations and could never have predicted the journey ahead.
I felt that I had been given this award BECAUSE of Luke’s death. I had made it to this point because of a traumatic and horrific event that was beyond my control. But I was reassured very quickly, that it was not BECAUSE of Luke’s death, it was because of the way that I had responded and reacted to it.
But I’m so thankful that I had prepared an acceptance speech in preparation as the emotion around receiving this award was completely overwhelming.
My speech was also my very public pledge and promise that I would address Family Violence within our society – and so my path was clearly set for the year ahead. It kept me on track, and ensured that when I looked back, I was doing exactly what I had said that I was going to do.
I never thought it possible to be this busy! I was completely swamped!! The year has been filled with over 250 speeches, reaching over 70,000 people and more media interviews than I can count. But, wherever I have gone, I have met MANY people who have been affected by family violence in their lifetime.
And this did not exclude men who also shared their experience as powerless little boys unable to intervene or protect their mothers, sisters or even themselves.
Victims, both young and old. Women from our culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Women with disabilities. Women hiding and living in disguise no longer recognising who they are because they cannot be known for who they once were. And children. Pulled from their schools and communities because they cannot be kept safe.
I launched the Never Alone campaign for the Luke Batty Foundation on what would have been Luke’s 13th birthday.This campaign is to stand beside these victims of violence raising awareness so that they will never be alone, and now we have over 50,000 followers.
Everywhere I have been, I have been treated like royalty and with the utmost respect. As opportunities came up, even more opportunities followed.
I remember someone saying that the second year of grief is often the hardest – because everyone gets on with their life whilst you’re still adjusting to the loss, feeling both abandoned and isolated. But I am so genuinely appreciative of the support that I have received during what could otherwise have been an even tougher year on so many levels.
I think my message has resonated with people because I have spoken from the heart and with integrity. But I have been genuinely astounded with the response that I have received. Every day people will say positive and encouraging things out of compassion and respect. This has helped my inner confidence and self-belief and managed to squash my nagging self-doubt. I have grown in a way that I never thought possible. Everyone I met told me what a difference I was making and the ripple effects that I have created far and wide.
I do admit that at times I have been totally overwhelmed and utterly exhausted. There was just so much opportunity to make a difference and I found myself wanting to say yes to everyone and everything. I couldn’t wait for change, I had to make it happen within my year of being the Australian of the Year and before I ran out of time!
And this journey has been conflicting too as I have juggled grief and loss, suppressing my sadness, whilst enjoying the most amazing opportunities of my life.
Along my journey I became mindful that I was becoming some sort of public figure, perhaps a tragic type of celebrity, and that I was still fragile and vulnerable.
But I have been fortunate to have the support from many good, kind and genuine people, who believe in me and have helped me through moments of self-doubt. And I could not have done this without Justin, my manager. He not only handles the vast quantity of requests that come through, but knows my physical and emotional limits better than anyone. And, most importantly, he supports and believes in this cause and has the same commitment to being part of this revolution. I could not have done what I have been able to do without Justin’s tireless efforts and support. Thank you Justin.
So… in my acceptance speech last year, I said that family violence may happen behind closed doors, but it needed to be brought out from the shadows and into broad daylight. I pledged that as the Australian of the Year I was committed to building greater campaigns to educate and challenge community attitudes. That I was on a path to expose Family Violence for all that it is, and to ensure that victims receive the respect, support and safety that they deserve.
I am so proud to stand here to say that I have done what I set out to do. I believe that we, as a nation, have made great progress over the last twelve months. The conversation has not only started it is now well underway.
Family Violence is still an epidemic and will be for some time. It is a serious abuse of human rights in our advanced and privileged culture and must continue to be addressed as an absolute priority. By both our federal and state governments and by our corporate leaders, as they also recognise the impact family violence has in their workplace. Family terrorism is in our neighbourhoods and poses more risk to our local communities than the terrorism we are terrified of from overseas. We have to re-adjust our priorities.
The statistics show those affected by Family Violence tragically increased during the time I have been Australian of the Year. In my opening speech I spoke about 1 woman a week being murdered, and now I speak of 2 women. Someone’s mother or daughter, sister, friend or valued employee. A life tragically taken through the ultimate act of power, control and revenge.
My time as the current recipient may be coming to an end, but my focus on Family Violence will not. Together we have created an awareness of an issue that has always been here, and there is so much more to do. Whilst Family Violence is still happening behind closed doors, the conversations aren’t. We are now having deep, confronting conversations, the ones we really need to have. In the home, workplace, and amongst our political parties. We are shifting the blame previously placed on to the victim and re-directing it to where it squarely needs to be, to the perpetrators of this violence. And that is the significant progress that I am very proud of.
The more we expose what’s happening, the more we see this epidemic for what it is and we need to name it. This is overwhelmingly men’s violence towards women. And, to quote the Prime Minister, “Not all disrespect of women ends in violence, but all violence begins with disrespect”.
The overwhelming majority of men that I know and have met are also part of this journey. They are equally appalled by what is taking place and are keen to remove this epidemic from our communities for the sake of the women in their lives, particularly their daughter’s. They recognise both men and women need to work together for the safety of our future generations of young girls. We all want to live in a safer and more respectful society where we embrace diversity and respect all cultures. Together we will make this happen – we have no choice.
Just like the anti-smoking campaign, we have been influenced over several decades and no longer tolerate people who smoke in our immediate vicinity due to the health risk it presents. The smoking community at large continues to become a shrinking minority and the opportunity to smoke becomes increasingly difficult. Smoking in our homes, cars, and public places is no longer tolerated and the health risks are clear.
We are on a journey of change but this will not happen overnight. We have a long journey ahead but the exciting thing is, we have started and Luke has not died in vain.
So to the Class of 2016…
As I hand over the baton, I want to say – this is a huge opportunity for the cause you are representing. As a national finalist, you will have a platform that can help inject enormous momentum to your cause.
You will be swamped and overwhelmed, and I encourage you to be big, to be bold and to be brave. As an Australian of the Year finalist embrace this opportunity and maximise all possibilities with both your head and your heart. You can make this opportunity as big as you’d like it to be and do amazing things.
But at the same time, remember, the award was given to YOU. Not to your cause and not for the experiences and achievements that may have defined your past. It was given to you for the potential you have to make Australia a better place.
I wish each of you the very best.
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