Hate Can't Win: Opinion Piece Sunday Territorian

13 December 2019

In this #16DaysofActivism against violence, I have spoken about the importance of our Northern Territory Womens shelters in Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Town Creek.

Targeted funding for these services, such as Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Womens Shelter (DAIWS), which has had its emergency funding cut by the Commonwealth, is critical for families.

While speaking about these issues I realised I needed to come to terms with my own safety. My experience of threats of violence in the workplace has cast a long, and often times, paralysing shadow over what I do. Next month it will be two years since the first abusive phone calls began, calls that my staff had to endure; call after call; message after message on the answering machine. Both my Canberra office and Darwin office became an obsessive focus for the caller, so fixated on wanting to inflict pain.

The rough and tumble of political debate and political life is often seen as an expected part of our job description. But threats of violence, graphic threats of being gang raped and beaten, and threats of being killed for doing our job, for being a public figure, is reprehensible.

The nature of the threats against me has meant that attending public events, for example speaking at rallies, requires the presence of the Australian Federal Police.

Such threats are designed to maximise fear to render the person to whom the threats are levelled at incapable of doing their job, and instead ensure they live their life in a prison of impending danger.

It is one thing to be a political representative and expect a certain level of public criticism and robust debate, but when it comes to personal attacks, execution threats in the Federal Parliament and rape threats, enough is enough.

The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives moved swiftly to act once aware of these threats.

The AFP in Canberra eventually served the Personal Protection Order I sought for the protection of my staff and I. Yet competing priorities for the AFP, jurisdictional issues and delays around locating the defendant can mean that the application or the orders or both are not served in a timely manner, as was the case with me.

Such an experience can be debilitating for victims of violence, and can render the personal protection order scheme ineffective.

Examination of the processes by which such orders are sought and obtained is desperately needed if my experience, as a person of some means, is any guide. It gives me far greater insight into the experience of others who are dealing with such threats of violence against them. The impact on families is unimaginable, and the conflict it causes simply because they care so much, and feel helpless in watching a loved one go through this experience, is completely disempowering for them too.

It has been deeply disturbing and hurtful for my dad nearly 80 years of age and my sons, a tremendous source of loving strength.

It has been perhaps two of the most difficult years of my life and I am deeply thankful my family and I have persevered and got through okay.

It is an enormous privilege to be Senator of the Northern Territory. My families remind me constantly of the higher purpose and focus required in serving the people of the Northern Territory and indeed Australia, that serving with a heart of love is the only way to overcome such hate.

This opinion piece was first published in the SUNDAY TERRITORIAN on Sunday, 8 December 2019.