Next month will be two years when the first abusive phone calls began

December 04, 2019

I wish to put on the Parliamentary record, that in this week in particular, where all Australians say no to violence,

No to family and domestic violence

No to emotional and physical violence. No to verbal and written abuse that leads to violence

We must also say a definite No to workplace violence

We have heard many speeches in this Senate on deeply important issues such as the high rates of murdered women in our country, either in violent family relationships, or simply walking home from a night out.

Violence against anyone, male, female, children, should never be accepted in our country. Should never be accepted anywhere. But it does happen. Every day.  And we need to remain vigilant to that reality.

Today I share with the Senate, my  experience of what threats of violence in the workplace, can feel like, and how it has been a long and often times, paralysing shadow, over all that I do. I take this opportunity to express heartfelt gratitude to my team, in particular Johanna, Mandy, Charlie and Kirsty, who have walked with me through all these things.

Next month it will be two years when the first abusive phone calls began.

Calls that my staff had to endure, trying professionally to deal with constituent issues.

But then the tone of the constituent calls took a turn for the worse; 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.  

Until finally I said, enough.

In my nearly 15 years since becoming a Labor member in both the Northern Territory and now Federal  Parliament, I have never had to be concerned daily ,for my personal safety, until now.

Arriving in Canberra is often fraught with anxious thoughts, and not just about politics, which has enough anxieties of its own..

But it was anxiety about safety.

Am I safe?

Are my staff safe?

They are constant questions built into my daily work routine. Attending public events, especially speaking events at rallies, requires the presence of the Australian Federal  Police, which is the nature of the threats against me. Speaking to hundreds of people gathered at the Reclaim the Night rallies, I realised that whilst I was advocating for the rights of the safety of others, I needed to also come to terms with my own need for safety in the workplace too. 

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. 

Such threats are designed to maximise so much 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.

Threats of executing me in the Federal Parliament has been taken seriously by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, which lead to the AFP in Canberra eventually serving the Personal Protection Order I  sought for the protection of my staff and I. 

Mr President, thank you for not even hesitating over this matter. I am now aware that other Senate colleagues, one former Senator, and also my colleague Senator Dodson, is also now a focus for similar threats.

I thank the Northern Territory Police and the NT Branch of the Australian Federal Police for your immediate support and advice to my staff and I and for taking the threats of violence, very seriously.  I thank also my legal teams, in the NT, in the ACT and in Sydney, in particular Solicitor Tim Lynch.

If the AFP is unable to easily locate the defendant or has other priorities, as was the case for my matter, it may be that the application or the orders or both are not served on the defendant in a timely manner or at all, rendering the personal protection order scheme ineffective.

Such an experience can be debilitating for victims of violence, all victims of violence. 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.

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 is one thing to be a political representative and expect a certain level of public criticism, and families do feel the frustration of watching that play out. But when it comes to rape threats and death threats, my family has been struggling to cope,  out of deep concern for me.

So today I speak for them also.

My sons, Gray Warrali, CJ and Adam, are a tremendous source of loving strength, and I stand here as the Senator for the Northern Territory because of your belief in me,  to keep going, to keep fighting for others, irrespective of the violent threats against me.

I thank my dad, nearly 80- years of age, for your enduring love and wisdom in all these matters. It has been deeply disturbing and hurtful for you I know.  It has been perhaps two of the most difficult years for you and I in particular, and I am deeply thankful we have persevered and got through okay.

I thank my sister Selina and my Yanyuwa & Garrawa families, my mothers and my aunties and my brothers, and also my Wiradjuri sister Yvonne for your love and support, but even deeper than that, I thank you  for  your fierce determination to spark the fighter in my spirit, to use my fear, to channel it with love, to rise above the hatred and to fight for all people.

My families, you 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 and for that I thank you. Bauji Bara. 

STATEMENT BY SENATOR - WEDNESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2019

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