Disarming outcomes

In reducing men’s violence against women, improvement of routine policy such as education and housing may have the greatest social impact

It feels counter intuitive to say it, but the Australian politician to have done the most to curb the lethality of men’s violence against women was probably John Howard. 

As criminologist Michael Salter writes today, the gun control legislation boldly implemented after the Port Arthur massacre was instrumental in the halving of Australian homicide rates since 1990. Says Salter: ‘When gun control measures were introduced … an unintended but important consequence was that rates of intimate partner homicide saw a long-term decline.’ 

As we have seen in recent months, men have subsequently been nothing if not inventive if finding other ways of killing women and of asserting degrees of non-lethal violence, from coercive and financial control to the routine domestic malignancy of threatened and actual physical harm.  

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, the long-term trend is one of declining numbers, but recent figures – as we know – show a sudden spike in deaths: 34 women were killed by an intimate partner in 2022-23, an increase of 28 per cent on the previous year. 

Men were shooting women before Port Arthur, but that did not draw an ambitious and contentious legislative response. It took an act outside of the routine paradigm of men’s violence against women to do something – quite accidentally – about it. 

And there’s the rub in finding political solutions to men’s violence: that violence is an endemic and inimitable component of the social structure of which our politics is also a part. A political solution to men’s violence against women demands a degree of political will and stamina that seems all but unimaginable. It demands a politics prepared to argue for, and lead, a social transformation: a transformation of culture, a transformation perhaps of the cult of confrontation that dominates politics itself. 

It’s fair to ask, where do we draw the line against male violence and aggression and the social factors that exacerbate it? Will we act to curtail the blanketing presence of alcohol and gambling in our sporting culture given their routinely documented effect as contributors to male violence? Will we act against the ubiquity of violent and objectifying pornography?  

As a general rule politics does not act to antagonise issues that are deeply embedded in social structures, it does only as much as is required to make a specific and problematic issue retire from public attention. The aim of modern politics is not radical transformation but the creation of a sense of managed calm. 

The housing crisis offers a pretty instructive example. The base social fact leading to unaffordability and reduced supply is the broadly agreed need to keep the price of housing high so as to preserve the value of lifetime investments. So long as housing is seen as a way to make money rather than provide the universal human necessity of shelter, then scarcity and elevated price will be necessary features of the system. 

Changes could be made to alleviate those price pressures, but to even attempt a conversation in which, say, the topic of negative gearing is raised is to commit an act of significant political self-harm. How then do we shift problematic social structures if the political consequences of action are prohibitive? Acting to arrest the true and intrinsic causes of men’s violence would be extremely confronting. Men’s violence rests in the core of the patriarchy itself; an element of the broadly accepted construct of maleness. A politics that changes that? Unimaginable from where we sit, but in truth that kind of change rests with the culture itself, not in its political manifestation. 

As Salter wrote in 2016, ‘Real men do hit women … in a male-dominated society, boys and men are expected to show an aptitude for violence, if not through outright physical conflict then in coded forms such as on the sports field or through the consumption of violent media. We idolise violence, war and sport as the quintessential tests of masculinity.’ 

So, it’s laudable for the attorney general to call for an end of men’s violence against women ‘within a generation’, but the sobering truth is it will require more than a shifting of political consciousness to achieve that goal. Key elements of the accepted social fabric will need to be challenged. Politicians will need to argue for significant cultural change and lead that process both rhetorically and by example, but much in the surrounding world will need to shift to make that possible. 

The good news lies in the Howard example: the welcome intervention of unintended consequences. How many homicides might be prevented by lifting base payments in social welfare? By paying more than lip service to the necessity of easily accessible social housing? By better funding public education and services to support mental health? By forcing the sort of regulatory change to social media that might diminish the current ubiquity of pornography and gambling? 

Much change can be brought by making concerted efforts easily within the routine political orbit: the funding of services, the stricter enforcement of existing laws and regulations.  

If there is a political case for committing $1billion of taxpayer’s money to the ephemeral promise of quantum computing – as we saw today – perhaps there is an even stronger case for the funding and will to pursue quantum change in the culture itself. 

“There is some truth to the popular protest slogan: 'They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.'”

Boston University journalism academic Joan Donovan, writing for The Guardian, argues that mass university protest across America will make their presence and message felt despite brutal police action against them.

“The truth is that these spears – which were presented to Trinity in 1771 – would not have survived had they not been kept safe in Cambridge. These were not ceremonial wands or armaments but humble fishing sticks, crowned with finger-like barbed prongs; they were in everyday use among the Gweagal clan members who lived around what is now Sydney.”

Writing in The Spectator, historian David Abulafia makes the case that Captain Cook was right to seize Indigenous artefacts: at least institutions like Cambridge University knew how to look after them.

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The number of women were killed by an intimate partner in 2022-23, an increase of 28 per cent on the previous year according to the Australian Institute of Criminology’s National Homicide Monitoring Program.

An investment of nearly $1b to produce a commercially viable quantum computer is part of the federal Governments Future Made in Australia push.

The federal and Queensland governments are each contributing $470 million to Australian-led tech start-up PsiQuantum. It will base its operations in Queensland.

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