AS Victoria on Thursday farewells Australia’s first minister for the prevention of family violence, there are calls for ‘Fiona’s Law’ to be passed to ensure her plan for long-term funding is protected by legislation.
The Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, Fiona Richardson, passed away last week after a prolonged battle with cancer.
She has been remembered as a champion for women, and for her advocacy for gender equality and the prevention of violence against women and children.
Ms Richardson was responsible for overseeing the Royal Commission into Family Violence, having Respectful Relationships added to the state curriculum and developing the state’s first gender equality strategy.
A statement released by husband Stephen and children Marcus and Catherine, remembered Ms Richardson as “an unwavering advocate on behalf of victim-survivors and every Victorian touched by the tragedy of family violence’’. “She achieved so much for victims in a short space of time,’’ her family wrote.
The final report from the Royal Commission into Family Violence made more than 200 recommendations, all of which the Victorian government has agreed to implement.
Annie North women’s refuge chief executive Julie Oberin said Victoria was “now seen as leading the way nationally and to some degree internationally, since the Victorian government not only committed to implementing all of the Royal Commission recommendations, but released unprecedented funds to ensure that the implementation had the best possible chance of achieving the recommendations’’. “But there is still unfinished work,’’ she said.
“Ms Richardson was planning dedicated and long term funding for prevention work, protected by legislation. She had the vision to understand the importance of the prevention work and the determination to protect it from the whim of future governments. It would be a world first and a flagship move which we must continue to advocate for.
“Fiona’s Chief of Staff referred to it as ‘Fiona’s Law’ and I think that would be a fitting tribute. I hope that all parties support the introduction of this legislation.’’
A state memorial service will be held at 10.30am on August 31 in Northcote, to celebrate the contribution made by Ms Richardson, who passed away last week aged 50 after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Her death came just a day after announcing she would not re-contest her seat at the 2018 election, to focus on her health.
Thousands are expected to gather in Melbourne to remember a woman premier Daniel Andrews said “knew no fear and tolerated no prejudice’’.
“In fighting for her community, in standing up for the safety of women and children, and in seeking the power of government and all its vast possibilities, Fiona not only lived her values, she demanded the same of us all,’’ he said.
“Before she had even stepped foot in Parliament, she had busted the party’s sexist back rooms and committees wide open.
“Under her watch, a dark and silent tragedy was brought into the harsh and unforgiving light of a Royal Commission – and the two thousand pages of that Commission’s final report are her greatest legacy to public life.’’
Many across the state will also be pausing to reflect on their own memories of the Minister for Women and Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, and how she changed lives.
Among those are Centre for Non Violence chief executive, Margaret Augerinos, and Annie North women’s refuge chief executive, Julie Oberin – who remembered Ms Richardson as an ‘incredible advocate for ending violence against women and achieving gender equality’.
Ms Augerinos met Ms Richardson when the minister’s office requested an informal meeting while she was visiting Bendigo a few years ago.
“Ms Richardson came, without any fanfare, and spent a couple of hours with us, and listened to our experience of delivering services to our community,’’ Ms Augerinos said.
“She was particularly interested in how we were working to maximise the safety of women and children and hold perpetrators to account.
“During that meeting, Ms Richardson was incredibly aware of the drivers of violence against women and that the only way we were going to prevent this from occurring in the long term, was to hold gender equality at the core of all of our work and efforts.’’
From that day, Ms Richardson continued to impress Ms Augerinos with her “knowledge and insight into the issues impacting on women and children, specialist family violence services and the broader system”.
“She also was very impressed with the integrated safety led model we have developed over the last 10 to 12 years and stated publicly that our model was the blueprint for future service reform,’’ she said.
Ms Richardson told the Bendigo Advertiser in August, 2016, the Centre for Non-Violence was being looked at as a best practice model that could be rolled out across the state.
She said the centre was regarded as a leader and offered "a model that could be easily replicated in other communities around Victoria'' following recommendations to come out of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
"I'm particularly excited by their approach and particularly the good outcomes they deliver for women and children,’’ Ms Richardson said. "So, how we can learn from that and learn from their innovation in particular and the take that model and road test it in other parts of the state is a critical part of the work we’re doing.
“Most hub services will separate out the perpetrator from the victim or they won’t have perpetrator responses at all, whereas the centre takes an holistic view and never loses sight of the child in that work. As a consequence of that rather sophisticated approach, it gets better outcomes for families and women and children in particular.”
Ms Augerinos said Ms Richardson led her portfolio with a “quiet and insistent determination that our system had to do more, and be more effective in both responding to, and preventing family violence’’.
“She was also a wonderful advocate for specialist women’s services and for the experience of victim/survivors. That she herself was a survivor of violence made her capacity for advocacy even more meaningful,’’ she said.
“We will miss Ms Richardson immensely, however the legacy she leaves behind is the landmark 227 Royal Commission into Family Violence recommendations which are being implemented in full.
Ms Richardson was incredibly aware of the drivers of violence against women and that the only way we were going to prevent this from occurring in the long term, was to hold gender equality at the core of all of our work and efforts.Margaret Augerinos
“Her work has also ensured that record levels of investment have been made to respond to and prevent family violence and work towards gender equality. Her achievements in this area are not only leading the way in Australia, but internationally as well.
“On behalf of everyone at the Centre for Non-Violence, we want to acknowledge the great contribution Ms Richardson has made to our community broadly, and more specifically to bringing the community’s attention to family violence.’’
Ms Oberin echoed Ms Augerinos’ thoughts, saying the minister was approachable “with a lot of heart and humanity”.
“She wanted to see things first hand, and importantly she was determined to listen to the voices of women who had experienced family violence when it came to designing a new system response for family violence reform,’’ she said.
“The Victim/Survivor Advisory Council has been a big part of implementing the Royal Commission recommendations. She watched over the groundbreaking Royal Commission into Family Violence and its recommendations. She made sure that Respectful Relationships was embedded into the State curriculum.
“She was the first Minister for Family Violence Prevention, and she developed Victoria’s first Gender Equality Strategy which is now seen as a benchmark.
“She knew the link between gender equality and violence against women and she knew that family violence was not going to stop while gender inequality existed.”
Importantly, Ms Oberin said, Ms Richardson “did things because they needed to be done, not so as to be recognised for the work’’.
“She said ‘we can do more, and we must’. And she meant it. She left an amazing legacy, but the work is not done.’’
- The state memorial service will be live streamed from 10.30am on vic.gov.au. Ms Richardson’s family has asked that on the day of the service, people wear something purple. They also welcome cards reflecting on Fiona’s life. In lieu of floral tributes, consider making a donation to the Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre or the Luke Batty Foundation.
- If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732
She said ‘we can do more, and we must’. And she meant it. She left an amazing legacy, but the work is not done.’’Julie Oberin