Dr. GREG CANNING
MB.BS. M.Med FRACGP IDD FSCCANZ
FAMILY PRACTICE and SKIN CANCER CLINIC
Ph: (07) 4725 5355
Fax: (07) 4725 5025
222 Charters Towers Road
Hermit Park, Qld 4810
P.O. Box 3224
Ms. Elizabeth Broderick
Sex Discrimination Commissioner
Australian Human Rights Commission
GPO Box 5218
SYDNEY NSW 2001
Dear Ms. Broderick
As the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner we assume you take responsibility for identifying and attempting to address all overt instances in Australia where individuals are discriminated against solely on the basis of their sex. You commenced your tenure with a listening tour during which concerns raised with you regarding the disadvantage faced by men and boys were positively received as being worthy of your attention. However your activities and achievements on your web site and your press releases, suggest that either, you see your role as an advocate particularly for women, or that you believe inequality and discrimination does not affect men and boys in our society.
Your advocacy for women suggests that equality of outcome might be your primary concern, rather than equality of opportunity and that you may be unaware of the impact of individual choice in these matters. It is of course a biological impossibility for men and women to be equal when they are genetically different, however it is possible for there to be equity in opportunity, rights and choice for both men and women that recognises their biological differences. Such equity is the hallmark of an egalitarian society.
Ms. Broderick, we ask you to consider and respond to the following key areas where we believe you should be proactive in addressing inequities faced by men and boys. This letter will also be forwarded our political representatives, the Male Champions of Change and the media via press release, seeking the opinion of the broader community on these issues.
Family Violence and Child Abuse
Advocacy in the area of “Violence against Women” has been a central theme of your tenure as Sex Discrimination Commissioner. “Family violence” however has broad and varying definitions, and elements of it, are as we are sure you’re aware, also referred to as domestic violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse and elder abuse. “Family” can mean many differing things these days but consider the prototype nuclear family with a father, mother and children. In this case violence can be perpetrated, by a man against a women, a woman against man, there may be mutual or reciprocal violence, violence by a parent (female or male individually or jointly) against a child, violence by a child against a parent (often in the form of elder abuse), and violence between siblings. Violence within families links into experiences of violence within the broader community and has the same multifactorial gender inclusive social determinants.
Given your advocacy solely for “Violence against Women and their Children” and your support for the National Council’s, Time for Action plan, we question if you are aware of the level of violence faced by men in domestic and other spheres, and the amount of that violence that is perpetrated against men and children by women?
Such concerns are not alleviated by your public claim that 1 in 3 women in Australia will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime when in fact this statistic relates to all forms of violence suffered by women not just domestic violence. I would like to draw your attention to reputable data, on violence and its perpetration, The Australian Bureau of Statistics 4906.0 – Personal Safety, Australia, 2005 (Reissue), which gives impartial data on violence for both women and men.
Violence experienced since the age of 15:
• 29% (2,243,600) of women experienced physical assault
• 41% (3,031,800) of men experienced physical assault
• 17% (1,293,100) of women experienced sexual assault
• 4.8% (362,400) of men experienced sexual assault
In the 12 month data prior to the ABS survey:
• 4.7% (363,000) of women experienced physical violence
• 10% (779,800) of men experienced physical violence
• 1.6% (126,100) of women experienced sexual violence
• 0.6% (46,700) of men experienced sexual violence
Of these numbers:
• 79,500 men experienced physical assault by a female perpetrator
• 195,300 women experienced physical assault by a male perpetrator
The One in Three campaign website contains further information on male victims of family violence as well as documentation demonstrating that one in three victims of family violence in Australia is male.
Recent data on the gender of perpetrators of child abuse in Australia is difficult to access, because from the later part of the 1990’s the gender of perpetrators has not routinely been reported or promulgated by official sources despite the extensive records kept by police, child protective services and the criminal justice system and the reason for such an omission is open to speculation. Given that data prior to the late 1990’s in Australia and historical and ongoing reliable data from other similar western nations shows that the majority of perpetrators of child abuse are women and that the highest risk for abuse of a child is at the hands of a mother in single parent household, or by a biological mothers subsequent partner it is not unreasonable to assume that the concealing of such data from the Australian public is an ideologically based misrepresentation, all the more reprehensible because it detracts from the ability of government and social services to effectively ensure the safety of Australia’s greatest asset, our children.
Consider the data obtained under freedom of information request from the Department of Child Protection in Western Australia which shows that the number of mothers believed responsible for “substantiated maltreatment” during the period 2005-6 to 2007-8 rose from 312 to 427. In the same period the number of fathers reported for child abuse dropped from 165 to 155. Women made up 57% of perpetrators of substantiated cases of child maltreatment in 2007-08. Compared with fathers, mothers were responsible for 95% of neglect cases, 68% of emotional/psychological abuse cases, 53% of physical abuse cases and 13% of sexual abuse cases. Overall, mothers were three times as likely as fathers to abuse their children.
In light of this reputable data, we feel obliged to ask how you as our national Sex Discrimination Commissioner can be fully supportive of the gender biased “plan” which aims to address violence toward one demographic, namely women, and does so in a way that is clearly discriminatory against another demographic, namely men? Surely the point of addressing sex discrimination is to ensure that one gender is not singled out to the disadvantage of the other. Shouldn’t you consider instead calling for a more gender inclusive plan to help stop all types of family violence and violence in general. You correctly indicated that inclusiveness was necessary in addressing the problem of family violence in September 2011 by highlighting the needs of LGBTIQ persons but we have yet to hear you advocate for inclusion of the ten’s of thousands of ordinary men in our community who become victims of family violence each year.
The most alarming recommendations from The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children are the proposals to introduce gendered laws that will legislate different treatment of men based solely on their sex, something that a sex discrimination commissioner should oppose by definition. Additionally why does our Sex Discrimination Commissioner, not advocate for the protection of our children? Whilst child protection is implied in the title of “The Plan” the reality is that abuse of children occurs most often at the hands of women, protection of children from this abuse (and abuse in general) is not significantly addressed in the Plan that purportedly aims to reduce violence against women and their children.
United Nations Declarations affirm the rights of children to have ongoing and meaningful relationships with both parents, yet in Australia fathers and children are routinely denied this basic human right through entrenched gender bias in our legal system and the Family Court. Domestic violence protection orders obtained on the basis of false or trivial accusations are routinely granted (without credible evidence or due process) and used by women to alienate fathers and children. This sets a precedent for award of residency to the mother, as during inevitable judicial delays residency with the mother becomes the established norm and courts are understandably reluctant to change this. Whilst this type of legalised discrimination mainly affects fathers, there is a growing number of mothers who have been treated in a similarly unjust manner, where the father took legal tactical advice early enough to get in first with a false accusation of violence against the mother, and this demonstrates the necessity of tackling discrimination wherever it occurs, not simply when it disadvantages women.
In a society that values gender equity, surely children have a right to maintain an ongoing relationship with both their mother and father after separation or divorce? Rebuttable equal shared parenting should be the foundation of residency for children post separation and the 2006 Family Law reforms were a step toward achieving this truly egalitarian ideal. However even after these reforms were introduced women continued to receive favour in the award of residency of children by the family court. In 2008/2009 residency for “equal or a majority of the time” was still awarded to the mother in 90% of contested cases, but only 17% of Australian fathers were found to be fit to share in the parenting of their own children after separation 
There are over 2000 published peer reviewed research studies, which provide evidence that children thrive and have better social and educational outcomes when both parents are involved in their lives. This is a human rights and children’s rights issue that our sex discrimination commissioner should be visibly championing.
There are several decades of data showing that boys are falling behind in our education system with these trends continuing to be evident in the ongoing NAPLAN data collection. The proportion of young men enrolling in and graduating from tertiary education courses continues to decline. In 2009 of the 175,070 domestic students completing a tertiary degree 60% were female and only 40% were male, and in 2010 of the students commencing tertiary study 56.2% were female.
Why does our sex discrimination commissioner appear unconcerned about this gender inequity and why is she not working to redress the situation and improve educational opportunities for our boys and young men?
Health inequalities affecting men have finally gained some recognition with the federal government producing the first Men’s Health Policy in 2010. Male life expectancy continues to trail that of women by approximately 5 years. Suicide rates, long recognised as an indicator of social cohesiveness, are 3 times greater for Australian men compared with women. Men continue to face inequalities of access to health services and funding for male specific diseases trails spending on female specific health issues.
One of your notable causes is that of increasing female representation on company boards, with the goal of parity representation and associated legislation of quotas to achieve this goal. We agree that any career-minded woman who aspires to a company board position should have the opportunity of appointment and not face any discrimination on the basis of her gender. She should however compete equally with others of either gender who have the same aspirations.
As a comparison, however, please consider some of the occupations at the bottom of the status list, the “dirty and dangerous occupations,” which have the highest rates of occupational deaths (Men accounted for 93% of workplace fatalities in Australia in 2009-2010.). Should you not also be advocating for equality of representation in these jobs? Indeed some women are now choosing to enter such occupations, so should we not, if we are to be consistent have quotas and campaigns to see women equally represented in all occupations? Or perhaps this is a situation in which you consider the choice of individuals to negate the goal of parity or “equality” of representation, in which case we must question why?
These are but a few of the issues where men, boys and children are suffering because of entrenched anti male sexism in our society. We acknowledge that there is entrenched anti-female sexism is some areas and that this should be addressed, but there is an irony and intrinsic unfairness in having a commissioner who should be addressing sexism in all its varieties, predominantly addressing the concerns of women.
Ms. Broderick, we invite you to redress this deficiency, by speaking out against sexism in all it forms, and actively showing concern for men and boys. You might consider becoming an Ambassador for International Men’s Day or at least draw attention to its existence on your web site where International Women’s Day is extensively promoted. Australia could lead the way in supporting men and boys by the introduction to the United Nations of a Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Men. You might even consider advocating for the introduction federal and state based Office’s for Men with Minister’s for Men and Boys. Whatever you do, please do something to demonstrate that as our Sex Discrimination Commissioner, you oppose sexism against men and boys too, not just against women and girls.
Dr. Greg Canning
Chairman, Townsville International Men’s Day Committee
6 Feb 2012
The following concerned Australians have endorsed this letter:
Bill Kable, Program Director Dads on the Air
Kathryn Barrett, Producer Dads on the Air
Greg Andresen, Research & Media Liaison, Men’s Health Australia
Micheal Woods, Research Associate, Argyle Research
Ash Patil, Fathers for Equality
Mr. Paul Miles
Brian Mier, Eagle Health Resources
Ian Butler, A/Chair. Richard Hillman Foundation Inc.
Peter van de Voorde, Interpaal Productions.
Peter Burford, Social Worker
Harry Crouch, President, National Coalition For Men
Warwick Marsh, Fatherhood Foundation
Ric Colclough, Counsellor, Maleny. Qld
Julie Mason, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
Keryn Eden, Fullarton, SA.
Mick Eden, Fullarton, SA
Philip Cook, Minlaton, SA
Steve Wickenden, Qld
This letter has been distributed to:
Catherine Branson QC, The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Commissioner
The Hon Julia Gillard, Prime Minister
The Hon. Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition
The Hon Wayne Swan, Deputy Prime Minister
The Hon Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth
Senator the Hon Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research
The Hon Nicola Roxon, Attorney-General
The Hon Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
The Hon Julie Collins, Minister for Community Services and Minister for the Status of Women
The Hon Bill Shorten, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
The Hon Brendan O’Connor, Minister Assisting for School Education
The Hon Kate Ellis, Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare, Minister for Employment Participation
Senator the Hon Jacinta Collins, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations
The Hon Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Health
The Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing
The Hon Warren Snowdon, Minister for Indigenous Health
The Hon Catherine King, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing
The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, Minister for Human Services
Senator the Hon Eric Abetz, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
The Hon Joe Hockey, Shadow Treasurer
The Hon Christopher Pyne, Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training
Senator the Hon George Brandis, Shadow Attorney-General
The Hon Peter Dutton, Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing
The Hon Kevin Andrews, Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services
The Hon Sussan Ley, Shadow Minister for Employment Participation
The Hon Luke Hartsuyker, Shadow Minister for Youth and Sport
The Hon Michael Keenan, Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection
Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Shadow Minister for Ageing Shadow Minister for Mental Health
Glen Boreham, Non-Executive Director, Data#3
Stephen Roberts, Chief Country Officer, Citi Australia
Alan Joyce, CEO, Qantas
Gordon Cairns, Non-Executive Director, Origin
Ralph Norris, CEO, Commonwealth Bank
David Peever, Managing Director, Rio Tinto Australia
Kevin McCann AM, Non-Executive Director, Bluscope Steel
Giam Swiegers, CEO, Deloitte Australia
David Thodey, CEO, Telstra Ltd
Mike Smith, CEO, ANZ
Stephen Fitzgerald, Chair, Goldman Sachs Australia Pty Ltd
Michael Luscombe, Former CEO, Woolworths Ltd
Stephen Sedgwick, Public Service Commissioner
Andrew Stevens, Managing Director, IBM Australia and New Zealand
Grant O’Brien, CEO, Woolworths Ltd
General Press release to Australian media outlets