The annual RMIT lecture, which celebrates the legacy of politician and chief justice George Higinbotham (1826-1892), looks at topical legal issues and the interaction between the law and society.
Guest speaker, the Honourable Marcia Neave AO, spoke to more than 130 attendees about finding freedom from family violence and whether a human rights framework would help.
Neave is the former Justice of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria and Chair of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
She argued that family violence is not a problem experienced by people you don't know.
"We are all vulnerable. It is pervasive, it is unacceptable, it harms us and we need to stop it," she said.
Neave explained that the obligation of the state to provide effective legal responses to protect people from family violence is often said to be based on acknowledgment of the human rights of family violence victims.
She suggested that although arguments based on human rights justify criticisms of inadequate state responses to family violence, they do not go far enough.
Neave went on to discuss Professor Martha Fineman’s use of the concept of the vulnerable subject, as a broader rationale for assumption of governmental responsibility.
Fineman’s work argues that adoption of a broader concept of vulnerability could require government to put policies in place to prevent family violence, help victims to recover from the long term effects of violence and, so far as possible, support the users of violence to change their behaviour.
Neave explained that the Royal Commission into Family Violence made a number of recommendations to achieve these goals. She argued that a focus on vulnerability, rather than on human rights alone, could underpin a more effective and fairer public policy response to the widespread and intractable social evil of family violence.
Neave implored attendees to be optimistic and to keep campaigning for change.
"The best way to keep people safe from violence is changing the behaviour of those who use it - but behaviour change is difficult," she said.
"We need to start young - model behaviour right throughout society, particularly in schools. It is very important. Behaviour change is slow but no social change has a quick fix.”
Story: Ainslie Logsdon