In 1997, the mayor of Port Stephens, Bruce MacKenzie, “headbutted his de facto wife until his nose bled” and “beat her head against a tiled floor”, according to a newspaper report from that time.
Nearly two decades later, Cr MacKenzie opened a domestic violence shelter in the NSW central coast town where he is mayor.
The town’s council, with Cr Mackenzie’s proud endorsement, decided it would be called The Bruce MacKenzie Centre for Victims of Domestic Violence.
You read that right.
Perhaps if the centre was set up to corrale perpetrators of domestic violence, the name would work. The Bruce MacKenzie Centre to Keep Domestic Violence Offenders Away From The Rest Of Us doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but would certainly make more sense.
Unsurprisingly the people of Port Stephens and beyond were less than impressed with the decision. A petition was launched by domestic violence support group The RED HEART Campaign, insisting that the mayor remove his name from the centre. The council, it said, “completely disregarded MacKenzie's abusive past [by] rewarding him with naming rights on a crisis shelter for vulnerable women escaping violent men."
Mr MacKenzie responded with the sort of measured reply one might expect from a man accused of giving his wife a bleeding nose. His detractors, he said could “jump in the creek”, according to The Daily Telegraph.
As convenient as that might have been for Mr MacKenzie – would have saved him headbutting them – domestic violence support advocates declined this directive. And as the public outcry reached a peak, he agreed to remove his name from the centre.
Cr MacKenzie said he did not want anything to "overshadow" the establishment of the facility and he thought it was more appropriate the refuge be named after "an individual who has made a significant contribution to women's issues in Port Stephens", a release from the council read. Cr McKenzie also insisted it was the council’s idea, not his, to put his name on the centre. And he said the 1997 incident with his wife was a ‘misunderstanding’ and that he “tackled” rather than headbutted.
So that’s all right then.
But Cr MacKenzie was unable to resist adding, with the tone of a man who doesn’t like to lose, that "other than me, would this destination for domestic violence have happened? The answer is no.”
Actually the answer to this entire, sorry incident, Cr MacKenzie, is a resounding no from all corners. No, you do not deserve special credit for helping to set up a shelter for women in a town that has two and a half times the NSW average of domestic violence. It should be mandatory and a given in every town in Australia and built a long time ago. And no, you certainly don’t get the right to put your name on it when it does materialise, given your appalling background. Certainly not when you dismiss your offending as a mere ‘misunderstanding”’
Let there be no misunderstanding about this. A person is allowed to move forward from committing an act like Cr MacKenzie’s. We all deserve forgiveness if we prove ourselves to have been reformed. But your redemption comes with an enormous and unimpeachable caveat: it must be one of total humility. It is never, ever about you. It’s about your victim and victims everywhere. You forfeit your right to any glory that veers anywhere near the thing you did. End of story.
And if you don’t like it, you know exactly where you can jump.