Another tragic family killing in Western Australia

The discovery of the bodies of five members of the one family, comprising three generations, in the Western Australian state capital of Perth, has raised further serious questions about the social crisis engulfing the once booming mining state.

It is alleged that on September 3, the day after Fathers’ Day, Anthony Robert Harvey, 24 years old, murdered his wife, Mara Lee Harvey, 41 and their three children—Alice and Beatrix, two-year-old twins, and Charlotte, aged three and a half. The next day, Beverley Ann Quinn, Mara’s mother, was allegedly killed when she arrived, as she often did, to assist her daughter with the children and the household chores.

Police accuse Harvey of staying in the house for some days with his dead family before travelling 1,500 kilometres north to his father’s home in Pannawonica where he turned himself in.

The bodies were discovered by police on September 9, based on the information provided by Harvey. However, police did not inform Mara’s only sister, Taryn Tottman, of her mother’s, sister’s and nieces’ deaths. She and her family found out on the news.

The children’s mother, Mara, who with Harvey had previously worked for Sino Steel Pilbara mines in the state’s north as fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers, had finished a shift stocking shelves at a Coles supermarket at 11 p.m. prior to her death. She and Harvey, her husband of almost three years, owned a Jim’s Mowing franchise. The couple reportedly bought into the franchise by selling some properties owned by Mara.

Mara’s family said there were no indications of problems in the household and that the tragedy was “unfathomable.” Most neighbours in the Bedford suburb, where the Harvey family lived, reported there were never conflicts or arguments and the children were happy and healthy.

Friends told Daily Mail Australia the only problem appeared to be that their Jim’s Mowing franchise was “slow” and not making enough money. Mara had been forced to get a night-fill job at Coles and try to sell an investment unit she bought while working in the mine, but it had been on the market since January without success.

One next-door neighbour told the Australian that Harvey had recently talked to him about the stress of running his own business and the money worries it had created. “There were a couple of times he had been quite ill with the flu and he was having to get up and go to work anyway,” the neighbour recalled. “He said there was no money coming in unless he was out there.”

Harvey’s boss, Jim Penman, heads the Jim Group, Australia’s largest franchise operation, with 3,800 franchisees in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. He described Harvey as a “respected and well-liked franchisee.” Penman reported that Harvey emailed quotes for two gardening jobs just hours before the alleged murders and completed two mowing assignments on the day after the killings. It appeared “as if everything was normal.”

If the Harveys were under financial and personal pressure from the purchase of the franchise, they would not have been alone. The current royal commission into the predatory practices of the banking and financial system has heard evidence from franchisees who bought their businesses only to find the advertised “business model” impossible to meet, in part because the information they were given on purchase was wrong. Many had declared bankruptcy, losing their homes, life savings and health in the process.

A current federal parliamentary inquiry has heard of similar experiences by franchisees, including laid-off or retired workers, but has yet to produce a report, with its deadline extended from September 30 to December 6.

The shocking deaths are the third domestic violence-related mass killing in Western Australia (WA) in four months. It follows May’s murder-suicide of a family of seven, including four children, in Osmington near Margaret River in the state’s southeast, and the death of a mother and two children in July in Perth, allegedly at the hands of her son and the girls’ brother.

According to police records, 23 people have been killed in domestic violence-related incidents, during the less than nine months of 2018, more than double the number for the whole of 2017. The victims have been nine children, ten women and four men. It is alleged that two of the four men were killed by their own sons.

Politicians, state and federal, Liberal-National and Labor, have responded with typical empty platitudes, declaring the tragedy “incomprehensible,” “horrible” and “senseless.” The state’s Labor Party Deputy Premier Roger Cook advised “everyone” to “go home and hug their kids.”

Premier Mark McGowan immediately sought to divorce the tragedy from social spending cuts announced last year by his newly-elected government. “It isn’t always about funding,” he insisted. In other words, the cuts will go ahead irrespective of the consequences.

While there is little information known of the motives behind the alleged murders, the context in which they have occurred is one of growing social crisis.

In WA, a long mining boom, which relied almost entirely on exports to China and other Asian markets, has collapsed, leaving in its wake growing poverty and despair. House and unit prices that skyrocketed in line with the price of iron ore and increased demand have plummeted by almost 73 percent. CoreLogic Property Data states that Perth’s property market has performed worse than any other capital city in the country. Of the 20 worst performing markets throughout the country, half were in WA and they covered the entire state.

In April 2018, WA recorded a 6.9 percent official unemployment rate, its highest in 16 years, with youth unemployment rising to a staggering 17.1 percent, the highest in the country. The unemployment figure has since dropped to 6 percent, but mainly due to increases in part-time and casual jobs. According to Deloitte Access Economics 11,800 jobs were created in the state in the year to July 2018, with only 1,800 being full-time.

The WA Labor government, elected in March 2017, has embarked on a program of job cuts and a public sector wage freeze. Its first budget slated 3,000 jobs for elimination in the public service. The May 2018 budget then hit low and medium-income households with water price rises, following electricity and transport price hikes last year.

Personal insolvency cases in WA jumped by 26 percent at the beginning of 2017, as compared to a 1 percent increase nationally. At the same time, the wealthiest 20 percent of WA households held almost two-thirds of the state’s wealth, while the poorest 20 percent held less than 1 percent.

What actually provoked Anthony Harvey on the evening of September 3 to allegedly kill his entire family is, as yet, unclear. But the growing economic crisis, insecurity surrounding work and income can have had only a destabilising impact on the young man.

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