Speeches

Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 Second Reading Speech

December 03, 2018

 

It is really pleasing to be able to stand here and support, albeit with reservations, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, a piece of legislation that is about having some action in helping women and their families to escape domestic violence. We are supportive of this bill, which will formally establish the right for all workers to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave, but that's the kicker—it's the unpaid bit of it. That unfortunately makes this legislation a bit tokenistic. Clearly, the government is following, not leading, on this issue, following a decision by Fair Work Australia. What we really need to see is paid domestic violence leave, and that would require a government to lead on that issue. Sadly, we're not seeing that. This is a Liberal government that has said a lot of words about domestic violence in the two and a half years that I've been in this place, but there has been so little action.

 

What the amendment today will allow for is that workers can maintain secure employment and be able to access services and do the things they need to do to escape violence. Many of those things are only able to be done in normal nine-to-five business hours. While there is no doubt it is a step in the right direction, it is a pretty small step and it certainly doesn't go far enough.

 

I think we should just look at the problem that we face. One woman a week will be killed due to domestic violence in Australia. That is really nothing short of an epidemic. It's absolutely a national tragedy. For every life lost there are enormous consequences for families and for children. One in six Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. Over 60 per cent of women who experience violence from a current partner are working, so this is not just something that affects you in the privacy of your own home. It affects you every moment of every day in your workplace, when you're picking kids up from school, when you're trying to cook the dinner at night. It affects every moment of your life if you're in a violent relationship. We also know that when a woman is able to leave a violent relationship, that's when she is most at risk. It's the single most dangerous time for her. The newspapers have far too many stories showing just what that danger looks like.

 

The practicality of it is that the cost of leaving an abusive relationship is high. There is the cost of relocation, maybe even including breaking a lease; medical and counselling bills; moving house costs; or even the loss of access to a car. Then there is the time involved. It doesn't take hours to sort out legal and medical things, new schools for children, new child care arrangements—it takes days and weeks.

 

I have not been in a violent relationship, but I have had to suddenly change where I live as a result of a fire destroying my house. That experience of one moment having a place to live and the next moment not gave me a tiny insight into the logistics of it—changing addresses on everything: your licence, your credit card, your Medicare card; doing the logistics of re-establishing your life, let alone finding somewhere to live at short notice, including with children. So I really think that when we look at the number of days here, five days unpaid leave is barely scratching the surface of what may be required in a worst-case scenario for families, for women, for their children.

 

The Australian Services Union is in a unique position to see the importance of paid domestic violence leave. Their workers are in the front line of family violence. They are in refuges, they are in women's health services, they are in community groups. These are the people who pick up the pieces when lives fall apart and support women and their children going through the whole gamut of domestic violence. The ASU recognises that their own workers should have access to paid domestic violence leave as well. They recognise that paid domestic violence leave prevents further harm being done to someone's long-term health and wellbeing and reduces the risk of that person facing poverty and homelessness. So really we're talking about something that at the right time makes an enormous difference to what follows.

 

There's no doubt this place needs to do more to support survivors of domestic violence. Rosie Batty has made the point that knowing her workplace supported her while she had to leave to do things like attending court hearings

 

 

would have made a real difference. The workplace can sometimes be an escape from the violence, but it can be possibly the single most supportive environment to follow through on your decision to leave.

 

Last year Labor announced that a Shorten Labor government would introduce 10 days of paid domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards. We have listened to survivors, to frontline workers, to businesses, to the union movement and to organisations who deal with domestic violence daily, and their message is really clear.

 

It's so clear that one government that very rarely gets what the community wants, the New South Wales Liberal government, has actually introduced 10 days paid domestic violence leave for New South Wales public sector employees. I congratulate them on that. I'm pleased to see that they understand the impact it can have on people, not just on people but on workplaces as well. The New South Wales government has brought in their 10 days of paid domestic and family violence leave per year for every public sector employee, which includes, of course, teachers, nurses and police. That will come in from 1 January next year. I particularly note the words that were said when they made that announcement. The Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Pru Goward, with whom I was a journalist in this place more than 30 years ago, said this:

 

Paid work is critical in providing financial stability to people experiencing domestic and family violence, which is why the NSW Government is introducing this important reform to leave entitlements.

 

So it is a purely pragmatic decision as well as a hugely supportive decision for a government to make, and it is very disappointing that this government has not seen the logic of it.

 

It has been noted already in this chamber, but I should also note that New Zealand has brought in 10 days paid domestic violence leave. The way they saw it was that it was part of a whole-of-society response, really signalling that this issue is not something that police alone deal with or courts alone deal with. So there is symbolism to this as well, particularly where we're talking about paid domestic violence leave.

 

One of the arguments put by those opposite, and others, for not mandating paid domestic violence leave is that it is a cost. But, honestly, good small-business employers wouldn't think twice about giving their staff time off if they knew domestic violence was involved. There might not be a legal obligation to intervene, but, as a small-business employer, I certainly would have felt I had a moral obligation to my staff and to my team. Small businesses   do know the economic costs of domestic violence to their business, as do large corporations, and the costs are high. The figures vary between researchers, but they're in the millions of dollars. That is what's currently being lost because of a lack of action on paid domestic violence leave. Some of those costs include lost productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover.

 

An academic working in the gender-related-violence studies area, Ludo McFerran's work says that it's a mistake for businesses to think that domestic violence is a personal issue that doesn't affect the workplace. In fact, he points out, all staff in a workplace are affected. He tells with brutal honesty the reality: that victims of domestic abuse talk to their co-workers, that it is often these people who try and help them, and that, then, that's the very thing that puts the co-workers at risk. So the message that Ludo gives to employers is that domestic violence ends up costing them money through lost productivity, but it also affects the safety of all staff—yet another good reason to be extending this five days unpaid leave into something more meaningful.

 

There are already small businesses in my electorate doing enormous things to support their employees. I'm not going to name the business and I'm not going to name the exact location, but there is a business in my electorate in the Blue Mountains where one of the staff members did need to leave. They were in a violent relationship and they needed to leave. They needed to go a long way away. This business didn't think twice. This was a valued staff member, so they supported this person in leaving and in relocating to another city. And it wasn't just short- term support, they have continued to employ this person, who now works remotely and does her job for this business to the same high standard that she was doing it before. It was a small business that was willing to make some adaptations to make it work, and that will have changed the life outcome for this woman. So there are small businesses who go well beyond that five days leave, because they know that retaining valuable employees is so important and that, actually, a bit of flexibility and a bit of help can improve productivity. People who have experienced domestic violence do need support, and, for many, their workplaces will have some of the most supportive mechanisms that they have around them.

 

 

We know big companies are also already taking far more action on this issue than this parliament is taking today. Many companies already provide 10 days paid domestic violence leave, including companies like Carlton & United Breweries, Telstra, NAB, Virgin Australia, IKEA and Qantas. These employers and many others are really paving the way to help reduce the stigma that often accompanies domestic violence.

 

Many of Australia's unions have been campaigning for paid domestic and family violence leave over many years and that has led to some subsequent coverage in many Australian workplaces. But this parliament has a role to play, and we really could be doing more. We could do more than five days unpaid leave. Ninety-four per cent of employers agree that employers should take a leadership role in educating their workforce about respectful relationships between men and women, and I know many workplaces would be willing to take a next step to be able to support staff and, ideally, retain those staff as they move through very difficult circumstances.

 

The effects of domestic violence are not only felt while the abuse is ongoing. They can reverberate for many years after the violence has stopped, and this has substantial consequences for career progression and also for potential future earnings. Where someone has had to leave their job, where their leave has run out and they've exhausted all other avenues and felt they had no other option but to leave work to be able to escape their situation, that's where we do even greater economic damage, not just to that individual and her family but to our whole economy. Victims of domestic violence are more likely to experience food insecurity, to struggle to find affordable housing and to cover the basic essentials like utility bills. Domestic violence victims are more likely to experience anxiety over their ability to support their children, even when compared to others on low incomes. In fact, it's all intensified for low-income women. Whether it's a few hours out of a day that someone misses   or it's a whole day, a few days a week or a few months out of the year, all that missed employment translates into lost income.

 

Providing paid family violence leave means we're not asking victims to choose to forgo the support that they need for the sake of financial security. I think that's a very minimal thing for us to be able to do. Certainly Labor is committed to doing this and making sure that victims may be better able to weather the storm of domestic and family violence. We have our $88 million Safe Housing program and $49 million additional for legal aid funding, if we are successful at the next election. Along with things like banning cross-examinations, which  we have called for for a very long time, so that victims of domestic violence cannot be cross-examined by the perpetrator, these are some of the things that we can do. Our announcement last week of an $18 million anti- domestic-violence program is another step to make sure that, as a parliament, as a society and as an economy, we're doing everything we can to make this place better for those who have found themselves in a violent situation but have the bravery to leave that situation.

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