Thursday, 2 September 2021
Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
[by video link] I'm keen to commend the substantive bill before the House today, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021. It has a lot of measures in it that will ensure that women are treated equally in the workplace, free of harassment and sexual intimidation. It's an incredibly important bill. In my own life, as many other members know, I'm lucky to be surrounded by very strong and confident women—in the workplace, Alyson, who runs my office, and Georgia; and, at home, my wife, Maddy, and my daughter, Isabelle. But, as the government considered its response to the Respect@Work report, some of the stories they told me about their treatment in previous workplaces were truly shocking and upsetting, and I'm sure other members have heard of similar experiences as this process has gone through its stages.
The legislative changes before us are important, they're necessary, and—I hope—if I could present a succinct summary, they will send a very clear message to men who undertake this kind of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace: 'Your time is up, and it won't be tolerated. This behaviour is unacceptable, and it always has been.' These changes will go a long way to ensuring that the workplace is free of harassment and sexual intimidation of women.
There is another aspect of this bill that in fact wasn't recommended as part of the Jenkins report but is in there, and I want to speak about it today. Some of my colleagues will cover off in greater detail the other measures of this bill. I wanted to use the majority of my time to talk about the important provision in the bill to extend compassionate or bereavement leave to those couples who suffer a miscarriage.
I wish I could be there in the chamber with you today, but there are a lot of disappointments as part of COVID—border closures and all the rest of it—for every Australian, so my disappointment pales in comparison. But I wanted to give this speech to you in person in the House because it is such a passion of mine and these are changes the parliament will support today. I don't want to understate these changes. It is pretty rare that this parliament changes the Fair Work Act and even rarer that this parliament extends new leave provisions, but that is what we're doing for Australian couples today by extending them two days of compassionate or bereavement leave when they suffer a miscarriage.
This particular change has been championed by the Pink Elephants Support Network, and I want to pay tribute to them, as the minister did and as Minister Cash did in the Senate last night. Particularly with regard to the Pink Elephants Support Network, I want to read the names associated with the network onto the Hansard. Samantha Payne is the co-founder and CEO. Sarah-Jane Monahas is the COO and Katrina Groshinski is on the board. I acknowledge them for the incredible work that they do at the Pink Elephants Support Network, which supports women and couples who are going through the loss of miscarriage. Together these three incredibly strong women have created the Leave for Loss campaign. They're championing the idea of additional leave from workplaces being given to couples who are suffering miscarriage. I have to say that the workplaces of Australia, workplaces around our nation, have been incredible in getting behind the Leave for Loss campaign. They have extended leave and, in some cases, very large companies give leave of up to five days to affected employees. That was a large part of the initial success of the Leave for Loss campaign.
I am also delighted that I got a chance to be part of the Leave for Loss campaign and to champion it within this House and to the government to ensure that bereavement or compassionate leave is extended to all couples who find themselves in this situation in all workplaces around the nation. We went through a process as we were talking to the various ministers about this particular change and what it entailed. I'm seeking feedback from the small-business community around the nation. They were overwhelmingly supportive, with over 70 per cent of small businesses that we surveyed supporting this campaign. The survey was conducted during the stress of the pandemic and everything else, so at a time when they had a lot of things to worry about, including their own survival. But over 70 per cent of small businesses we surveyed strongly supported or were very supportive of the idea of extending additional leave entitlements to couples going through miscarriage. I want to thank those small businesses for their support.
I also want to thank Minister Porter and Minister Cash, the two Attorneys-General during the period that the construction of this bill was under consideration. Both of them have been incredibly receptive and diligent. They listened to people from the Pink Elephants Support Network and to me. They listened to the stories of couples around the nation who have been impacted by miscarriage and they have taken those concerns on board in looking at how we might incorporate additional leave provisions in these Fair Work Act changes. The ministers are supported by incredibly diligent people in their offices, like Jess and Callum, who have been there along the journey with us as well. Thank you to them. I think one of the reasons why both Minister Cash and Minister Porter and all those small businesses around the nation were so supportive and keen to get behind this amendment is that miscarriage is something that affects so many couples and so many women around the nation. We reel off the statistic that one in four pregnancies end in loss. That means 283 women a day are suffering a pregnancy loss, the vast majority of them before 12 weeks in the form of a miscarriage, and 74 per cent of women who suffered a miscarriage felt unsupported. That is an absolute tragedy in our nation, and I hope that this new provision of extending compassionate or bereavement leave will go some way to rectifying that.
We know the stats—much as we like to reel them off—are not the full story. You have to talk to people who have been through miscarriage or you have to have been through it yourself to truly understand the strain and grief that it puts so many women and so many couples under. It's no secret that my own family has been through miscarriage. A lot of women and couples who go through miscarriage go through multiple miscarriages, and it doesn't get easier. In fact, it gets remarkably harder with each and every occurrence that they go through.
With the indulgence of the House, I will read a little from the words of my own wife, from when she was reflecting on the miscarriage journey that we've been through. She said:
I think it's really important, because it's something people shouldn't be embarrassed about. I think it's the only kind of loss people don't talk about. If someone in your family dies, you don't pretend that you're okay. You let them know that you are grieving and that you're sad, and I think the more people talk about it, the less people feel they need to hide it and the more sensitive people will be about asking whether or not you're planning a family, how it's going and those kind of things.
Those were a little bit of her words about our story. Our story has driven me to be a champion of these particular changes. If I had my time again, and I've said this before in the House, my family would have taken more time to grieve our losses from miscarriage. My wife was one of those who shouldered the burden and was back at work that very same day, not because she didn't have a supportive boss—she had a very supportive boss—but because isn't that just what people do? This is a loss that normally isn't acknowledged. That has got to stop. It has to stop with these changes that are supported by both the government and Labor. Of course, the leave that we're extending—the two days not just to women who suffer miscarriage but to couples—isn't enough. They're not going to get over it in two days. But this is meant to send a very strong message to couples that early pregnancy loss is a very real loss. It is something that you have to take time to grieve. It won't be better tomorrow or the day after, but take time now to grieve—it will be better with the passage of time.
It's important that you talk about it as a couple, that you come together and take those two days to talk about what you've lost—the hopes and dreams and what could have been that you've lost. It's important that you take time to grieve as a workplace right, not as something that has to be negotiated with the boss, not as something that, at a time when you're feeling a great deal of pain, both physical and mentally, you have to walk down the hall to the boss and try and negotiate a leave entitlement but as something that you know is there for the taking for a reason—so that you can go through the grieving process together. And in doing that, know that there's support that you can reach out to. You can reach out to the Pink Elephants Support Network and be part of that community of so many couples who have gone through it, so many couples who are happy to share their experiences with you, who are happy to support you. And, perhaps, at a time when you don't even feel like you want to talk to your closest family about what happened, you can talk to those couples who have been through a very similar thing.
This government has a very proud record of supporting Australian families; of protecting our kids, protecting them from exploitation; and of supporting couples through the horrors of stillbirth, which we have done previously, and now with these amendments around miscarriage. I really want to acknowledge that there is bipartisan support for this part of the bill, and I thank Labor very much for their support, but that doesn't diminish the fact that it's the government that has driven this change and that has brought it to the House for voting on. It's one of the reasons why I'm so proud to be a member of a government that is supporting Australian families. With those remarks, I will simply say that I hope this change, this new leave entitlement extending compassionate and bereavement leave to those couples who suffer miscarriage, will go a long way to easing the pain of this very difficult time that so many couples in Australia go through.
Thank you again to The Pink Elephants Support Network for all the wonderful work they do and for driving this change within the community. Thank you to Minister Porter and Minister Cash for helping me to drive this change within the government. This change isn't just for my own family, who have suffered loss through miscarriage; it is for every family who has suffered loss through miscarriage. It is for every family and couple in my electorate of Ryan and for every couple and family in Australia who go through this. We're here with you to support you; you mustn't go through these things alone. I'm very proud to be part of a government that has brought it to this place to make it a reality.