House debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018


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

10:22 am

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this bill, but before I do so I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes the Government's failure to match Labor's commitment to 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave, which is part of this Government’s wider failure to ensure all Australian workers have decent pay and workplace conditions".

Tragically, on average, one woman a week is killed in Australia as a result of domestic violence. It is the leading cause of death, disability and illness amongst women age between 15 and 44 years of age. Domestic and family violence doesn't discriminate. It's a public matter as much as it's a private matter, and it intrudes into many aspects of life. According to media reports, Australian police are dealing with 5,000 domestic and family violence matters per week. This is not an issue that we can simply leave to the police to deal with. The complexity of the issue requires a strategic approach by all levels of government, business, unions and the community. It is a national tragedy which requires a multipronged response, including a workplace response.

Labor has listened to victims, frontline workers, businesses, unions and organisations that deal daily with domestic violence. Their clear message is that people who've experienced domestic violence need more support in the workplace. The ABS estimates that around two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. There can be no doubt that a comprehensive response to domestic violence involves a workplace response. Labor welcomes the government's belated response to domestic violence by providing five days unpaid leave in the National Employment Standards.

The Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 follows the decision of the Fair Work Commission in March this year to insert a clause into modern awards providing five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. This decision came into effect from 1 August this year, meaning that more than two million award-reliant employees are now entitled to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. The bill amends the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with an entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave if they are experiencing family and domestic violence, they need to do something to deal with the impact of that family and domestic violence and it is impractical to do that thing outside their ordinary hours of work. The provisions of the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 appear to reflect the model clause and provide that the five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave entitlement: will apply to all employees, including casuals; will be available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period, rather than accruing progressively through the course of a year; will not accumulate from year to year; and will be available for full-time, part-time and casual employees.

It is somewhat disappointing that it's taken this long for the government to move from their absolute opposition to family and domestic violence leave to their belated support for unpaid leave. We note that the relevant minister at the time first committed to unpaid leave at the end of March but did not introduce this bill until September. Following Labor's persistent criticism and calls to bring the bill on for debate, the government have finally relented.

While this bill is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. It should provide for paid family and domestic violence leave. Almost a year ago, Labor announced that a Shorten Labor government, if elected, will introduce 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards. Labor are leading the way on this important issue. We are disappointed that the government have refused to join us in this important reform.

We know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. She may need to find new accommodation security, get an apprehended violence order from police, seek treatment for injuries or perhaps attend court appearances. Women should not also have to worry about losing their jobs or losing income while they are in an abusive relationship that has them fearing for their lives and, in some cases, fearing for their children's lives.

The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee recently completed an inquiry into the bill. The dissenting report comments:

… it is a missed opportunity to make far reaching and more meaningful changes to family and domestic violence leave through the implementation of 10 days paid leave.

One of the numerous submissions was from the Law Council of Australia, which echoed Labor's position, recommending:

… additional measures, including increasing the number of leave days and providing for paid leave, in accordance with best practice, be considered in the future.

In addition to the Law Council, the Catholic Women's League Australia advocated in their submission for the leave to be paid, as did the Australian Human Rights Commission, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the ACTU and a number of other unions. These organisations called for paid family and domestic violence leave because they are well aware that the financial and other implications of an absence of such leave for too many women are serious. Too many women cannot risk the financial pain of losing pay by taking time off work to deal with and leave an abusive relationship.

You just have to think about how quickly the costs accumulate when you consider what needs to be done to leave an abusive relationship—lawyers, counsellors, doctors, schools, real estate agents and moving house. This takes time, often in work hours, and costs money. This combined stress should not be compounded by fear of losing your job or the financial disadvantage of going without pay. If a woman needs to take time off work to do these vital things to keep herself and her family safe, she should be able to count on continuing to receive a pay cheque and being able to go back to work.

Without financial independence, how can we expect women to leave abusive relationships? Financial insecurity significantly impacts on women's decisions to leave or stay. Anecdotal reports from domestic violence frontline workers indicate that some women delay leaving violent relationships because they fear the time off work required will lead to them losing their job, undermining their ability to support themselves and their children. For some women, their workplace is a support mechanism. Their work colleagues, and sometimes their employer, may be the most important support that they have in these situations. The financial security of paid employment will help women avoid becoming trapped in violent relationships, while maintaining their home and standard of living.

The Law Council's justice project highlighted that women who experience family violence often:

… have a more disrupted work history, are on lower personal incomes, have had to change jobs frequently and are [more] often employed in casual and part time work, compared to women with no experience of violence.

In their submission to the Senate inquiry into the bill, Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia commented that:

… for many individuals experiencing FDV

family and domestic violence—

it is simply not possible to forgo a full week of wages in order to take unpaid FDV leave.

Domestic violence directly impacts on women's financial security in both the short and long term. According to estimates by the ACTU, leaving a violent relationship can cost on average $18,000 and take 141 hours. A 2015 PwC report submitted to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence estimated that the financial cost to a woman experiencing physical violence, sexual violence and emotional abuse by a partner is on average $27,000.

We call on the government to join Labor's lead, accept that this leave should be paid and start to genuinely support women who are subject to this violence. Other jurisdictions have introduced paid domestic violence leave. They've led the way, given there's a void in the federal jurisdiction. Indeed, even other countries are leading the way. For example, in July this year New Zealand legislated paid family domestic violence leave, guaranteeing 10 days paid leave for all workers who are experiencing violence and need to escape. Queensland and Western Australia offer 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 and Victoria and the ACT offers 20. Last week the New South Wales Liberal government announced 10 days paid leave for public servants. If the New South Wales Liberal government can see how important this is, why can't the federal Liberal government?

In the federal system, many employers already provide paid family and domestic violence leave to their workforce through enterprise agreements. More than 1,000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between 1 January 2016 and 30 January 2017 provided for 10 or more days of paid domestic and family violence leave. The companies include flagship companies such as Telstra, Carlton United Breweries, NAB, Virgin Australia, IKEA, Qantas and Aldi Australia. Indeed, many companies, through negotiation with their workforce and their unions, have been providing 10 paid days leave. These are big companies in the private sector who fully understand and appreciate the support they must give those employees who might be subject to this awful, dire situation.

When you can see that companies in the private sector, along with state governments and other countries such as New Zealand, understand the need to provide real support, not token support, for women in these dire circumstances, surely the minister, who likes to stand at the despatch box opposite and talk about how much support this current government is providing to women, can see the need to accede to the request and allow for paid domestic and family violence leave. But it would appear that these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. This government is not listening to a constituency that is hurting or to the stakeholders that work in this area each and every day picking up the broken pieces of families that have been torn apart by violence and women who have been subject to physical, emotional and sexual abuse. This government can't find it in its heart to accept an amendment that is now becoming, to be honest, a mainstream workplace right in many, many workplaces in this country. The government is not leading the way but slowly following, in the most modest of terms, to provide any form of support for many of our people in our community who are suffering.

I do applaud those companies. Either they've done this subject to negotiation or they've done this unilaterally and chosen to create a policy that provides 10 or more days paid leave. I pay tribute to them, as I pay tribute to the unions. The unions have been campaigning for paid family and domestic violence leave over many years and negotiating domestic leave coverage in Australian workplaces. There is now a critical mass of workplaces that provide domestic violence leave. One of the arguments the government has put forward against this is, 'We can't do this in the private sector.' Companies are moving to do this, and have been doing this. It would appear, in so many ways, that this government is so far behind community expectations and community aspirations. It is so far behind. It is stuck in the past and doesn't understand the need to move decisively and properly in this area.

It would be remiss of me not to remind people of the government's history. Along with the deficient and belated policy, the Liberals have an appalling record of opposing family and domestic violence leave. We can't forget that the finance minister, Senator Mathias Cormann, rejected domestic violence leave, saying:

We just believe it's another cost on our economy that will have an impact on our international competitiveness.

Senator Cormann is obviously confused. It's domestic violence, not domestic violence leave, that costs our economy and harms our international competitiveness.

In a terrifying display of how out of touch the Liberals really are, the former Minister for Women even argued that family and domestic violence leave would make women less attractive to employers, saying that it would act as a perverse disincentive. The idea that employers may not consider employing women because they may be attacked by their partner one day, that that's the reason why employers may not employ women, is as absurd as it is insulting. Yet it does underline the mindset of this government, which is so far behind community standards, community expectations and community aspirations for our citizens and, in particular, for women in relation to this public policy.

In 2016 the Abbott-Turnbull government prevented approximately 30 Public Service departments, including the Prime Minister's, from providing for paid family violence leave in their enterprise agreements. The government is completely out of touch. The government was taking this backward stance at the same time as the Male Champions of Change 2015 report, Playing our part, suggested, '10 days paid leave appears to be a developing norm.' Labor knows that, in addition to the terrible personal and social cost of domestic violence, there is a significant cost to business. In May 2016 KPMG estimated the cost of violence against women and their children on production in the business sector at $1.9 billion for the 2015-16 year. The cost is domestic violence, not the need to provide support for women who are subject to domestic violence. The National Retail Association's submission to the Senate committee estimated a significant cost to business for not acting on domestic violence:

The NRA estimates that for the period 2014/15, almost 45,000 women working in the retail industry experienced some form of family or domestic violence, costing the industry approximately $62.5 million per annum in lost productivity, absenteeism, and staff turnover, with a direct cost to employers of $1,404 for each instance.

This is why many small businesses, where employers and employees have a close working relationship, already support their staff to take paid leave to deal with the consequences of domestic violence. And that's another argument: that it will affect small business. But small businesses are closest to their workforce, and most good small business employers will always lend a hand to their workers who are subject to such violence. Again, that is an argument put up by the government to dissuade this place to enact legislation that will provide paid leave.

We know that while 10 days paid leave is crucial for these women who need it, it is not likely that the uptake across the economy will be significant. For example, a 2015 joint study by the University of New South Wales and the ACTU, Implementation of domestic violence clauses—an employer's perspective, found 'The average time off for paid leave in the past 12 months was 43 hours'. Research by the Australia Institute in 2016 estimated that domestic violence leave wage payouts 'are equivalent to less than one-fiftieth of one percent of existing payrolls (0.02 percent)'.That study also found:

The costs to employers associated with those payouts are likely to be largely or completely offset by benefits to employers associated with the provision of paid domestic violence leave: including reduced turnover—

and reduced absenteeism and lower recruitment and training costs—

and improved productivity.

Employers understand the costs associated with losing good employees; that's why they're good employers. Many of the big employers—and others, including small ones—are already providing paid domestic violence. But it should be legislated. It should be codified by the parliament and inserted into the National Employment Standards so that it applies to everyone. Why should employers who do the right thing lose any competitive advantage—if there is one—because it doesn't extend across the labour market? It's such an important issue, which the government says it really does concern itself with. I believe there is a genuineness. Surely, all of us in this place must be horrified by the examples and the stories of what happens too often to women in this country. Yet, where is the policy response from the government to attend to the needs of some of our most endangered citizens? I have to say, it's left wanting. This bill is so deficient, because it really only looks to go as far as the decision of the Fair Work Commission, and that's not far enough.

As I said, employers understand the cost of losing good employees. Often, helping women through these situations means that they hold onto a very good staff member. Paid domestic violence leave benefits those who take it and it benefits their employers too. It does something else too, which we really need to understand. The stigma of domestic violence is such that it's very hard for victims of domestic violence to come forward. Too often, women have had to hide the abuse they have suffered. We know that, historically. They have to find an excuse for why they might have a bruise or why they've been injured in some way. They find an excuse for that. Why do they do that? They do that because we've stigmatised the victims, and they feel ashamed of being a victim of domestic violence. We've got to destigmatise this abuse, and one of the ways to destigmatise this abuse is to make very clear that, as a nation, we stand up for women who are subject to this abuse—so they understand they're not at fault for being a victim; it's the perpetrator who's at fault. We need to do that in many ways.

As I said at the outset of this debate, we need a multi-pronged response to domestic and family violence and this is just one way to do that. By codifying a right for women in workplaces to be provided paid leave, we're not only providing a benefit they can use, that can give them support in their hour of need; it's also saying as a nation we do not accept that a woman should be ashamed that she is a victim of violence. So it's something deeper than just providing a form of support such as paid leave; it's saying to women of Australia who are subject to this abuse that we are on your side—it's not your fault; it's the fault of the perpetuator—and we're going to give you material support as well as other forms of support to help you through these dire circumstances. So it's a very important benefit. It's a very important reform under Commonwealth law.

This bill, we support. We do support the bill but it is deficient; it does not go far enough. It's somewhat tokenistic to provide unpaid leave for a staffer who may have worked in a workplace for 20 years, finds herself subject to abuse, and has to take unpaid leave to find new accommodation. I know most good employers would provide that leave anyway. Don't be silly. You may have to go to court to deal with a matter, of course—I'm not going to dock you for that. But why should it be left to the discretion of an employer who wants to do the right thing?

It's about time we did more to support women in these circumstances in the industrial space. In the industrial relations space, this is one way we can do that. This is a second reading amendment that I'm speaking to but I ask the government to think about what Labor is saying, think about what the companies that have acceded to this request have done and what they're saying by agreeing to paid domestic violence leave. Think about the frontline workers who, each and every day, have to deal with women who are subject to such abuse. Think of the women who have been subject to this abuse and who are still ashamed to say they are. What could be better than this parliament agreeing that we give real support for victims of domestic violence and we do so by providing a law that will allow them in times of dire circumstances to take leave to attend to matters so they can be safer and so they can recover from what is, of course, an awful experience?

Workplace policies aimed at reducing domestic violence and supporting victims and survivors will help alleviate the impost on our economy but, more importantly, will help women who need our help, and we ask the government to seriously consider the amendment moved by the opposition.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

10:48 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to rise and speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. I would agree with a number of points that the member for Gorton has made—in particular, the impact of the scourge of domestic violence on particularly women and children. I have spoken in this House previously in support of another bill related to the area of family violence, the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018, and I can say that both these bills are a great example of the commitment by this government to fighting the scourge of domestic violence and supporting the victims of the egregious harms that are inflicted on women in particular.

If we reflect, last Sunday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I'd like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation for his hard work and commitment in his portfolios. Disappointingly, we see a number of people each and every day requiring financial assistance and crisis payments. I was talking with John and Michaela Porter from Nightlight last week. Just in the last week and a half they've had four calls—sadly, most of them late at night—for support for people in crisis, and in some cases as a result of domestic violence.

I think it's important that we continue to look at ways that we can support women, in particular, in very difficult circumstances. And we are doing that through the measures outlined in this bill. The bill is designed to provide an entitlement to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave to all employees under the Fair Work Act. This means that some eight million Australian workers will have access to this leave if they experience family or domestic violence.

To be clear—and I'm sure the community would be relieved to know this—the leave is not available to perpetrators of family or domestic violence. This government has demonstrated in a number of ways, which I will go into a little later, its full commitment to assisting people when they're facing the terrible situation of family and domestic violence. I spoke the other day on a wonderful local organisation, Lilly Pilly, which is trying, in very difficult circumstances for families, to bridge some of the gap and the divide which occurs as a result of family and domestic violence.

Sadly, as we reflect on the first 11 months of this year, we see that some 72 Australian women and 20 children have been murdered due to domestic violence. Across the country, a total of 212 Australians have died in 2018 as a result of murder or manslaughter, with male violence accounting for some 90 per cent of that. This situation is only worsening. We've seen a steep increase in domestic violence deaths this year compared with last year.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's February report found that one in six Australian women and one in 16 Australian men had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner. And one in four women and one in six men had experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner. Sadly, the report showed that those most at risk were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, young women, pregnant women, women with disabilities and women experiencing financial hardship. And women and men who experience abuse have witnessed domestic violence as children.

As I've said in this place recently, family and domestic violence is about men, women and children. It's not about statistics; it's about human beings—not the numbers but the mothers, daughters, fathers, sons and grandparents. It's about the people next door, many who keep it secret and choose to suffer in silence for weeks, months and years. Sadly, it's in every community, every electorate and every strata of life. It's a human cost to our society that is both devastating and intolerable. And it's part of that human toll that this bill seeks to address.

Through the leave being enshrined in the National Employment Standards, all employees covered by the Fair Work Act will be guaranteed the minimum leave entitlement, regardless of whether they're full-time, part-time or casual, or covered by awards, enterprise agreements or individual agreements. As the member for Gorton outlined, it's heartening to see that many businesses have already decided to take that step in and of their own volition. A full five days leave will be available each year from the anniversary of the date on which somebody commenced employment.

In addition to this bill, the government is taking comprehensive action to address family violence. We have zero tolerance for violence against women and children. We're committing well in excess of $300 million to address their safety. At the recent federal budget, the government committed an additional $54 million for women's safety initiatives, including $11.5 million for 1800RESPECT, $6.7 million for DV-alert, $14.2 million for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to help make cyberspace safe for women and $22 million to combat elder abuse.

In 2015, this government committed $100 million to a women's safety package. Under this package, the government committed to $12 million to trial with the states the use of innovative technology to keep women safe such as GPS trackers for perpetrators. There was $5 million for safer technology, including working with telecommunications companies to distribute safe phones for women. There was $17 million to keep women safe in their homes by expanding initiatives like the Safe at Home program to install CCTV cameras and other safety equipment and by conducting risk assessments of victims' homes, helping change their locks and scanning for bugs. There was $5 million to expand 1800RESPECT, the national telephone and online counselling and information service, to ensure more women get support. There was $2 million of increased funding for MensLine for tools and resources to support perpetrators not to reoffend and $15 million to enable police in Queensland to better respond to domestic violence in remote communities. And there were a range of other measures.

So we can see that, across the spectrum, we are seeking to find ways and solutions to provide support and assistance to women and children who are in very, very difficult situations. Within the framework of the national plan, the government is delivering on its commitments made under the third action plan with another $100 million investment over three years, announced in 2016. As we see, the bill has implemented or matches the decision of the Fair Work Commission for award based employees. I think it is important that we continue to find ways to support women who generally in these situations may not also be the primary income earner in their household, which means that, in these difficult circumstances, it is even more difficult for them financially. There is a cost to trying to relocate.

There are some great services in my community of Forde that provide enormous help for women in domestic violence situations. I mentioned Nightlight earlier. There is Twin Rivers, which provides crisis care and support; and Logan Women's Health and Wellbeing Centre, which has just merged with WAVSS Across the Redlands to create a new organisation focused on women's health and wellbeing. All of these are supported with the programs that I have outlined the government is funding and continues to fund to support women and children in these difficult circumstances.

The importance of this bill is that it gives women, when they need to have time off as a result of family or domestic violence, protection from unlawful adverse actions by their employer. They want to know that, if they do need this time off, they have a job to go back to, that they're going to be well looked after and well treated by their employers in a very difficult circumstance. I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of employers in Australia, irrespective of whether this is in law or not, do look after their employees when they're in this situation. But I think there are those who do not. I think that to enshrine these standards in the Fair Work Act is an important step in protecting and supporting women in facing family and domestic violence situations, which, sadly, as I noted earlier, occur more and more frequently. I commend this bill, in its unamended form, to the House.

11:00 am

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Preventing Family Violence) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this bill. I also rise to say that while we think this bill goes some way to addressing the challenges facing individuals experiencing family or domestic violence, it does not go far enough, and we can do more and we will do better. A job means putting food on the table. It means paying the rent, paying the bills and buying schoolbooks for your children. It means having an income. No-one should have to choose between all of that and their physical safety and the safety of their children, their emotional safety and the safety of their children, or their psychological safety and the safety of their children.

We know about the fear, anxiety and uncertainty of leaving a violent or abusive relationship. When should I leave? How will I leave? Where will my children sleep tonight? What will we take with us? How can we do this? What if they show up at work? Will I keep my job? How will I pay for things? No-one should have to make these heartbreaking choices between two fears—the fear for safety and the fear for livelihoods.

Family and domestic violence is a scourge on our nation. It is a national shame and it is a national crisis, and it should be seen as that. It is a leading cause of death, disability and illness among women between the ages of 15 to 44 years. We hear time and time again the statistics of homicides. We also need to think about the fear that is passed onto children. We need to understand the intergenerational effects of violence in the home. It can be in many, many forms.

As my colleague the member for Gorton has pointed out, two out of every three women who experience domestic and family violence are in the workforce. The workforce, therefore, represents an important space in the prevention of family violence. The Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 will amend the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. Employees, including casuals, will be entitled to this leave if they are experiencing family and domestic violence and they need to do something to deal with the impact of that violence, and if it's impractical for them to undertake this outside their ordinary hours of work. It will be available in full at the beginning of each 12-month period so employees will not have to accrue this leave. It will not accumulate from year to year. It will be available in full irrespective of full-time, part-time or casual status.

This follows the decision of the Fair Work Commission in March to grant five days unpaid leave under modern awards, which provided over two million award employees with this leave. This bill will provide this to all employees but, unfortunately, it does not go far enough. Individuals experiencing violence should not have to choose between their pay and their safety. We know that often perpetrators continue their abuse while the victim is at the workplace. We know that the loss of income can act as a barrier to escaping a violent relationship. We know that those experiencing family violence are often on low incomes, lack job security and are very seldom in circumstances where they can confidently negotiate leave arrangements.

The Productivity Commission inquiry's Workplace relations framework report, published in November 2015, cited the National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey, which surveyed individuals experiencing domestic violence. Nearly half reported that the violence affected their capacity to work, often the result of the victim suffering physical injury or restraint. But the survey also found that the violence and abuse continued at the workplace itself. This included constant, ceaseless, threatening or emotionally abusive phone calls, text messages or emails. It also included the abuser physically attending the victim's workplace. The workplace itself became another space in which individuals were placed at risk.

The workplace is an important component of the family violence policy area. We know that one of the most dangerous times for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. She will need to work out a time to leave; she will need to find a place to stay; and she may have children, and she will need to ensure her children have a place to stay and are safe and secure. She may need to prepare for and attend court to seek a protection order, she may need to see the police and she may need to seek treatment for her injuries. All of this can take time. She may need to find counselling. She may need to find legal advice. This takes time, effort and resources. It is essentially turning your world on its head. It can be costly, both financially and mentally, and, as I said, it takes time. It is a dangerous and an incredibly anxious and stressful time as well.

As the Productivity Commission report stated:

… a single incident may trigger a chain of major events, including interactions with the health and legal systems and needs for new housing and new schools. All of these interactions take time, are stressful and can affect a victim’s ability to work. They can have repercussions in workplaces.

The National Domestic Violence and Workplace Survey found that 16 per cent of victims reported being distracted, tired or unwell. Ten per cent needed to take time off, and seven per cent were being late for work. Individuals fleeing violent relationships should not have to worry about taking time off, losing pay or losing their jobs. We know that these considerations, these economic factors, represent barriers to escaping violence. The Australian Law Reform Commission states:

… employment is a key factor in enabling victims to leave violent relationships, providing longer-term benefits associated with financial security.

The Law Reform Commission went on to say:

… the ALRC acknowledges the role that financial security and independence through paid employment can play in protecting people experiencing family violence.

They should be able to count on continuing to receive their pay and being able to go back to work.

We have listened to the sector in this space. We have listened to those who have been affected by violence. We have listened to frontline workers. We have listened to businesses, unions and advocates. Their message was clear: workers experiencing domestic violence need more support in the workplace to leave violent or abusive relationships in the home. The Productivity Commission cited that victims of family and domestic violence:

… 'have a more disrupted work history and are consequently on lower personal incomes, have had to change jobs more often and are employed at higher levels in casual and part time work' …

They are also more susceptible to economic abuse. To that end, a consistent income or lost income is more critical to their welfare. They are a particularly vulnerable class of individuals, and they are least likely to be in positions to negotiate domestic violence related provisions in their workplace agreements.

Family violence is complex and pervasive. It comes in many forms; it does not discriminate. It can be physical, emotional, financial and other forms. It finds its way into all aspects of the community and all aspects of society. It will require fundamental cultural and attitudinal change for awareness and education over the long term. But we also need to do everything we can now to make it easier for women to leave violent and abusive relationships as quickly and as safely as possible. Labor has made this an immediate and urgent priority. This is why Labor is focused on delivering more safe places for women to go to leave violence, making it easier and safer to find legal relief and reducing financial barriers to escaping violence. Labor's policy position is paid domestic violence leave for 10 days. Labor will invest in new safe-housing funds to increase housing options, including for women and children escaping domestic violence.

We have also announced $18 million in funding for the Keeping Women Safe in Their Homes program. We will also invest in advocacy and make sure that people who are directly affected by this terrible scourge are listened to. Labor will back in new laws prohibiting direct cross-examination by alleged perpetrators by boosting Legal Aid funding to meet the increased demand on Legal Aid. Labor is committed, as I said, to legislating for 10 days paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards.

As we have said, the complex and widespread nature of domestic violence means prevention is everyone's business. Everyone has to play a role in preventing family violence—government and non-government; community and family. It has been great to see government and the private sector embrace their respective roles and responsibilities in this space. I commend those government and private sector organisations that are embracing 10 days paid leave. We need to listen to the leading advocates in this space.

While we support the principle of this bill—affording leave to those fleeing family violence—it is simply not enough. If we want to provide those fleeing violence with real and substantive support, it needs to be 10 days and it needs to be paid. We call on the government to join with Labor and commit to the same. In that context, we will support this bill, but we do say very clearly that we have a different view on the length of time that women need in order to leave violent relationships and we have a very different view about the nature of the leave: it should be paid domestic violence leave for 10 days.

11:11 am

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the shadow minister for her fine contribution. We are pleased that the government have finally introduced legislation on the issue of domestic violence leave. We will support the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, despite the fact it's half the amount of leave we believe victims of violence require and despite the fact it's unpaid leave that the government's proposing, not paid leave, because something is better than nothing. We support some family violence leave rather than none, but the job is only half done with this legislation. Five days of unpaid leave is not enough.

We will continue to work towards our policy of 10 days paid leave for victims of domestic violence, because we have heard too many stories, mostly from women, of those who have risked losing their only source of income because they have been dealing with domestic violence in their home. To take one example, I heard the story of a woman with two children under the age of six when her partner started physically abusing her. The first attack came when her children were very little. After the second attack, she went to the police. She was told that she needed to apply to the courts for an intervention order to protect herself from her ex-partner. Most of the meetings that she needed to go to—the court appearances, the meetings with police and legal meetings—were only available to her during working hours, and that's no surprise. This woman was taking time off work. She was taking it as sick leave. She started to genuinely worry that she would lose her job because she had to take so many days, half days or hours off work. She finally went to her employer to say: 'I haven't been sick. I've been dealing with this terrible trauma at home.' Luckily, this employer actually offered domestic violence leave. This woman was able to be frank with her employer and take the time off as domestic violence leave. But most women don't have the same experience.

About 210,000 Australian women were victims of domestic violence in 2016, and about two-thirds of them were in paid work. But as a victim of domestic violence you can be further victimised by losing your job, or being at risk of losing your job, just through dealing with the violence. Women are taking time off to deal with injury, they're taking time off to attend medical appointments, they're taking time off to get a restraining order or to pack up and move house.

We know that financial insecurity can make women more vulnerable to domestic violence. We know that being a victim of domestic violence means that you are much more likely to experience lifelong economic disadvantage. Having a job allows you the independence, the choice, to leave an abusive relationship, because you've got somewhere to go, you can pay the rent and you can feed the kids. We know that too many women stay in or return to violent relationships because they don't have the financial wherewithal to leave those violent relationships. And being a continuing victim of violence is not a price that any woman should have to pay to keep a roof over her head or food on the table for her children.

I've met with so many frontline workers. The Australian Services Union, I have to say, have been phenomenal in bringing frontline domestic violence workers to Canberra to tell members of parliament about what their members see every day—women and children fleeing violence—and the impact that 10 days paid leave would have for those women and children they see every day. In 2016, Labor first committed to five days paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards. We saw that as a very important first step. But the clear message to us from these frontline workers that the Australian Services Union, and other unions, were bringing to Canberra to talk to us was that five days is not enough—one day at the police, a couple of days at court and a couple of days sorting the kids out at school. So we agreed to increase our commitment to 10 days paid leave in the National Employment Standards.

The thing to remember is this doesn't mean that all Australian women or that some women and some men will need to take this leave. It will be an unusual circumstance where people will be taking this leave, but, for the people who need it, it is sometimes literally a lifesaver. It certainly means they can keep a roof over their heads when they leave a violent relationship. And we see companies like ALDI Australia, Carlton & United Breweries, Telstra, NAB, Qantas, Virgin Australia, IKEA, Dulux, Blundstone—just to name a few major household names—have been prepared to provide paid domestic violence leave to their staff, and I congratulate them for that. Medibank provides unlimited personal leave for employees to deal with issues relating to family and domestic violence. Congratulations to them. Many small and medium businesses don't get the publicity but are supporting their staff to deal with domestic violence through providing leave and other supports.

These companies realise that it's not only the compassionate and humane thing to do but also the just and economically responsible thing to do, because if an employee can be frank about what they're experiencing at home, can take the leave to deal with it, you can keep that employee. You don't have to go searching for another one, train them up and all the rest of it. It also makes economic sense for these companies to allow their employees to be honest about what they're experiencing, support them through the experience and see them come out the other side.

I think being able to be frank with your employer about domestic violence is important in another really important way. Firstly, it's important for safety if someone is actually under threat from a violent partner. We have heard too many stories about violent partners turning up to workplaces and assaulting, or even killing, women who have escaped from them. Your employer should know for safety reasons what you're experiencing. Secondly, being able to be honest about what you're experiencing as a victim of violence relieves you of the burden of secrecy or the stigma that has for too long been attached to victims of domestic violence, when the people who should be ashamed of their actions are the people who are perpetrating the violence.

KPMG has estimated that domestic violence is currently costing the Australian economy about $22 billion a year. So simply from this perspective, by making sure that people who are victims of violence can stay in a job and not join the welfare queue, we reduce the cost to the community of domestic violence. So I congratulate those businesses, but let's also remember that unions have fought long and hard for employers to include these provisions in workplace agreements. It is Australian unions and their members that have campaigned on this issue and brought it to the forefront of public debate. Thousands of activists have worked particularly hard to bring this about, and it means now that unions have negotiated family violence leave in agreements that cover over two million workers. What an achievement that is. I said earlier that the Australian Services Union have been particularly instrumental in bringing frontline workers to Canberra. I want to pay particular tribute to Natalie Lang from the ASU, who has been really instrumental in this campaign, but she has not been alone and the Australian Services Union have not been alone.

Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT now provide 10 days paid domestic violence leave for public sector workers in those states. South Australia and Victoria provide even more. And just earlier this month the Liberal government in New South Wales announced that they will provide 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave to full-time and part-time government employees. If every Liberal state government in the country has accepted that 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave is appropriate, why can't this government accept that it's important for other Australians to have that support? Why do they have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to this position with such reluctance? Every time there's an important social change—marriage equality, paid parental leave, removing discrimination against GLBTI children in our schools—they have to be dragged there. The Australian community—business, unions, everyone—is way ahead of the government, again, on this one. The former Minister for Women, Senator Cash, said she thought that domestic violence leave would provide a 'perverse incentive for employers to discriminate against women'. That is exactly the same argument that was used to oppose paid parental leave for so long. Even after the government finally conceded back in March—and it's taken since then to bring this legislation in, inexplicably—that they would introduced some form of family violence leave, they continued to delay bringing on the legislation. We had Senator Cormann describing paid domestic violence leave as another cost to the economy. 'Perverse incentive not to employ women', 'a cost to the economy': they are the same arguments that were used against paid parental leave.

It's disappointing that we don't see more government members speaking about this important issue, but I'll leave that for them. For too long women have had to bear the costs of leaving violent relationships. They have dealt with the emotional cost for themselves and their children. They have dealt with the physical abuse itself and the toll that takes on their health and wellbeing. On top of that, they have been condemned to immediate poverty and lifelong economic disadvantage. The very least we can do is reduce the impact of that economic disadvantage by helping women keep the jobs that are so often a lifeline, not just providing financial security during the most traumatic time of their live but also providing contact with other adults and emotional support—sanity in a crazy world. When everything you believed about your family and the person who is supposed to love you is turned on its head, actually being able to go to work can be the thing that keeps people tethered to the life that they knew and that they wished for themselves and their family.

Of course we'll support this bill, because it's a step in the right direction. But I really urge government members to consider—if they have the power and if they're able to do this—working towards longer leave and paid leave. That's what Australian women need to keep themselves and their children safe, to keep a roof over their heads and to keep food on the table. Ten days paid leave can make the difference between losing your job and keeping it and being financially secure enough to leave the violence behind to start a new life. Why would we not want that for these families? Why would we not want to give them the security and the hope of a better future that 10 days paid leave offers?

11:25 am

Photo of Emma HusarEmma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to rise in this House and to speak. It's always an honour, but it's such a privilege today when I have a school from my local community sitting up in the gallery watching me give this speech. My only hope is that the improvements we're able to make here for these year 6 students are not things that we're still talking about 20 years from now.

The irony of giving this speech on this particular amendment to the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 is not lost on me, and giving it on day No. 5 during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is also a poignant reminder of why we still need this and the 16 days of activism.

For too long impunity, silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to escalate to pandemic proportions. One in three women worldwide experience gender based violence. The time for change is here and now. In recent years, the voices worldwide of survivors and of activists through campaigns such as Me Too, Time's Up, Ni Una Menos, 'Not one more Niki', Balance Ton Porc and others have reached a crescendo that can no longer be silenced anymore. Advocates understand that while the names and contexts may differ across geographic locations, women and girls everywhere are experiencing extensive abuse and their stories need to be brought to light.

Having to stand here and advocate for this change to our National Employment Standards is heartbreaking. When we know better, we do better. I don't want to be here for discussions anymore. I'm tired of the talk; it is cheap and it's time to make the change necessary. This is what I signed up for: the opportunity to make our country better and to give a voice to those who don't have one or who have temporarily lost the courage to use their own. I'm here to make that change—the change we have long been fighting for and the change that can save a woman's life right now.

We have the opportunity to create the legislation that will change those lives. It won't help those 63 women who have already been murdered at the hands of a partner or a male this year. We know that more than one woman a week is dying at the hands of a current or former partner, a person they once loved and trusted. The bill we're arguing about can save lives, and it's a serious matter, not to be trivialised by devaluing arguments such as, 'It's going to impinge on business,' or, 'It'll stop people getting employed because they'll be discriminated against,' or trying to say that unpaid leave is the same thing as paid leave.

The government has proposed an amendment to the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with unpaid leave. It doesn't touch the sides of what's actually needed. Victims have been heard; frontline workers' expertise has been recognised; and business, unions and organisations that deal with domestic violence each day have been recognised. Their message is clear: people who have experienced domestic violence need more support in their workplaces. That goes for all workplaces, in all industries and all sectors, whether that's here in the parliament, in a cafe or at the bank.

It has taken this government a long time to drag its feet even to where we are now to join this important discussion. But—credit where credit is due—I welcome them to the floor to debate it. We've moved them from complete and utter opposition into something that they consider themselves to be happy with now. They have slow-turning wheels, it seems though, and are too busy now talking about themselves as opposed to talking about the rest of the country and those who need paid leave when they exit a violent home. They made their big announcement to support unpaid leave back in March, and here we are in November—the peak time for violence in families—one week after the bill was finally introduced.

I just want to repeat that this is actually a life-and-death issue that we're standing here to debate. In those eight months, while we waited, 40 women and their children have died. If we were speaking about terrorism—which I don't doubt is equally important—would the government be dragged kicking and screaming to this reform? But they're still only halfway there, and I will not stand here and support a bill that is half-cocked. It is 10 days paid leave or just get out of the way. The lives of Australia's women are at stake.

Earlier this week, I rose in this place to move a motion on the UN day for the elimination of gendered violence, and I'm proud to rise in support of a campaign to end violence against women and girls. I shared my own personal story in this place two years ago in the hope that women and girls throughout Australia would know the strength and resilience you can have after the violence ends, and that anyone, no matter where they come from or their achievements in life, can have their life interrupted by violence perpetrated against them.

Taking the first step and removing yourself and your family from a domestic violence situation takes a great deal of courage. Logistically, it takes much more. There is so much you need to do, and you can't achieve much in five days unpaid leave after you have finally escaped from a frightening situation. How can you care for your children, find a new safe home, visit the local police station, attend court for an AVO, move kids to schools, get them into support, attend appointments with doctors, counsellors, psychologists—wherever you need to go? Five days unpaid leave will not support all of that.

In March 2018, the Fair Work Commission agreed to insert a clause into modern awards to provide for five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. When this decision finally came into effect in August, two million award-reliant workers became entitled to unpaid leave. But, again, what use is unpaid leave when you need finances, you need security and you need the ability to go on as normal, or as close to normal as possible, in your day-to-day life?

I speak about sliding doors wedged open by crisis points, and we as a nation are at a crisis point. Domestic violence is a major factor in deaths in Australia. Last year, Sherele Moody won a Walkley Award for her brave coverage of domestic violence issues in Australia. She spoke of the 39 per cent of murders that were attributed to current or former partners or family members in one year alone. That's 39 per cent, a huge number, yet we're in here squabbling over giving people access to paid or unpaid leave. We also know the most dangerous place for a woman is in the company of her partner at home on a Saturday night, yet we have to fight to give women financial and job security during a crisis. I wonder: what more it will take? Our nation wants change. People are consuming the media around domestic violence and are clearly now standing up saying, 'This is not okay.' What is lacking is the will in this place, on the other side, to do something about it.

This year's Gold Walkley went to the podcast The Teacher's Pet. It was a true crime investigation series that gripped the nation in horror that a husband was able to get away with murdering his wife. As it was set in the 1980s, you would think we might have learned something from that devastation, but we continue to allow this to grip our country, and the statistics just continue to increase. We continue to be horrified at every report and every incident.

The government need to take a good hard look at themselves and this shameful suggestion of a bill. Could those opposite find suitable accommodation for their children in five days? The women in my electorate certainly can't. The women that I speak to each day, who come in for support, who come in for referrals and who come in for help, certainly cannot do that. In a fragile mental state, fearing for the safety of herself and her children, a woman will often reach this sliding-door moment very quickly. Maybe one incident escalated too far—sexual, physical, emotional or financial abuse tipped over. We know that violence against women in their home denies them and their children security and safety and destroys the foundation of their identity. At this sliding door, a woman will potentially have isolated herself in shame, reducing her sense of belonging and connection to her family, friends and community.

Emotionally completely damaged, a DV survivor may not have the visible scars, but there are certainly open wounds just below the surface that need the time to heal. Women who experienced abuse during childhood are 1.5 times more likely to experience all kinds of violence during adult life. For some, the workplace is their respite from home and, for some women, their workplace is their support mechanism. Their colleagues, sometimes their employer, may be the most important support they have in these situations. This moment is our government's sliding-door moment. They have opened it, they have peeked in and they have thrown women experiencing domestic violence a few bones. But that's not enough; we need the full 10 days of paid leave. Labor has committed to doubling that number provided by the government.

It is an appropriate time to be highlighting the necessity for real DV leave. It's not groundbreaking, and this is just the point. There is precedence from more empathetic governments around the world. Other jurisdictions have introduced paid DV leave, and Labor believes that Australia's federal workplace system should also, importantly, provide this leave.

The member for Sydney just talked about the statistics in Australia. Every Liberal state government in this country has now moved to allow for paid DV leave for their government workers. In July this year, the New Zealand government legislated paid family and domestic violence leave, guaranteeing 10 days paid leave for all workers who are experiencing violence and who need to escape. Many employers already also provide paid family and domestic violence leave to their workforce through their own enterprise agreements. More than 1,000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2017 provide 10 or more days of paid DV and family leave. These companies include leaders in this space such as Carlton and United Breweries, Telstra, NAB, Virgin, IKEA, Qantas and Aldi. These employers and many others have paved the way and helped reduce the stigma that often accompanies DV. So too have Australia's unions campaigning for paid DV and family leave over many years, negotiating leave coverage in Australian workplaces. I would like to give a special mention to Sam Parker, a frontline worker in my electorate from the ASU who recently won an award to recognise her commitment and longstanding advocacy for the clients that she works on behalf of in my community of Lindsay.

We do not anticipate that there would be a significant uptake of 10 days paid leave, unlike the slurs that this bill is sometimes reduced to by those on the other side saying that people will somehow fake being in a situation just to get access to this leave. It's hardly a credible argument when most people who are actually in it wouldn't even own up to it or want to be in it. It's crucial that this leave is available for the women who need it. The economic impact of domestic violence is significant and affects every single person in this country. It is estimated at a cost of $22 billion each and every year. There is an absolute financial business case, if not a moral imperative from an empathetic and compassionate country standpoint.

A study by the Australian Institute found that the cost would be almost completely offset by the benefits to the employer, not limited to a reduction in turnover and higher productivity. Let's keep it in perspective: the cost is 5c per day, per worker to institute this into our agreements.

We have already reached a national crisis point. I'm not quite sure why parliaments around this country are not being convened for special sittings to deal with the epidemic that we face. How many more women and children must have their lives interrupted before this epidemic is addressed in a substantive and meaningful way? It has never been tolerable to allow this crisis to continue. We are a smart nation. We already know what needs to be done. What we don't have is the political will on the other side, the understanding or the desire to fix a problem facing half the nation's population, that being our women. We have leaders who are men in parliaments. Most of our parliaments still, sadly, are predominantly filled with men, who statistically are not likely to have been on the receiving end of family or domestic violence. If you haven't experienced it, it can be hard to understand it.

We know what needs to be done. Our experts and our communities tell us. The list is short, it's simple and it's common sense. It's time to fund women's crisis centres so when it's time to leave there is somewhere for women to go. It's time to support women through legal services and proper family court systems so when a woman does leave she isn't facing a flawed system. It's time to eliminate current behaviours that enable violence against women through education and through supportive programs that shift attitudes to create a society rooted in equality. It's time to ensure that men who are perpetrators are held to account by treating it as a criminal offence. No longer is it a private matter. It's time to give women access to this paid leave so when a woman does leave she can continue her employment and know that her job is secure. Unpaid leave and access to her own super does nothing to support a woman who needs to go.

It's time to end the gendered slurs in our workplaces and in our senior roles, and the use of them as a way to bring smart, clever, capable women undone. White Ribbon Australia's vision is that Australia is a nation that respects all women and a nation in which every woman is able to live in safety, free from all forms of men's abuse. Along with the UN 16 Days of Activism and Our Watch, we already have the tools we need to start addressing this. This is just one part. It's time this was a national priority of all levels of government. It's costing women their lives, many their future, and costing our nation $22 billion each year. It is time.

11:40 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I should make it clear from the outset, as my other colleagues have, that Labor is supporting the passage of this legislation, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. But, in doing so, Labor certainly has a reservation that this bill does not go far enough. It's certainly way short of Labor's commitment to introduce 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave.

Many of us on both sides of the House spoke in this place only last week about violence against women. We once again commemorated White Ribbon Day, the day that the UN selected to commemorate our efforts to eliminate violence against women. Everyone on both sides of the House spoke not only about this reprehensible crime being perpetrated, primarily against women, but also about the effect it has on women themselves, who are victims and survivors, and their families. When we have a situation where, at the moment, on average, one woman is being killed each week at the hands of a partner or a former partner, there's plenty that we should be doing.

When I spoke last week, I was able to recount to the House that I have spoken to the police and I know that, in my electorate alone, more than 50 per cent of all physical assaults reported to the police are assaults that arise out of domestic violence. This is a real issue, and it is not something that should be trivialised by thinking, 'We will extend unpaid leave for the situation.' We are talking about women who are being physically attacked, assaulted and threatened, and that's just the physical nature of it; the psychological aspects of this are probably, in many instances, even greater. We still find many women reluctant to go and report domestic violence to the police out of fear of reprisals and, mainly, out of concern for their children.

That's a heck of a lot on a woman's plate if she's a victim of domestic violence. To think that we cannot give 10 days paid leave—just think of it: if you're a victim of violence and you do have the courage and tenacity to stand up and do something about it by going to the police, then, apart from seeing police officers and making a statement, you're probably going to have to go and see your solicitor. There will be court time required of you, time for swearing your apprehended violence order, time for looking after your children and maybe time for seeing a psychologist or a doctor or doing other things to assist with your injuries. We're saying, in this piece of legislation, 'That's all good, but you can only get unpaid leave off your employer if you can actually state that you cannot do all that outside normal work time.' For goodness sake, we're talking about women who are out there supporting their families. To think we're going to trivialise this by saying, 'Unless you can do this by yourself, outside paid employment time, you're not entitled to unpaid leave, let alone paid leave.'

The ABS estimates that two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. The 2011 National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey found that nearly half of the women respondents who experienced domestic violence had their ability to work affected. Of course it affects your ability to work. Of the main impacts of violence that were reported by victims in the survey, 16 per cent of the survivors reported how it distracted them, how they felt unwell, how they felt uncomfortable going to work after experiencing violence—and then probably having to explain it to everybody or cover it up from everybody—and 10 per cent said they had to take time off work because of their injuries. The government's legislation in this respect means that those 10 per cent who had to take time off because of their injuries could, in that case, have unpaid leave. Pretty cold comfort for a woman who is supporting a family, and who has to do all of those other things that I mentioned, to simply be told, 'Well, in that instance, you can have unpaid leave.' For some people, unpaid leave, despite the circumstances, is not a reality.

I don't know about all of those on the other side of the House, but I happily represent a very multicultural community—as a matter of fact, the most multicultural in the country. It's a very colourful and vibrant community. I'm very proud to represent my seat of Fowler. But it's not rich. The average household income in my seat is just a little over $60,000. Now, that's not individual income; that's average household income. If a woman is supporting a family and works, which most in my community do, and is a victim of domestic violence—regrettably, incidents of domestic violence are also overrepresented in my community—the simple fact is that she cannot afford not to go to work.

This piece of legislation, whilst it goes some distance to acknowledging that this is a reality in the workplace and something needs to be done about it, certainly falls far short of community standards—what many like to refer colloquially to as the 'pub test'. You could have a situation where people can experience this violence at home. They will be affected and there will be many responsibilities they have to take on their shoulders as a consequence—as well as looking after their families—but we're not prepared to write into legislation that it's paid leave? We have paid leave for many other things that the ACTU and our union movement have fought for over the years. Maybe in the past our forebears did not see the necessity for domestic violence leave. I'm sure it's not something of a recent vintage; perhaps domestic violence was just something that was not spoken about. You don't have to go too far back in the history books to find out that even the police, say 25 to 30 years ago, would probably have taken the view that issues of domestic violence—'Well, that's just a matter in the household. That's not really a matter for us as police.' Whereas now, in my community—and I can't speak for everyone else—more than half of the assaults reported to police are domestic violence related. This shows there's very much a need to act.

The bill which is now before us provides for five days unpaid leave. It will be provided by employers, of course; they will have to grant it. It will be available at the commencement of each 12-month period. It will not accumulate, nor would you expect it to, quite frankly. It will be available for full-time as well as part-time workers. As a piece of federal legislation, this is an advancement. I've got to give it to the other side; it is an advancement. But when you see what is occurring—one of the worst aspect of being in public life, against many good things, is seeing the effects of domestic violence on your community. I'm lucky to have very active people in my community who do a lot to assist in looking after victims of domestic violence, including the Bonnie Support Services group, chaired by Betty Green and her executive officer, Tracy Phillips. They have a huge and committed team of young people who do a heck of a lot in trying to look after women who are in probably the worst sort of environment you could think of.

I see a couple of fellas up there in the galleries and, when it gets down to domestic violence, this is something we should be personalising. In my case, as most people know, I'm married to Bernadette. Of my three kids I have Elizabeth, and of my 10 grandchildren I have six granddaughters. According to all the statistics that we accept out there, one in five are going to be affected by violence in their lifetime. One in five girls will be affected by violence in their lifetime; that means that my family is absolutely overrepresented. So, for me, this whole issue of what we do about domestic violence is personal. I would not like to think that we can stand by and allow something to affect deleteriously one of the eight or so females in my immediate family—if I chuck my mother in there as well!

As legislators, we can do better than that. We have to be here in this place to make change for the better. It can't be that our ambition for being here is for the money or the glory of having a seat in parliament or anything else. Unless we're here with a view to making a change for the better in our communities, quite frankly, we shouldn't be here.

We're talking about making changes, and I know that the ACTU did a lot of research on this—as my colleague from Batman said. The union has fought very strong and hard for these conditions and made sure that women's rights are understood in the workplace. That is the testament: the trade union has been very responsive.

I would also indicate a young woman who addressed our caucus passionately about paid domestic violence leave some time back. I'd like to acknowledge the commitment and determination of Natalie Lang. She is the secretary of the Australian Services Union—an extraordinary young woman who is very passionate in her fight for domestic violence leave and also in her support for the rape crisis centres which were subjected to defunding by this government. She made the case for 10 days paid domestic violence leave very passionately to our caucus. She did that not only on behalf of her members—and I imagine that the Australian Services Union would have a lot of female members; probably 50 per cent at least—but for every woman in the workplace. No doubt, she was doing her job, but she did it in a way that was really able to electrify the whole room to understand that this may not just be a public servant or another woman doing a job but that this could be any one of our kids or our grandkids into the future.

I don't know about everybody else here, but if it were my kids who were being affected I would probably want to go to see the police myself and I'd probably want to engage lawyers who I knew so that they got the best representation. I'd probably go to court with them—you would do all that as a father or as a grandfather. And, yet, many of these women in various communities out there don't have access to the same levels of extended community. They still have the key responsibility of putting food on the table and looking after their own children, not just in the motherly way but, in many instances, in very much a physical way. That we can only extend five days unpaid leave to them when they are confronted with domestic violence is, I think, wrong of us—and particularly wrong of a government that thinks it can do many other things, like giving tax cuts to big business.

This is something that will make a change. Labor's policies will make a change for the better. (Time expired)

11:55 am

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on this very important bill, which deals with some issues of fundamental importance. It's been a pleasure to have been in the chamber to hear the contribution of the member for Fowler and, before him, the member for Lindsay; in particular, to hear once again the personal and affecting perspective that the member for Lindsay brings to this debate. This debate, for all of us, at one level at least, is personal and affecting, and it goes to the core of our responsibilities as lawmakers.

Like all my colleagues, I rise in support of this legislation but also to say that it is too little and too late. In saying that it's too little, I will make some criticisms of the government over the course of my remarks. When I say that it's too late, that's a criticism that belongs to all of us in this place. It belongs to all of us in this place when we think about our responsibilities to women at work and our failure to acknowledge a broad understanding of what workplace regulation means for people at a whole range of challenging times in their lives. It's hard to conceive of more difficult circumstances for working women than having to deal with family and domestic violence issues and having to absent oneself from work using other forms of leave or, perhaps, without support at all.

The introduction of this bill follows a significant change that came through a decision of the Fair Work Commission earlier this year that, for the first time, inserted a clause into modern awards that provided for unpaid family and domestic violence leave of five days. This provision came into effect on 1 August. So a significant change has happened, and it's important that that be acknowledged. More than two million award employees are now entitled to this important part of the framework of their workplace entitlements. Unfortunately, it isn't enough, and Labor has been pushing for quite some time now for 10 days leave—beyond the change to the National Employment Standards provided for in this bill—and for this leave to be paid.

The journey to where we have come to today hasn't happened solely through this place. Though I speak about this bill being too late, it's important to acknowledge the work of advocates in the family and domestic violence sector. I particularly want to acknowledge the work of my union, the Australian Services Union, which has led from the front in this regard. I acknowledge, in particular, my dear Ingrid Stitt, who recently left the union to join the Victorian parliament as a member of the Daniel Andrews government but who did so much in this space; my friend Lisa Darmanin, the secretary of the ASU SACS branch in Victoria; and Linda White, who has been a powerhouse in that union at a national level for such a long time. Their advocacy on behalf of their members, and on behalf of women in workplaces across Australia, is something that I'm very keen to recognise.

This bill before us, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, will amend the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with an entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave, mirroring, in effect, the principle adopted by the Fair Work Commission this year. This will be available if the worker in question is experiencing family and domestic violence, needs to do something to deal with the impact of that family and domestic violence, and it isn't practical to do that thing outside their ordinary hours of work. So it does seem to be the case that the provisions reflect fairly the model clause and provide that entitlement, which will imply that for all employees, including casuals, it will be available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period, rather than accruing progressively over a year of service; will not accumulate from year to year; and will be available in full to part-time and casual employees, which of course is very important, given the patterns of work of many Australian women.

These provisions are significant. They are a step forward and a step in the right direction, but do not go far enough. This is too little. This bill should provide for paid family and domestic violence leave. It is disappointing that it's taken so long for this government to move—and we welcome that move—from absolute opposition to any leave to this support for unpaid leave. I've spoken about the delay generally and reflected upon it being a responsibility of all of us, but it is of course most particularly a responsibility of those opposite, those in the government of the day. The commitment to unpaid leave was made in March. We're now very nearly at the end of the year. It's disappointing that effecting a reform such as this, even in terms that we on this side are critical of, has taken so long. It's not exactly like the legislative calendar has been particularly crowded. It's just difficult for me to understand why putting forward a provision to deal with this fundamental challenge, a challenge that, I must say, was spoken about with passion and authority by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull—it is a bipartisan commitment. It is a matter of concern to all members of this place and the other place to respond effectively to family and domestic violence. This is a piece of legislation which ought to have been brought before the parliament earlier.

There are other ways in which this matter could have been addressed, of course. I think about the example of my own state, the example of the Andrews Labor government, which was recently re-elected. The Andrews Labor government kicked off its time in office by initiating a royal commission, under Commissioner Marcia Neave, into family violence in Victoria and made clear at the start that that government would adopt every recommendation of the commission. Following that in-principle decision, one of the early decisions of the Andrews government after the commission handed down its recommendations was to make it compulsory for new public sector enterprise agreements to include paid family violence leave—20 days separate and additional to sick leave. That's leadership. That is a fair recognition of the significance of this issue to Australian women and their children and their families more broadly, and indeed of the significance of this issue to the functioning of the Australian economy and the functioning of Australian society. Provisions such as these aren't simply the code that governs the relationship between a worker and her employer. They set the standard for the sort of society we want to live in. They set the standard for the world of work, which is not simply about a purely commercial relationship.

We on this side of the House have been talking a lot about the need to change the rules at work. Members opposite will hear us talk about it quite a bit more often. We want to get the balance right between those who work and those who employ them. That is principally about ensuring that people get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, that people who work for a living get to share in the prosperity they generate or get a reasonable remuneration for their contribution to the public good through employment in the public or community sectors. But it isn't simply about the dollars and cents. Work is much, much more important than that. I stand here at the dispatch box as a member of the Australian Labor Party. The clue is in the name. We understand the value of work and its significance. For most of us, what we do in the paid workforce defines who we are and how we see the world. On issues like this, which are a crisis and a scourge on society, to simply pretend that they can be divorced from the world of work, from people's obligations at work and from people's involvement at work is not only a nonsense but an offensive one.

Again, I ask government members, if any want to make a contribution to this debate—I think only one has put his name down—to think about how we can go further, how we in this place can set out a stronger framework to ensure that women who are workers, as most women are, can be appropriately supported if they are subject to family and domestic violence, as way too many of them are. I don't think it's too much to ask. I think the moral argument is unarguable. I think the economic argument is unarguable. I hope that government members can reflect on both of those questions when they think about the passage of this legislation or alternatives. I ask them to consider the amendment that has been moved by my friend the member for Gorton. It's the sort of step that advocates have been looking for. It's the sort of step that Australian women, particularly those who are victims or potentially victims of family and domestic violence, deserve.

I will go back to the Victorian example. I note that in February this year The Guardian Australia reported that since the introduction of the Victorian changes two years ago, more than 1,000 days have been taken by 143 people from the 10 core agencies of the Victorian government, including Victoria Police and VicRoads. It's quite striking that 143 people were able to avail themselves of this. At a time of, no doubt, extraordinary stress and challenge in their life, they had one less worry. They were getting paid and they were able to look after themselves. I don't know the stories of these 143 women, but I'd like members opposite to think about those stories and think about the circumstances those women are in. Think about how much easier it was to deal with awful circumstances affecting them, perhaps affecting their children, perhaps affecting their parents—affecting all who are dear to them—knowing that they were going to get paid, and they were able to focus on resolving this immediate crisis.

Of course, other jurisdictions have dealt with this matter in the way that Labor proposes. In July of this year New Zealand legislated paid family and domestic violence leave on pretty much the same model that the member for Gorton and the Labor Party are proposing. We see that jurisdictions within Australia other than Victoria, such as Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the ACT are also making provision for this.

I acknowledge that there are many good and decent employers who have taken the right step here, and who have sent the signal that I think legislators across the parliament should send. They have agreed, through bargaining, or perhaps otherwise in some cases, to provide for paid family and domestic violence leave. I note that they seem to have paid heed to reports, such as that of the Male Champions of Change, Playing our part, which have suggested that '10 days paid leave appears to be a developing norm'.

I note that there are more than a thousand enterprise agreements approved that provide for 10 or more days of paid domestic and family violence leave. These agreements include those entered into by some of our major employers. I think about companies like Qantas, Virgin, Telstra and NAB. This is a list of employers, and many others like them, who have taken a big step forward for their workers—the thousands of them—and, as I said earlier in my contribution, to the wider Australian community to reduce the stigma that too often still accompanies domestic violence.

Again, in talking about these agreements I acknowledge, having spoken a bit about the ASU and the Australian union movement more broadly, that it's been heartening to see so many trade unions that are dominated by men leading the charge here. I should acknowledge my dear friend and neighbour the member for Batman and the leadership that she showed in her previous office. I hope she doesn't mind me saying that I'm very pleased she's left her previous office and has joined us in this place, where she has made an extraordinary contribution. The member for Batman made an extraordinary contribution on behalf of the working people, and in particular the working women of Australia, in her unflinching advocacy in this area.

Lastly, I just want to touch on the community that I represent, the City of Whittlesea, which constitutes much of the electorate of Scullin. A community wellbeing indicators report last year exposed deeply distressing news about the prevalence of domestic violence in the Whittlesea community. In the years 2013-16, the number of incidents per 100,000 'increased annually from 1,127 in 2013 to 1,452 in 2016'. That's an increase of nearly a third. It is very significantly higher than the Victorian average.

This is an issue that affects too many of my constituents. I don't stand here to say that any change to the Fair Work Act will resolve all of those issues, but it is a nonsense to pretend that we can divorce the world of work from taking seriously our moral obligation to support victims of family and domestic violence as we seek to bring family and domestic violence to an end. It's also a nonsense to suggest that we can't ignore the economic arguments at two levels: to the workers forced to lose income and their dependants, and to our community across the board. I thought the Liberal Party were interested in boosting our economy. Here's an idea in this amendment that would help them do just that.

12:10 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Scullin and apologise for not being here at the beginning of his speech because I should have been here on my pins, so thank you. I acknowledge the member for Batman whilst she's in the chamber. She lightens this place up in every possible way. I'm sure that those people for whom she has worked so diligently and hard over many, many years in the trade union movement are happy she's here representing their interests, but her legacy as an advocate for women in the workplace is particularly important and really well understood. Advocacy around domestic violence leave was a significant part of her job as a leader of the trade union movement, so thank you to the member for Batman. You bring insights into this place which we need. I say that because you're a special person.

But, really, when we look at those people opposite, I don't think there's a lot of understanding about what the workplace really means and what it is. Whilst it's nice to be the CEO of a big company, and I'm pleased to see, as others have said, some of the decisions which have been taken in this space by some big companies, the truth of it is, unless we're in the shoes of those people who are being affected by family violence, it's very difficult for us to understand what it really means. I recall in a previous life—I did have one—many years ago in a workplace that I was involved in, a young woman who was working with us who was subject to consistent violence at home. I remember her distress. It was unusual in the sense that exposing your work mates to the idea that you are subject to family violence would have, for many, been seen as an embarrassment. But we could see the impacts of the family violence, so it was easy for us to have that communication. I remember vividly, and I can almost walk you down the street and to the house, when she said, 'I've got to leave but I'm afraid.' A couple of other people and I escorted her to her home to provide her with the security to be able to leave that environment. That's something which I would expect a lot of people would do. But when you contemplate the impact on her life, both before and after, it's really, really difficult to accept the proposition that, somehow or another, it's inappropriate to provide this sort of leave to employees in the community—whether they're women or men, but principally women. In my own community, I see—I don't have the data—the impact of violence in the community on an ongoing basis. We know that in a lot of cases, at least in my community, alcohol is a driver of that violence, in part. It certainly plays a significant role.

The people who suffer the consequences of this violence are women and children. We, as sympathetic employers, need to understand what that impact really means for those individuals and their families, instead of seeing it, really, as being around the bottom line. This is about caring, this is about respect, this is about understanding and this is about acknowledging we all have a role in not only stopping the perpetration of violence but also providing a safety net, safeguards and wraparound services, if you like, to those people who suffer from the indignity of being abused and violated at home. Whether it's by a partner or someone else close to them, it's simply not acceptable, and I know that there's no-one in this parliament who would see it as being acceptable.

What I find difficult is: if you accept that it's unacceptable—if you accept and see what the impact is on the individual, their families and, ultimately, their community and the costs that are involved—how could you not say, 'The best thing we could do is provide paid support for these people who suffer from the abuse'? Why can't we do this? I've seen the objections from some in the business community. I note, in particular, the expressions of the National Farmers' Federation, and I'm indebted here to the Bills Digest. There is a piece in the Bills Digest about unpaid or paid leave. It says:

The arguments in favour of providing unpaid … leave focus on the cost to employers, particularly small business …

It then quotes the National Farmers' Federation, which said:

… the NFF cannot support changes which would require employers to provide paid leave. The NFF is unwilling to support such changes primarily due to the increases in operating costs (without demonstrated productivity gains) which it could impose on farmers. … These are small businesses, 'price takers' who operate on very tight margins with minimum cash flow and limited capacity to find replacement workers on short notice.

Well, there's an argument in itself for providing support for these workers. The NFF went on to say:

They cannot afford any additional operational expenses, and the cost of paid leave cannot be absorbed or easily managed. For that reason an entitlement to a new form of paid leave must be resisted.

Those are strong words—strong, pitiful words. I would have thought the person who said those words would be ashamed, because the evidence that's been brought out in this debate has shown the productivity gains to be garnered as a result of actually providing the support which we're advocating here. So let's not gloss over this. This sort of resistance, this sort of perverse advocacy, is against our community and individual interests as well as the national interest.

We need to be stronger than that. The NFF have admitted, in this advocacy of the NFF, the fact that they've got a problem finding workers. Well, treat the workers you've got with respect and that might help you. It's not a benign place this. This is not contested space in the sense that you don't need to provide the support. I think that advocacy is disgraceful. We know from the evidence—which, as I say, has been demonstrated before—what this means.

I go again to the Bills Digest and use their evidence:

Proponents of paid FDV leave also reject the argument that paid FDV leave would be an unreasonable burden on employers …

They refer to a study by the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute which:

… conducted research into the economic impacts of introducing an entitlement to ten days of paid FDV leave. It used data on the incidence of FDV and its impact on work attendance …

The analysis concluded that around 1.5 per cent of female and 0.3 per cent of male employees—this is very important—would be likely to access this leave each year. Really? This is some outrageous cost burden? The findings continue:

It further estimated that, assuming an entitlement of ten days of paid FDV leave, the cost to employers of wage pay outs would be modest, and likely to be almost completely offset by benefits such as improved productivity and decreased turnover.

That in itself refutes the accusations and the assertions which were made in that absurd statement from the NFF—something which I think we should all reject.

Others have spoken about flagship companies, such as Carlton & United Breweries, IKEA, NAB, Qantas, Telstra and Virgin Australia, who have done significant work in this space. The member for Scullin spoke about his union and the role of the trade unions, and I've referred already to the member for Batman. We need to understand that there's a community movement here that's heading inexorably to 10 days paid leave. Why the government's not in this cart is absolutely beyond me. Work undertaken by the ABS estimated that around two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. There can be no doubt that a comprehensive response to domestic violence involves a workplace response.

Again, I go to the Bills Digest:

In 2011 researchers from the Centre for Gender Related Violence Studies at the University of New South Wales, funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, conducted a national survey of union members investigating the impact of FDV in the workplace. Around thirty per cent of respondents indicated that they had experienced FDV, and around half of those reported that the violence impacted their ability to attend work.

This is not wearing our hearts on our sleeves here. This is, in part, a practical economic response to what is a tragic issue. We absolutely need to address the cause of domestic violence. Any violence, whether domestic or otherwise, is unacceptable, but if you accept, as I do, that people who are subject to domestic violence have difficulty in the workplace, that it affects their output at work and that it affects their mental health, then why can't we see this 10 days paid leave as an investment in future productivity? Because that's what it is. And why can't we see this 10 days paid leave as an indication of our loyalty to our workforce and compassion for and understanding of the circumstances in which they live and the suffering they have endured as a result of violence?

Of course, it's legitimate, absolutely legitimate. All sorts of activities need to take place if, for example, people are trying to extricate themselves from a relationship. They need time off. They might need to see a lawyer, they might have medical needs, they might have children to care for—all sorts of things which are impossible to do outside of work hours, which need to be done during normal work hours.

It is possible for us to do this. I accept that we've come some way in at least acknowledging the importance of domestic violence leave. That's what this bill does, and we'll be supporting it, but we'd like to see it go a damn sight further and provide people with the paid domestic leave that they are entitled to.

12:25 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, but, of course, I don't believe it does go far enough in providing a comprehensive support plan for those affected by family violence. I commend the comments by my colleagues the member for Fowler, the member for Scullin and, just now, the member for Lingiari. I have great confidence that my colleagues very much understand the importance of addressing the issue of family violence. Were we in power, we would undoubtedly have a comprehensive management plan. I also commend the member for Batman, who I sit with in the House now, who has supported women in the workforce for many years and has introduced measures to deal with family violence in the workforce.

I believe that family violence is a scourge on our society and that urgent action is needed. The fact that one woman or more is killed per week in Australia in an act of family violence, and that a significant number of children die each year in Australia from acts of family violence, is an absolute tragedy and one that we should be addressing on an urgent basis. The prevalence of domestic and family violence across our nation absolutely disgusts me, upsets me and baffles me. It has no place in Australia, or anywhere else for that matter. How it's been allowed to continue to occur in our communities without urgent and effective action saddens me no end. I do not think that there is a silver bullet and I do not profess to have all of the solutions, but I do know that we can be doing more as a society to prevent, address and punish acts of family violence. Such heinous acts are inexcusable.

We've all been exposed to stories of domestic violence over the years, and we seem to be almost inured to urgent action. I've been exposed to and made aware of a number of instances of domestic violence that have occurred in my community throughout the years I've worked in my community. I've seen family members, women and children, who have lost their lives to family violence. As a paediatrician, I saw the scars of domestic violence, both physical and emotional, in my patients and their families far too often. Family violence takes a toll on people that cannot be expressed in mere words. The scars might not always be visible but I saw them in my over 35 years of work as a paediatrician in our community, over a number of generations. We do know that there is much more that can be done that's effective. We know that early intervention works. We know that children exposed to domestic violence, unless they are managed well, will themselves be prone to acts of domestic violence. There is much more that we should be doing. Each case that I became aware of haunted me. It wasn't just the patients who bore the emotional scars of domestic violence for decades. Mothers, fathers, siblings, carers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and community members are all affected by family violence.

When I saw an ill child or a child with behavioural problems, or even just a healthy newborn getting a check-up, I did form a bond with those kids and their families. To see people who I know and whose children I've looked after lose their lives in acts of violence still haunts me to this day. How could it not? You do share significant moments with the patients you look after. Most of those are good, some of them are quite daunting and some of them are tragic. But, when you see a random act of violence affect a family so that people are severely injured or lose their lives, that stays with you forever. To me, it's a continuing tragedy that these incidents occur week after week, month after month and year after year. That should be seen as a national tragedy, and we should have a national response.

Sometimes I would see families in which violence had occurred but which may have been masked. But it was generally fairly obvious that violence was occurring in a family, with major effects on the children—on their behaviour, on their learning and on their disposition. It was often very difficult to formulate an adequate response. I like to think that I always put the safety and wellbeing of my patients and their families as the No. 1 priority, but sometimes you just can't help but feel helpless in a situation where there is violence in a family that you know is going to be ongoing. It was never my wont to remove children from families if there was a better option. It was never in my power, or really even my responsibility, to tell a parent to leave their abusive partner. But I always wondered if there were better ways by which we could support these families and these people.

Upon my career change I thought that my exposure to some horrendous cases of domestic violence would be over, but that was not to be the case. Perhaps it was a little selfish of me to think that, but that's what I thought. Now, as a member of parliament, I am continually exposed to families who have had violence inflicted upon them in ways that I now see in a broader picture. There are people presenting with the need for housing, for example, or who need help in supporting their children who are severely traumatised. Or they need help in the workforce in trying to maintain a job in the face of having to leave the family home and to avoid a violent partner. I realise now that there is much more that we could and, indeed, should be doing.

For too long, our society has been content with ignoring domestic violence. It's a topic that makes people uncomfortable; it makes them uneasy and it makes them sad. Hearing about instances of domestic violence isn't very pleasant. But it is simply unacceptable and reprehensible to turn a blind eye to it. If we want to address this epidemic—and I do call it an epidemic—we must be willing to fight it with every ounce of our collective strength. I am truly hopeful that society has turned the page on this, with wonderful advocates like Rosie Batty ensuring that the topic is discussed in institutions right across the nation. That includes large companies taking notice and formulating policies that will help.

What I discovered on entering the political sphere is that I can continue to help people with this—and I'm not offering medical advice. I've discovered that I can help in a new way by connecting families with wonderful local services and institutions to ensure that they can escape domestic violence and get on with their lives. Centrelink has been very helpful for people navigating the financial difficulties associated with family violence. The Macarthur Legal Centre in my electorate has been absolutely outstanding in supporting women who have been exposed to domestic violence, in particular, and their children. I do think that, with the right supports, people can escape domestic violence and that we, as a society, can support them. We can offer a helping hand, and we can make sure that the children who are exposed to family violence are managed in such a way that they are less likely to commit ongoing family violence. We can make sure that the perpetrators, while feeling the full brunt of the law, are also provided with support to change their behaviour.

The crux of this debate and this legislation is that the Labor Party do believe that there's more to be done, and we do believe that at least 10 days paid domestic violence leave should be incorporated into the National Employment Standards. It makes me proud to be a member of the Labor Party that suggested this. In particular, when the New South Wales branch supported paid domestic violence leave at our national conference, it was extremely moving to be in the room and to watch every delegate stand in solidarity on this front. Whilst I believe that this bill is a step in the right direction, I do not believe it goes nearly far enough. We need to be doing more to address this crisis, and to show that we care, through real and tangible action. I believe that making paid domestic violence leave a universal workplace right, by legislating it into the National Employment Standards of the Fair Work Act, is a good place to start. But it is only a start. It's not sufficient for us, as parliamentarians, to merely say we've tried; we need to be bold. We need to make our attempts to tackle domestic violence enact real change. The fact that one woman a week is killed every year, as well as a significant number of children, is a disgrace. It's a crisis that needs addressing.

Countless mothers, fathers, daughters and sons fall victim to acts of domestic violence and family violence every day. We do not truly know the extent of domestic violence because a lot of it goes unreported and unchallenged. We need to be bold in our initiatives to address this. We know that many victims of domestic violence are too scared to come forward. We need to allow them ways to make it easier to come forward, and we need to make sure that they can be supported and helped when they do try to flee domestic violence. It's not simply a matter of telling someone who has fallen victim to domestic violence about who can provide them with support; we, as a society, need to formulate a plan to help them on a stepwise basis.

I'm firmly of the belief that, if a woman needs to take time off work to do the things she needs to do to support her children and herself, she should be able to do this without being inflicted with any detrimental effects at her workplace. The most dangerous time for a person is when they're attempting to leave a violent relationship, and we need to support them through this. We know that around two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce, so a thorough and adequate response to address domestic violence must involve a workplace response. My colleagues in this chamber would be very much aware that many private enterprises have been taking the lead on this—firms such as IKEA, Telstra, Virgin Australia, NAB, Carlton & United Breweries, Qantas and many more—and are doing the right thing, but it's important that we formulate a national response. Our union movement has been leading the charge, and its efforts over many years have led to subsequent coverage in many Australian workplaces and much change.

I acknowledge that this bill will provide all employees with entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave, but it is a very small step. This should not be unpaid leave; it should be, I believe, paid leave. And I don't think five days is sufficient. I believe this legislation should provide for paid family and domestic violence leave of at least 10 days. Even some Australian states and territories—Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT—have been taking action to have more than five days. South Australia offers 15 days and Victoria offers 20. This is the example we should be following. I strongly believe that it is only fitting that, as a national government, we have a comprehensive national plan, and I do not believe that five days leave is enough.

This legislation starts the process, and I do believe that we are at least starting to change. It's disappointing that the government's taken so long. Initially, they were totally opposed to family and domestic violence leave, so it is a small start. I'd like to think we could eventually have a bipartisan approach, but I do not believe the government has its heart in this legislation and I think there's much more that it could be doing.

I would like to finish by saying this is a good thing, but there's much more to be done, and I strongly believe the Labor Party will do much better should we come to power in the next election. The government should follow our leadership on this, and I think there's much more they should be doing. Thank you.

12:40 pm

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 and of course stand in support of the amendments moved by the member for Gorton. This bill has been on the Notice Paper for a number of weeks now, although it's been relegated to the end of the day every single time, so I'm pleased to see it's now being debated. It's incredibly disappointing, though, that we have one government member speaking on this bill. I hope something can change in the time before we adjourn.

One woman a week is killed as a result of domestic violence. There's no question that this is a national crisis. The ABS estimates that two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are currently in the workforce. To me, it would just make sense that, to implement a truly comprehensive response to domestic and family violence, we must legislate a workplace response. For our government and for the business community, this won't be a world-changing adjustment, but, for an individual who is trying to escape an abusive relationship or abuse in the family home, this could really change their world—obviously for the better.

While the government has been putting off debating this bill—as I said, it's been on the paper for a number of weeks—more and more businesses have already begun writing paid domestic violence leave into their employment contracts. This is at least in part, of course, due to the leadership role of the trade union movement, who have stood up for workers during bargaining and called for change. Unions like United Voice, the CFMMEU and the Finance Sector Union, just to name a few, have been strong champions for victims of domestic violence.

Before entering this place, for a number of years I was an organiser with United Voice working with early childhood educators, trying to get the best and fairest outcome for those workers in that sector. I remember that, back then, for many employers the concept of paid domestic violence leave was still fairly foreign. This was something I knew to be important not just because it made sense but because I'd been listening to workers and heard what they thought was vital in a workplace agreement. When you speak to workers, they don't just talk about their hourly rate. They don't just talk about health and safety. They share their stories and what's important to them and their families.

I also note that yesterday the member for Fairfax, on the MPI, stood up here in the chamber and said his government was here representing people and yet Labor was here representing unions. Well, I'd like to remind the member for Fairfax what, in fact, a union is: it's a collective of workers, of course, and workers, of course, are people.

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Don't listen to him; it's generally a mistake!

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the member for Bruce for that interjection. He's absolutely correct.

I remember once in bargaining with a particular employer, sitting down, the delegates were calling upon the employer to move on a log of claims, and one of those claims was for paid DV and family leave. I will tell you, Deputy Speaker Claydon, it was frustrating being knocked back constantly, hearing the predominantly female workers being knocked back on their log for DV leave. I remember at that time that the employer wouldn't budge until there was this one day. I remember really clearly how quickly the employer's stance changed and it seemed to be overnight. What had happened was one of the union delegates at the bargaining table shared her personal story. It was very brave. I know it was incredibly hard for her to retell her experience of domestic abuse. She directly made a huge impact on the lives of her colleagues that day, many of whom may not even have known she had been suffering at the hands of an abuser. It had a huge impact because the employer abruptly changed their stance and added 10 days paid DV and family violence leave to their agreement immediately after hearing that story. With this move, they joined countless businesses who have shown support for their workers. Businesses like Telstra, Virgin Australia and IKEA were among more than 1,000 businesses that had enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between January 2016 and June 2017 providing 10 or more days of paid domestic and family violence leave. I was speaking with the regional general manager from Westpac bank just yesterday, and he advised me that Westpac provides for 20 days of domestic violence and family violence leave for their employees.

Let me be clear: this isn't a paid holiday for any of these men and women who may need to access this leave. It's an opportunity to get your affairs in order, an opportunity to escape abuse. Escaping isn't just as easy as walking out of the door. For some, it can be as significant as restarting your life, starting your life over again. It can mean having lots of meetings with doctors, lawyers, financial advisers and support groups. It can mean making arrangements for your children. It can mean finding new accommodation, getting electricity connected and meeting the real estate agent at the new home. If the children have to go to a new school, you have got to get them enrolled and purchase new uniforms. All of those things happen during business hours, Monday to Friday. As we all know, some abusers like to use financial control as a means of power, so it could also mean opening a new bank account and securing funds just to put food on the table. Getting through all of this can be extremely difficult at the best of times; there's no doubt about that. But, for a victim who is already in a vulnerable state, struggling just to keep things together, it can be next to impossible. So imagine trying to do that without an income.

In its submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry into this bill, the Law Council of Australia, in speaking to the employment related impact of domestic violence and family violence, at point 8, said:

The implications of this are serious for victims, who may be suffering financial abuse, and may feel that they are unable to take time-off work in order to leave an abusive relationship out of fear of losing their job. Financial hardship can bind victims, often women, to abusive relationships.

That was part of the Law Council's submission to this Senate inquiry. Legislating for paid domestic violence leave isn't just about the money. Obviously that's a huge part of it, but it can also be about time. I was speaking to a young lawyer recently in Brisbane who was telling me about a case she had worked on. It was a DV case where a woman was looking to escape the abuse she suffered from her partner. Every day, she would go to work. Every day, she would come home to an incredibly toxic environment. This agonising cycle continued for some time until the victim decided that she had enough. So, one day, when she clocked off from work, she went to a friend's home to start the process of getting her affairs in order. She didn't go home to her family home; she went to a friend's home. That she didn't come directly home sent her abuser into a frenzy. The next day he showed up at her workplace and caused a huge scene which ultimately saw her position terminated. If this woman had had access to paid domestic violence leave she could have covertly got her affairs in order during work hours. She could have organised accommodation and sought police support so that her abuser could not follow her to her place of employment. And she could have retained her position.

I'm not sure that we need any better example than what I've just given to get this amendment about 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave up. I don't think there could be clearer example than the one I've just given. It's our job to make sure this doesn't happen again. It's our job to support vulnerable Australians when they need it the most. Last year, Labor sought to do exactly that, announcing that a Shorten Labor government would introduce 10 days paid domestic violence leave into the NES, the National Employment Standards. We've been advocating strongly for it ever since.

In March this year the Fair Work Commission inserted into modern awards a clause providing for five days of unpaid domestic violence leave. This decision came into effect on 1 August this year, meaning that two million award-reliant employees are now entitled to five days of unpaid DV leave. This amendment bill amends the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with an entitlement of five days of unpaid domestic and family violence leave if they are experiencing family and domestic violence, need to do something to deal with family and domestic violence, and it's impractical to do that thing outside their ordinary hours of work. The story I've just shared with you shows that even the simplest of duties can be impractical to achieve outside work hours when you are a victim of abuse constantly being controlled by your abusive partner. I would argue that we need to be careful with the interpretation of what is practical or impractical when quite literally we're talking about someone's life being at stake here. We know the most dangerous time for a woman is when she's leaving a violent relationship, so we need to do what we can to ensure that women can do that safely.

While this bill is, of course, a step in the right direction, it simply does not go far enough. It still leaves the federal government standards out of step with thousands of businesses and falls short of what is offered by the state governments all across Australia. It's very disappointing that it has taken the government so long to move from their absolute opposition to family and domestic violence leave to this belated and, seemingly, begrudging support for unpaid leave. The minister first committed to unpaid leave in March but, as I said, we're at the end of November and we're only now debating it. It's frustrating that they have waited so long to even bring it up for debate.

We don't expect there will be a huge uptake of domestic violence leave when this bill passes. We don't expect every victim to access it in its entirety. For many, particularly in small businesses where employers and employees have a really close working relationship, the workplace acts as a support mechanism for victims. It's where you spend a lot of your time. You are able to discuss with friends and colleagues what you're experiencing. Work offers the semblance of normalcy and routine that can be so important when you're trying to get your life back together. Because we don't expect there to be a huge uptake of this leave when the bill passes, we don't expect there to be too much cost to business. In fact, it's likely to have a positive effect. In May 2016, KPMG estimated that the cost of violence against women and their children on production and the business sector was sitting at $1.9 billion for 2015-16. This, of course, doesn't include the terrible personal and social cost of domestic violence.

In closing, I'd like to share with the chamber part of the QNMU submission to the Senate inquiry. It said:

As the bill provides five days unpaid domestic violence and family violence leave to be included in the National Employment Standards (NES), it will likely affect nurses who are remain award reliant or who have no such provisions in their enterprise agreement. AINs—

assistants in nursing—

who are employed in aged care comprise a significant proportion of these workers. They are amongst the lowest paid and therefore most in need of a secure, continuous income during periods of domestic violence.

I call on the government members to take a greater interest in this. Like I said, disappointingly, we've got one government member speaking on this bill. I say to government members: if you genuinely care about the Australian people, your constituents, and if you care about Australian small business, stand up and speak on this bill. There is still time. Or, better yet, stand up and throw your support behind Labor's call for a legislated 10 days of paid domestic violence leave. Our country is in crisis. We are in crisis. We must lead the way for this change.

12:55 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the amendment moved to the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 by the member for Gorton. This bill is a small step forward, but it doesn't do what is required. The bill proposes that the National Employment Standards be amended to provide all employees with an entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. It follows the decision of the Fair Work Commission in March of this year to insert a clause into modern awards with an entitlement providing for five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. This decision came into effect from 1 August. It has provided more than two million award-reliant employees with up to five days unpaid domestic violence leave. This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough.

In just the first two weeks of October, seven women in Australia lost their lives to violence. The majority of these crimes were committed by people they knew. The statistics on violence against women in Australia are indeed shocking and shameful. In Australia, on average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner. One in four Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives. Half of these victims have children in their care. Women with disabilities experience high levels of violence. Indigenous women experience higher rates of more severe forms of violence than the rest of the population. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death, disability and illness amongst women aged between 15 and 44 years. It is higher than motor vehicle accidents, blood pressure or smoking. Just think about that.

I have had the privilege of serving as both the minister and the shadow minister for transport. One of the big issues that we deal with is road safety and trying to get the number of fatalities and serious injuries on our roads down. We developed the National Road Safety Strategy 2011-20. That was recently inquired into in a good piece of work initiated by the government to have a strategy over the next three years, 2018 to 2020. That inquiry consulted people who were families of the victims of road fatalities and trauma. There was a great deal of attention given to that. But the figures pale into far less significance compared with what happens to women in homes around our nation. Whilst very few road fatalities occur as a result of a deliberate act by someone behind the wheel, these fatalities and trauma occur as a direct result of deliberate actions by someone—overwhelmingly men, overwhelmingly the partners or husbands of women—who makes a conscious decision to commit an act of violence, which, at its most extreme, can result in a murder. Yet, tragically in my view, it has not received the significance or the attention that it deserves of this parliament or, indeed—because this isn't just an issue for this parliament—of our society.

When you look at the statistics, they tell you that it must be the case that all of us have friends or family members who are engaged in this activity. That must be the case, given the quite horrific numbers that we are talking about. Domestic violence destroys individuals, destroys families and destroys communities. The insidious reach of domestic violence across our nation places an obligation on the national government to do what it can to support those affected. I do want to pay tribute to those amazing women who work in centres, including the one located in my electorate, that deal with victims of rape and domestic violence. Those women do extraordinary jobs under what must be extraordinary emotional pressure to improve the lives of women and their children.

If we need an argument for strong intervention, beyond common sense and decency, it's that so much of the research tells us that there's an ongoing cycle of violence in families once it has occurred. The fact that young people are exposed to that is tragic. It is something that requires a response from the whole of our society. But we also have an obligation to do what we can, and we are in a position to make a difference. That's why I implore the government to show a bit of courage and support the amendment put forward by my colleague the member for Gorton and put in place 10 days leave, which should be, in my view, a minimal requirement.

We know that the ABS estimates that around two-thirds of women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. What that means is that some 800,000 women are experiencing some form of violence in their homes at a time when they are also contributing to an income, largely to look after their kids as well as themselves. Quite often, we also know that physical violence will be associated with violence of other forms—psychological violence and violence of intimidation, including the withholding of financial support for women in those situations. So, very clearly, we should do what our neighbours across in New Zealand have done and introduce 10 days paid leave. They did it in July of this year. It makes sense.

Apart from the significant personal impact of violence, we know that there are also costs to employers when a worker is living with violence—increased absenteeism, increased staff turnover, decreased performance, decreased productivity, conflict among workers and safety issues if the perpetrator of violence has to be at the workplace, because, as we just heard from the member for Longman, sometimes the perpetrator of that violence will turn up at the workplace. In a report into the economic aspects of domestic violence leave by The Australia Institute, Dr Jim Stanford confirmed what domestic violence counsellors have been saying for decades—that economic insecurity is one of the most significant obstacles confronting women in their decision of whether to leave or not leave a violent relationship.

We know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship, and many of us have had those experiences firsthand. This time, in addition to fearing for her safety, she will need to find new, secure accommodation, get an AVO, seek treatment if required and, potentially, attend court appearances. Introducing paid domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards provides an important opportunity to reach people living with violence and to give them support. It sends a clear message that domestic violence is not acceptable in any workplace or in our society.

Senator Mathias Cormann has said that domestic violence leave is just another cost on our economy that will have an impact on our international competitiveness. The former Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, said that paid domestic violence leave is 'a perverse disincentive' leading to women not getting jobs. These are ill-informed and ignorant claims which are dangerous and negligent. It's time that these senior members of the government step back and had a rethink on an issue that should be well above politics, because we know that some of Australia's most successful and profitable businesses have introduced paid domestic violence leave—Qantas, IKEA, NAB, Westpac, Woolworths and Telstra. Indeed, more than 1,000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2017 provide for 10 days or more of paid domestic and family violence leave. Both the Queensland and Western Australian governments offer 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees. South Australia offers 15 days. In Victoria and here in the ACT, it is 20 days.

Make no mistake: not paying domestic violence leave is not free. There's a cost to those experiencing family violence, but there's also a cost to the economy. Paid domestic violence leave will make it easier for women to leave violence. It will make it easier to keep children safe. It will make our workforce healthier and safer, and it will save lives. As with every other major social and economic reform, there are some who will say that it will damage business, but the reality is that the cost of inaction is far too high. It's 2018; we know what the circumstances are. There are no more excuses for not taking action and for not taking action in this parliament.

1:10 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Family and domestic violence is a wicked act that's not caught on CCTV footage like a hold-up at a convenience store or a robbery, which are often beamed into lounge rooms across the country on the nightly news. This insidious violence takes many forms, often occurring under a dark shroud, behind closed doors. It's hidden from view. It's perpetrated by cowardly people in the kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms of homes all across the country. According to several estimates, this year 63 women have lost their lives as a result of the actions of men. One in six women experience family and domestic violence, and Indigenous women experience violence at even higher rates. These numbers are unacceptable. These numbers should be zero.

Family and domestic violence is a problem that begins and ends with men. Mainly it is men who perpetrate this violence against their partners and their family. It is men, imbued with entitlement and misogyny, who scar our collective national consciousness. And it is men, not women, who must change their behaviour. It's clear that we need to alter the way that we raise our boys. We need to teach them to respect women and that violence is abhorrent. It's clear that we all have a role to play to stop this from happening. But until then we must live with our failure, and living with our failure means acknowledging the reality that's before us, that family and domestic violence is an ongoing problem that we must address now. While parliament cannot flick the switch immediately and prevent another woman dying an unnecessary death at the hands of their partner, we can do something. One of the things that we can, and should, do is offer victims of family and domestic violence paid leave—not this unpaid leave, which many people have at the moment, but paid leave.

The reason that paid leave is so important is that leaving a family and domestic violence situation is one of the hardest things that a person may attempt to do in their lives. It's not a matter of packing a bag and walking out the door. The perpetrators of family and domestic violence erode the liberty, the freedom and the independence of their victims. They don't just inflict fear and pain; they paralyse and isolate people. And not only is the cost of domestic violence to our society vast; the cost of escaping and leaving a violent relationship is significant. According to the ACTU, on average it takes $18,000 and 141 hours to escape such a relationship.

When you think about it, starting a new life is not easy. You need to do simple logistical things, like hire a truck to move possessions and spend time finding a new place to go—things that in many circumstances are stressful enough, but when you have the added burden of experiencing family and domestic violence or knowing someone who has it makes it all the harder. If you're trying to start a new life while escaping an old one you may also need to pay lawyers, seek support to deal with the trauma, apply for Centrelink, look for new schools for your child—the list goes on and on and on. And many of those things get done during work hours. To say you can only do those things on an unpaid basis inflicts further injury on people who are already injured.

Many women consider their financial capacity while they're thinking about leaving an abusive situation, and a majority of those women—in fact, about two-thirds—are in paid employment. But right now, instead of automatically having the support of their workplace, women in abusive relationships are trapped in a scary catch 22. Leaving work to create more time means sacrificing income, financial independence and possibly their job, but staying at work may hinder their ability to get organised and get out. So, in that context, the simple thing that we can and should do is say that leave should be available to everyone and that leave should be paid.

According to a report from the Australian Human Rights Commission, women who experience family and domestic violence are more likely to have lower personal incomes and a disrupted work history. Almost half of the women said that it affected their ability to work. The point is that this impossible choice of, 'Do I stay in the workplace and build up my financial security but potentially risk the ability to leave an abusive relationship?' is a false choice. There's another option for these women if this place has the courage to choose it. We can give another option to millions of women across the country. Ten days of paid family and domestic violence leave would give women the flexibility to take time off work to arrange for their own safety.

Right now, this parliament could grant what should be a universal right for every single worker in this country: the right to safety. It's because the Greens are committed to this position that we were the ones who first introduced a bill into this place that would give 10 days of paid leave. That bill has so far failed to get the support of the parliament, but, given that we are now debating the best way to support women who are leaving abusive relationships, we should put that question of paid leave back on the table, because what is absolutely clear right now is that we are not doing a good enough job at preventing family and domestic violence from happening in the first place and also at calibrating our policies to ensure that people who are in abusive relationships can leave them. So we're failing on both fronts.

The number of women who are dying dwarfs the kinds of death that we see from other things, like terrorism, that often make the front pages. Perhaps if it received as much media attention there would be as much action in this parliament, but it's our job here not just to be led by whether or not something makes the front page; it's to look at what is happening in our society and decide how we are going to best act on it. Some may say, 'Well, 10 days of paid leave costs too much,' and, of course, one answer to that is to say: 'What about the costs to businesses and the cost to the economy of forcing people to stay in abusive relationships? What does that mean for the workplace?' But the better argument is also to say, 'At the end of the day, we should not be putting a price on people's safety.' There is scant evidence that the ability for people to have 10 days of family and domestic violence leave would in any way be misused. It is an important safety net for many people—for many women—that in many instances may well, in fact, be the difference between life and death.

So I'm glad that we are seeing some action on this front and that there is at least some step being taken. This bill will, of course, improve the current situation. But, if we are having a discussion about how best to support the victims of family and domestic violence, paid leave must be on the table. It must be on the table because almost everyone who works in this space says many of the acts that women need to take to escape abusive relationships have to take place during working hours. They tell us very clearly that one of the most important things we can do at that time is to ensure that women—and it's mainly women—have financial security and that that financial security is not further compromised.

So, whilst this bill is in many respects a good start, I urge the government to go back and have a look at the bill that the Greens introduced into this place back in February. Not only does it allow family and domestic violence leave to be available at the rate of 10 days of paid leave—and, as I said, we were the first ones to suggest that in this place—it also has better provisions than are in the current bill as to who is eligible to access it. I'll flag now that during the consideration in detail stage of this debate we're put forward a number of concrete suggestions that I hope the government and the opposition will take on board. These will broaden the eligibility of those who are able to access it to include, for example—because it's not just about someone who's directly suffering family and domestic violence themselves—someone who is a close relative of someone experiencing family and domestic violence. That is something that we've recognised in our leave provisions for some time.

Over the years, we've expanded, for example, sick leave to include carers leave so that if you have a child that's sick you have the capacity to take some of your leave to look after them. Leave provisions have also developed over time. So should it be with this kind of leave. If someone has to offer support to a close member of their family who is going through family and domestic violence leave then they should also be able to access some of this. There should not be a need for impracticality, for example, before you can take the leave. It should be there as of right.

There are a number of provisions that I think will make this bill operate better and give a better expression to its true intent, which is to support people who are suffering family and domestic violence, that I hope the government and the opposition will take on board and that could pass if this bill passes. I hope the government, before this debate concludes, reconsiders the question of paid leave and perhaps comes back to this place with a bill that incorporates something that would make a real difference and potentially save lives: that we can have 10 days of paid leave for those experiencing family and domestic violence.

1:22 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In February this year, I met with representatives from the Australian Services Union. Some of their members had come to ask me to sign their We Won't Wait pledge. The objective of the We Won't Wait campaign is to get 10 days of paid family violence leave under the National Employment Standards, the NES, so that all Australian workers have access to this important support.

The contents of the pledge are as follows: 'I recognise the critical need for all sectors of society to work to prevent and respond to family violence. Workplaces are not immune to family violence, and workers attempting to survive the impacts of family violence need time to relocate and address legal issues, the welfare of their families and their own wellbeing. Maintaining employment through the process is critical to securing their family's long-term safety. For these reasons, I support the We Won't Wait campaign to make family violence leave available to all Australian workers.' I was proud to put my name to this pledge, and I'm proud that Labor is leading the way on this very important issue, having announced in December 2017 that an elected Labor government would legislate for 10 days paid family violence leave in the National Employment Standards.

Domestic and family violence is a scourge on our community without regard to income or social status. A recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that:

One in 6 Australian women and 1 in 16 men have been subjected, since the age of 15, to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner …

The same report indicated that:

Family, domestic and sexual violence happens repeatedly—more than half (54%) of the women who had experienced current partner violence, experienced more than one violent incident …

White Ribbon Australia has some scarily similar statistics, again, emphasising the scope and urgency of the problem: that one in four children in Australia are exposed to domestic violence, that domestic and family violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and/or their children, that violence against women is estimated to cost the Australian economy $21.7 billion each year, and that oft quoted figure—that is, over 12 months, on average, one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner. This is a shame. It's a national tragedy.

A person who is trying to remove themselves and their family from domestic violence should not be further burdened by the rational fear that, in making the request to have time off to deal with that situation, that could result in the loss of their job, nor should they see resignation from employment as the only way forward to get the time that they need. I'm pleased that the government has acknowledged the impact that family and domestic violence have on employers and employees in the workplace. We see this response to this issue in this legislation—that is, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018.

This bill proposes to amend the NES to provide all employees with an entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. This is in line with a recent decision from the Fair Work Commission to include a clause for five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave in all modern awards. The model clause from the FWC notes that often it is impractical to do the things that you need to do when dealing with the impacts of family violence outside of ordinary working hours. This is, of course, self-evident, practical and sensible for things like finding accommodation, securing an appropriate apprehended violence order from the police, seeking legal advice, getting medical treatment, seeing a counsellor or perhaps attending court hearings. All of these issues take time and, of course, they do not fit in with an out-of-hours schedule to suit a person's working arrangements. I say again: these are not things that can wait until a weekend, until the end of a shift or the end of a work day. For this reason, domestic and family violence leave should be a universal workplace right, not something that relies upon the goodwill of an employer; although I do know that there are many who would act with the sort of empathy necessary to help someone through this sort of crisis. For this reason, Labor will not be opposing this bill.

This bill is certainly a step in the right direction. However, we on this side of the House do not believe that it goes far enough. Labor's commitment, as I said earlier, is for 10 days paid family violence leave—paid. It is absolutely essential that domestic and family violence leave is paid leave available to every Australian worker. I'm concerned that with this legislation the government is saying that only the women who can afford to take unpaid leave are entitled to take the time required to remove themselves from a domestic violence situation, remove themselves to protect their families, remove themselves to seek support, to seek safety.

It is a fact that women are more likely to be in insecure work, or working casually or part time whilst also taking on the caring responsibility for their family. Often this means that taking unpaid leave will put them at even more financial disadvantage. If a woman is in the situation of needing to take family and domestic violence leave, it's likely that she is also counting on continuing to receive a pay cheque and being able to go back to work while she takes on the task of dealing with the impacts of family violence. A March 2018 article in The Conversation by post-doctoral research fellow Kate Farhall noted there has been research into the costs leaving an abusive relationship. These costs can be many, they can be immediate, and the costs can be long term. The costs will include relocation, including lease-break costs, costs to—

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, when the speaker may seek continuation.