House debates

Monday, 3 December 2018

Bills

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

3:38 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think everyone in this place would agree that women should be safe whatever they are doing and wherever they are doing it in our society. Unfortunately, we're here today because they're not. Women don't necessarily feel—and they are not necessarily—safe, and women need to be safe in their communities, online, at home and in their workplaces. Unfortunately, we know that this is not the case with around 17 per cent of women over the age of 15 years, who report that they have experienced violence from a current or former partner.

Our government is committed to addressing family and domestic violence. It is an issue that demands action on many fronts, and that is what we are doing. There is no one course of action that needs to be taken to solve this terrible issue—and, in fact, I think we can call it a crisis—in our society. We need to do a variety of things. The bill before us provides for a minimum standard of five days unpaid leave for all employees covered by the Fair Work Act. It is an important step to take now to add to the many, many other things we are doing to protect women and keep them safe from domestic violence and to try to prevent domestic violence.

This bill adds to the suite of measures that we are taking and that we have already taken. Since we were elected in 2013, we have committed over $300 million to address family and domestic violence. In 2015, we committed $100 million through the Women's Safety Package, which provided crucial funding for 1800RESPECT, the national telephone and online counselling and information service, which ensures more women can get support when they need it. We also supported local women's caseworkers to coordinate support for women escaping domestic violence, including housing, safety and budgeting services.

In 2016, we then committed a further $100 million under the Third action plan 2016-2019 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. This plan set out an ambitious agenda. With the support of key stakeholders and the community, this ambitious agenda will substantially reduce domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia. But, of course, that's not all we are doing. We are developing the fourth action plan at the moment, and work on that plan is well and truly underway. As part of this process, the Minister for Women, the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer, co-chaired the COAG National Summit on Reducing Violence Against Women and their Children in Adelaide on 2 and 3 October this year.

Our recent federal budgets have also demonstrated our commitment to addressing family and domestic violence. There were a number of measures announced in the 2017-18 budget. As I said, we have to do a range of things to address family and domestic violence. There is no one single solution; we need a range of measures. What we announced this year was $55.7 million for community legal centres so that we can provide frontline family law and family violence services to women who are in desperate need of that support at one of the most difficult times of their lives. We budgeted $10.7 million to family law courts to employ additional family consultants who prepare family reports to inform the court about risks that may be present to family safety in those cases. We provided $12.7 million to establish parent management hearings, a new forum for resolving family law disputes between self-represented litigants, and we provided $3.4 million to expand the national pilot program for specialist domestic violence units that provide wraparound legal and other support services to women who are experiencing or are at risk of domestic and family violence.

There were further measures announced in the 2018-2019 budget, which included $22 million over five years to address the abuse of older Australians, which affects up to 20 per cent of women who are our senior citizens, and $14.2 million over four years for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, to help make cyberspace safe for women, because, as I noted at the outset of my speech, it is not just in person that people are at risk; it is often online where women are suffering abuse and violence and where they are feeling unsafe. We also provided $6.7 million to maintain funding for DV-alert to continue its domestic violence response training for community frontline workers. These are the support people that are so crucial for women who find themselves in these awful circumstances.

We also provided an additional $11.5 million for the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, 1800RESPECT, over two years. 1800RESPECT has been a vital support service for so many people, and on 27 November this year we announced an additional $10.9 million to fund this service and ensure that it continues to deliver a trusted and valued service to the community.

In November, the Minister for Women also delivered the first women's economic security statement, worth $109 million over four years, to shine a light on the obstacles to women in building their financial security and to focus on practical measures to help change that. We know that when women are financially independent, when they have financial security, they are more able to make the decisions and to leave if that's necessary to get themselves out of harm's way and to keep themselves safe. The measures in the statement to support women's economic independence are worth $35.6 million over four years, and they include several measures to help Australian women experiencing family and domestic violence. We have continued funding to specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships, which will also include financial counselling. We are extending early access to superannuation beyond terminal illness and severe financial hardship to those experiencing family and domestic violence so they can access funds that they may desperately need to help them get to safety.

We're funding Good Shepherd Microfinance to provide no-interest loans to help 15,000 women experiencing family and domestic violence to access finance when they most need it, without high interest. These loans can be spent on things like relocating to somewhere safer, finding a new home, essential household items and also rental bonds, which can be a very large up-front expense that women may not have the cash on hand to provide for themselves.

We're also funding legal aid commissions to support changes to family law that will ban cross-examination in certain cases where women are escaping family violence and where they fear cross-examination by their ex-partner. I'm pleased that these changes to family law under the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018 have passed the House, and I hope that the Senate will pass them as well.

The bill before the House now is an important part of the support that working women who are experiencing family and domestic violence need. As I said, it is one of the many, many things that we need to do for women who find themselves in these terrible circumstances. Providing a minimum safety net of five days unpaid leave will provide women experiencing family and domestic violence with time off to deal with the impact of that violence, and it will ensure that they can be confident their job is protected while they do so.

As I've already noted, our government is taking a number of steps to promote the economic security of women—not just women who experience domestic and family violence but women throughout all stages of their lives. We're supporting women to be financially independent, whether they are school leavers, jobseekers, new mums returning to the work force or senior Australians nearing retirement age.

One of the most important things, as I noted earlier, is that women are financially independent and they can afford to make the decisions that they need to make for their best self-interest and to keep themselves safe if necessary. When you have a job, when you can provide for yourself, you can make those decisions if need be. We have added almost one million jobs to the Australian economy since September 2013, when we came to government. Significantly, 58 per cent of these jobs went to women, and the minister reminded the House of these fantastic statistics during question time today. In 2015-16 alone, around 90,000 more women than men joined the labour force. These are very encouraging statistics. These are excellent statistics. By contrast, when those opposite left office, women's full-time employment was going backwards, so I'm so proud that we have been able to see more women into work and more women into full-time work.

What we're doing on our side of the House is helping women access the job market by providing affordable and accessible child care, because we know this is one of the biggest barriers for many women who want to return to work. We've started the national rollout of the ParentsNext program, which helps eligible parents prepare for employment, with approximately 96 per cent of participants expected to be women, including around 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In the May budget we committed $64.3 million to establish a jobs and market fund to grow the National Disability Insurance Scheme workforce and service providers, because we know that women make up almost 80 per cent of employees in the health, social assistance and disability care industries. We've extended the pension work bonus to allow pensioners to earn more income without reducing their age pension, and mature-age women will benefit from expanded access to the Restart wage subsidy, offering an incentive of up to $10,000 to encourage businesses to hire and retain mature-age employees. Women aged between 45 and 70 will benefit from the Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers Program.

When it comes time for women to retire, or when they want to retire, our government has provided a superannuation system that provides flexibility, sustainability and equity. We have introduced the low-income superannuation tax offset to support accumulation of superannuation for low-income earners. We have levelled the playing field by scrapping restrictions on who can make personal deductible contributions, benefitting 800,000 Australians, including women working in roles without access to formal salary sacrificing arrangements. In fact, in 2015-16 almost 320,000 low- and middle-income-earning women were paid $100 million in co-contributions. And of course we have also announced the Protecting Your Super package, which will help many, many women. We're assisting 1.6 million women who are still contributing to low-balance accounts by helping to protect their super as well. We know that the biggest risk to some of our senior Australian women is the retiree tax that the opposition wants to introduce should they to be elected to government. This is going to do a huge amount of damage to people who have worked very hard and saved very hard for their retirement. We know that women who have retired will be heavily impacted by that policy.

Our government is doing a range of things to support women who are experiencing domestic and family violence, but we are not the only ones who are working to support them. I'd like to take this opportunity to recognise some of the wonderful work that local groups and organisations in my community do to keep women safe and to also keep their children safe and support them in their time of deepest crisis and fear. Just down the road from my electorate office is MarionLIFE Community Services, a not-for-profit community organisation that strives to provide meaningful, flexible and responsive care and support to individuals and families in need. MarionLIFE is led by chairman Peter Fowler and director Leighton Boyd and provides a range of services, including emergency relief supplies, financial counselling to help support economic security, and a community nursing service to support overall health and emotional wellbeing.

Right next door to my electorate office is UnitingCare Wesley Bowden, who also do so much, especially for women and children in crisis in my community or in the south of Adelaide, with their Southern Adelaide office providing a range of different services. UnitingCare Wesley Bowden provides emergency respite care and the Child and Family Mental Health Program. I know that they provide particular support for children who really struggle to go to school during times of family upheaval, when they're in their moment of crisis, and they provide excellent economic advice and support and assistance as well.

Another wonderful organisation in my electorate is Foodbank SA, who provide food and emergency food relief to so many people in need but particularly to families who may be in crisis. It's the largest hunger relief organisation in South Australia, and I've been very proud to support Foodbank SA in the work it's done. I have seen firsthand their wonderful contribution.

As I've noted, this bill provides unpaid leave for women in domestic violence situations, and I'm proud to support the bill. (Time expired)

3:54 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. Sadly, one Australian women per week, on average, is killed by her current or former partners, and one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence at some stage after they turned 15. In October this year alone, 11 women died violently at the hands of men in Australia. This is a national crisis. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death, disability and illness amongst women between 15 and 44 years of age.

We know that there is no single answer to overcoming this scourge of domestic and family violence. We know that family and domestic violence is preventable. We know the policy response needs to be multifaceted. It must come, firstly, from strong leadership from government, business, unions and the community.

We are seeing some leadership from business, the unions and even from some governments, but sadly not as much as we need from the Morrison government. This bill is evidence of that. Sadly, it is a missed opportunity from the Morrison government. While this bill does amend the National Employment Standards to provide domestic and family violence leave to award-reliant employees, it provides only five days of leave, and the leave is unpaid. I note it is a very small step in the right direction and thank those opposite for occasionally getting something right. I could make a comment about a stopped clock being right twice a day, but I won't. If the Prime Minister listened to women he might have a better understanding of why it is necessary for women to have access to paid domestic and family violence leave and why only five days leave is inadequate. Anyone who works with victims and survivors of domestic and family violence will tell you that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. It often takes a very long time to get to the point where a woman is able to leave.

Domestic violence is all about control. Perpetrators go to extreme lengths to ensure their victim does not have the physical and financial freedom to leave the violent relationship. It is important that employees who are suffering from domestic and family violence know they can take leave to attend to issues like obtaining a protection order against the perpetrator, arranging new, safe accommodation, obtaining legal advice, seeking medical attention or any combination of these four. It is equally important that a woman who is planning to leave a violent relationship is not adversely impacted from loss of income through unpaid leave right at the time when she needs to be as financially independent as possible.

Labor announced almost a year ago that, if elected, a Shorten Labor government would introduce 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave into the National Employment Standards. Labor is leading on this issue. We know it is an important matter for all Australians. Many other organisations have also been calling for paid domestic and family violence leave, including the Law Council, the Catholic Women's League of Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the ACTU and other individual unions. Some businesses have taken action themselves and provide domestic and family violence leave to their own employees. I commend these employers, such as Medicare, CUB, Telstra, the NAB, Virgin Australia, Aldi Australia, IKEA and Qantas, to name a few. Other governments have shown leadership and taken action to provide paid leave, such as New Zealand, where they have legislated a guaranteed 10 days paid domestic violence leave. We can't let the Kiwis beat us in this as well—it's bad enough that they win the rugby all the time. Queensland and Western Australia provide 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees. South Australia actually provides 15 paid days of leave, while Victoria and the ACT offer 20. Even the New South Wales Liberal government announced last week that they would provide 10 days paid leave for public servants.

Surely Australia wants to be seen as a leader, not a trailing, plodding follower, but this deficient and belated policy is showing us to be just that. But it is hardly surprising, when we remember this government's appalling record of opposing domestic and family violence leave. Senator Cormann outright rejected the notion of domestic violence leave, saying:

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

Senator Cash, speaking as the then Minister for Women, outrageously suggested that family and domestic violence leave would make women less attractive to employers, saying it would act as 'a perverse disincentive'. If you google 'out-of-touch inherited privilege', you'll come up with a photo of Senator Cash, surely. How could someone say such a thing? What an astonishing thing to say, especially when you are the person responsible for representing the interests of women in our federal parliament. How bizarre that you would ever think an employer might consider not employing a person because there is a possibility that they might be abused by their partner and require leave to keep themselves safe.

This chaotic cluster of Liberals—I'm not going to use the term 'party'—just don't get it. In 2016 the Abbott-Turnbull government actually prevented 30 Public Service departments from providing for paid family violence leave in their enterprise agreements. The CPSU argued the Commonwealth should lead the way in providing paid family and domestic violence leave for its employees, but the coalition showed their true colours—that they are not truly committed to helping victims of family and domestic violence, even those employed by their own departments.

For victims of family and domestic violence, their workplace can be a source of much-needed support, but it can also be a place where the perpetrator of the violence can readily target them. The University of New South Wales has reported that 19 per cent of Australian employees experiencing domestic violence actually reported harassment at their place of work. Just imagine the awful dilemma of a woman who has finally taken the very serious and dangerous step of leaving a violent relationship, knowing that the next working day the perpetrator of that violence will know where they are—and not only that, but they will know when they will be leaving that place of work. That is putting a vulnerable victim into an even more vulnerable and dangerous position.

If victims of domestic violence don't have access to paid family and domestic violence leave, they won't have the option of not going to work to avoid their perpetrator and they won't have the ability to take immediate action to have a protection order put in place to stop the perpetrator from coming to their place of work to harass or threaten or even worse. What a difference it would make to the victim's ability to safely leave that relationship if they knew that the next day they would not be in a place where their perpetrator would be able to find them, and that they would be able to take immediate action to put in place a protection order so that the perpetrator would not be able to go to their place of work or to the place where they reside. These are important but simple things to put in place, but, to a woman leaving a violent relationship, this can be the difference between life and death. It is that serious. Without the ability to access paid family and domestic violence leave, victims will need to choose between their own and their children's safety or their continuing financial security. This is not fair. It is not fair and it is appalling that this government, which says it actually cares about family and domestic violence, is choosing to put victims in the invidious position of choosing between their family's safety and continuing to be able to put food on the table.

The workplace is just one element, but an important one, in the family violence policy area. The Productivity Commission has reported that, sadly, victims of family and domestic violence have a more disrupted work history and are consequently on lower personal income, have had to change jobs more often, and are employed at higher levels in the casual and part-time workforce. Family and domestic violence has far-reaching adverse implications for victims, including disrupting their working life and lowering their ability to earn a permanent and well-remunerated wage. It is for that reason that it is important to legislate for an appropriate amount of paid domestic and family violence leave to be available to all employees and not just hope that it will be negotiated into workplace agreements. The women who need this leave the most will not be in a position to bargain effectively.

There is a wider economic cost to family and domestic violence. The cost to production in the business sector was estimated by KPMG in 2016 as being around $1.9 billion for the 2015-16 year. The National Retailers Association estimates that almost 45,000 women working in that sector experience some form of family or domestic violence, with costs to the industry of approximately $62.5 million per annum in lost productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover. The National Retailers Association estimate the direct cost to employers for each instance of violence is about $1,404. Not having paid domestic and family violence leave in place is costing businesses now.

We know victims of domestic and family violence already have a tough working experience. Labor have listened. We've listened to the experts and the people on the front line, the ones who every day are helping victims and their families escape from the horrors of family and domestic violence. The Women's Legal Service Queensland is in Annerley, which is in my electorate. For over 30 years they have been helping women and their children, all over Queensland ,who are suffering from family and domestic violence. Women's Legal Service and similar organisations like them know that action is needed now and governments need to lead the fight against family and domestic violence.

Labor are committed to helping women leave violent and abusive relationships as quickly and as safely as possible. We have made this an immediate and urgent priority. Labor, if elected, will invest $18 million in funding for the Keeping Women Safe In Their Home program. We'll invest in advocacy and will make sure the victims of family and domestic violence are listened to. Labor will back laws prohibiting direct cross-examination by alleged perpetrators by boosting legal aid funding to meet the increased demand on legal aid. Labor is committed to legislating for 10 days paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards. Family and domestic violence is not a fringe issue. It's not a women's issue. It's an issue for the whole of Australia; it's everybody's business. If we are ever going to truly combat family and domestic violence, we need everyone—governments, businesses, communities and families—to take it seriously and to see it as the crisis that it is, and we need to all work together. We can do it, but it will take strong leadership—leadership that, sadly, we're not seeing from this chaotic cluster called the Morrison government.

Labor is prepared to lead on this issue. In a recent speech to the Our Watch reception in Canberra, the Leader of the Opposition set out the commitments of a Shorten Labor government if elected. We will develop and deliver a national 10-year plan to prevent violence against women and children. We'll establish a national advisory group—survivors, advocates, experts, counsellors, community lawyers and people on the front line who know what is needed and where. We'll continue to prioritise dollars and resources for prevention efforts and front-line services. We know how important it is to keep those services funded—money sure does make a difference.

While not all victims of family and domestic violence are women, we know that Australian women are nearly three times more likely than men to experience violence from an intimate partner. A Shorten Labor government will listen to women. These aren't just words. We already know that half of the MPs in the Shorten government will be women. Labor supports this bill, but points out that it is sadly deficient. It does not go far enough to protect vulnerable victims of family and domestic violence. It is the policy of a government that does not listen carefully to women, that does not understand women and that, sadly, has a very obvious and public problem with supporting and keeping women engaged within the Liberal Party.

This leave should be paid and it should be for 10 days. I repeat: this leave should be paid and it should be for 10 days. Family and domestic violence is a national crisis. It's everybody's business to prevent the scourge of family and domestic violence. It's everybody's business to make sure victims—and their families—can safely leave a violent relationship. It is the government's job to make sure that all workplaces fully support victims of domestic and family violence. So I call on the Morrison government to join with the Labor Party and commit to 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. Do it right the first time.

4:07 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 and in support of the amendments moved by the member for Gorton. I am extremely disappointed that only two government members have seen fit to add their names to the speaking list on this important bill before the House—and one of those was added just hours ago, after Labor exposed this shameful fact to the House. I'm disappointed because I don't think there is a more urgent and pressing law and order issue in this country today than the menace of domestic and family violence. This is a very important bill but, as my Labor colleagues before me have said, it doesn't go nearly far enough. It falls well short of the 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave that women in this situation need in order to give them the best chance of escaping a violent relationship.

Approximately one in four women, or 2.2 million women, and one in 13 men have experienced violence by an intimate partner since the age of 15. Today in Australia, like on any other day, police will respond to over 700 cases of domestic violence. One woman is killed in Australia by a partner or an ex every single week. Already this year, 63 Australian women have died due to violence. We have already well exceeded 2017's history of 54 deaths, and we are still one month out before the end of the year. While there is a growing awareness of the problem, there is nowhere near enough attention being paid to the solutions, particularly the support required for women. We know that around two out of three women who experience domestic violence are, in fact, in the workforce, so workplaces absolutely have to be part of the solution. We know that financial independence is one of the key predictors of successfully leaving a violent relationship, and access to a steady income can mitigate some of the effects of violence and provide one avenue out of abuse. Paid domestic violence leave is one important way in which to help achieve this. That is why domestic violence leave is so important.

Leaving an abusive relationship can be costly. I will go into some of those expenses later, but the measures proposed in this bill simply don't go far enough. It's of no surprise that, when this government seeks to amend industrial relations laws to accommodate something like domestic violence leave, they couldn't bring themselves to get it right, unlike the Labor Party, which has been in consultation for two years across Australia with women, employers, peak bodies and organisations that have been either experiencing this in their own places or working in frontline services helping to assist. The government hasn't put in those hard yards. They're trying to play catch-up now by putting this bill in the House, but they haven't done their homework properly beforehand.

The ACTU placed the costs of escaping a violent relationship at something like $18,000. That's what we're up against. This bill was, of course, not prompted by a sudden change of heart or a revelation to members opposite. It was prompted by the Fair Work Commission's decision to include five days of unpaid domestic and family violence leave into all the modern awards. This became active for 2.3 million workers on awards from August of this year. The government's proposed legislation will amend the National Employment Standards to extend this provision to all employees. It has taken a very long time to get here. Indeed, the government first committed to taking this action in March of this year, so why are we only talking about this in November? Since then we've had some 14 sitting weeks and dozens of bills that the government has considered far more pressing for this House to deal with and that have been coming before us. Those in this chamber have not prioritised women fleeing domestic violence until now.

Labor support this bill in principle. Indeed, it was Labor that first committed to deliver family and domestic violence leave back in 2017. We came to this position, as I said, after extensive conversations with victims and survivors of domestic violence, frontline workers, businesses, unions and organisations that deal daily with the tragic impacts of domestic violence. Their overwhelming message that we received was that domestic violence is a workplace issue and that people who have experienced domestic violence deserve the time and support to escape without losing pay. People told us again and again that family and domestic violence leave should be a universal workplace right.

Labor are glad that the government is finally starting to listen. Of course, this bill is a step in the right direction, but all of the evidence before us says it falls way short of what is needed. Too many women choose to stay in an abusive relationship because they simply don't have the money to leave. Others quit work, because they don't think they'll be able to maintain it and still do all of the things that are needed in order to flee a violent relationship. This is a horrific outcome, particularly when we know that maintaining a job is absolutely key to successfully escaping a violent relationship. We know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving that violent relationship, and that it is a time when she needs all the support possible.

Domestic violence leave crushes stigma and protects employees from discrimination. It shows women that their employer understands, supports and cares for them. It gives them the time and space they need to rebuild their lives, while maintaining their financial independence and, of course, it gives them the best chance of successfully building a new life for themselves.

Leaving a violent relationship is traumatic. It can also be enormously demanding, exhausting and absolutely time-consuming. There are doctors appointments, trips to the police station, meetings with lawyers, counsellors, financial advisers and a whole host of other services, not to mention house inspections, applications and calls to real estate agents to find a new home. Then there is the locksmith to fix and continuously change the locks every time your violent partner tracks you down. And, of course, women with children are often finding new schools and making sure the mental and physical needs of their children are looked after.

So it's clear that the government's plan for just five days of unpaid leave isn't good enough. Labor would like to see the government match our commitment for 10 days paid domestic violence leave. The cumulative stress of finding a safe place to live, seeking out legal advice, accessing counselling services and medical treatments should not be exacerbated by the fear of losing your job, or indeed the financial hit from the loss of income, because of having to take days off work. Yet, this is the very brutal reality for Australian women today. They simply can't afford to go without pay, especially with the extra costs of trying to find bonds, rent money, maybe buying furniture and having to pay for some of the specialist services and counselling services that are required.

In making this unpaid leave, the government is essentially saying that only women who can afford to take leave without pay should be able to leave a violent relationship, and that is not the message we want to send to Australian women. Too often we hear members of the government bemoaning the scourge of domestic violence, but, when there is a real chance to do something meaningful about it, their actions rarely match the determination or strength of their words. Indeed, it was this government who removed the domestic and family violence provisions from some of Public Service enterprise agreements that it was negotiating.

Some of the comments of government members on this matter have been deeply concerning. It wasn't long ago that the then employment minister, Senator Michaelia Cash, argued strongly against family and domestic violence leave. She even went as far as saying that, if it proceeded, women would lose their jobs. This is appalling and, of course, an absolute nonsense—a fig leaf for inaction. If you follow this argument to its conclusion, you might just as well say, 'We need to get rid of carers leave and maternity leave as they are disproportionately needed and accessed by women.' Around the same time, the finance minister, Senator Mathias Cormann, dismissed family and domestic violence leave as another cost to the Australian economy. This was revealed as a particularly shabby argument in light of the research done by the Australia Institute in 2016, a study which found that domestic violence leave wage payouts actually cost less than one-fiftieth of one per cent, or 0.02 per cent, of current payrolls. And even then these costs themselves are likely to be totally offset by the benefits to the company that they would receive in terms of reduced turnover and increased productivity. Without this provision, we know that some women are actually leaving work entirely when the pressure becomes too much, and I know this from women who have come to see me in my electorate office.

By providing this extremely modest support, employers maintain an employee, rather than going through the expensive and time-consuming process of hiring and training a new person. They are likely to be rewarded with a loyal, committed staff member, who appreciates the support they have been given. It is worth noting at this point that the private sector is well ahead of the government when it comes to this issue. In fact, there is a terrific rollcall of big household names that have already instituted paid domestic violence leave. I know that my colleagues have mentioned them before, but companies like Telstra, NAB, IKEA, Qantas and Virgin are leading the way in supporting their staff. In fact, between the beginning of 2016 and the middle of 2017 there have been over 1,000 agreements with at least 10 days of paid domestic violence approved under the Fair Work Act. This is because these businesses know that it's not only the right thing to do, morally, but it also makes sense economically, despite the nonsense being peddled by the finance minister. In fact, there is a cost, but it's for the inaction. Indeed, anything that discourages a woman from leaving violent relationships not only hurts her, her children and her community but it has great, broader economic impacts for our nation.

In 2016, domestic violence was estimated to cost the business sector $1.9 billion, but it's not just business that is moving to enshrine family and domestic violence leave. Indeed, the Queensland, Australian Capital Territory and Western Australian governments have all implemented 10 days paid domestic violence leave. South Australia offers 15 days and Victoria has 20. So, every Liberal state has now enshrined paid domestic violence leave, and it's not just Australia. In July this year, New Zealand also agreed to guarantee 10 days paid leave for workers experiencing family and domestic violence. So, again, like so many other issues, federal Liberal governments find themselves isolated, behind the times and completely out of step with the country and with community opinion.

We also need to recognise that paid family and domestic violence leave is just a start when it comes to addressing the menace of domestic violence. There is much more work to be done. Labor has a longstanding commitment to invest an additional $88 million for a new safe-housing fund to increase housing options. We've also committed to boosting legal aid funding to $49 million to meet the increased demand on services resulting from changes following reforms to the cross-examination laws in the Family Court system. I applaud the announcements of last week—the commitments from a future Shorten Labor government, if elected.

To conclude, whilst this bill is a step in the right direction, it's nowhere near Labor's commitment. It falls well short of what our victims and survivors of domestic violence need and what all of those who work in frontline services need. I would like to pay a special tribute to those working in organisations in my electorate like Nova For Women and Children, Jenny's Place, Trisha's House, the Hunter Women's Centre and Got Your Back Sista. These are the women who are working tirelessly on the frontline to end the scourge of violence against women and children. (Time expired)

4:22 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's no doubt this place needs to do more to support survivors of domestic violence. Rosie Batty has made the point that knowing her workplace supported her while she had to leave to do things like attending court hearings would have made a real difference. The workplace can sometimes be an escape from the violence, but it can be possibly the single most supportive environment to follow through on your decision to leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4:37 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

The ACTU president, Michele O'Neil, said this recently:

In 2018 women escaping violent relationships should not have to choose between their income and their safety. And they should not have to spend their retirement savings or take on debt.

She said:

Paid family and domestic violence leave is vital for women escaping violence. It's the right thing to do …

It certainly is. It's important for the social and economic benefit of this country. It will have a macro impact on this country, but it's important for women and their children particularly.

But, as with so much of what we see in terms of reform in this country, this government has to be dragged kicking and screaming, and it has given a lukewarm response to the necessity of dealing with domestic violence and helping women struggling in circumstances where they're in violent relationships. This is an inadequate response by this government. It's—as many of my colleagues have talked about—very small steps undertaken by a government that really is not listening to the voices of women, whether that is in its preselection processes, in policy or in any other aspect of our economic and community life.

I commend the Australian Services Union for a very fine submission, dated 24 September 2018, to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee. That was to the inquiry into the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. It's a tremendous report—31 pages—by the Services Union.

The Services Union is one of Australia's largest unions. It has 135,000 members. But it's where it's membership can be found which is so important and is the reason why this particular union's submission is so cogent and so authoritative when it comes to this particular matter. It's members can be found in women's domestic violence court advocacy services, youth and child protection services, out-of-home care for children and young people at risk, family support services, health and mental health services, aged-care services, migrant and settlement services, prisoner rehabilitation, and I could go on and on, and I could include, by the way, community legal services that help in frontline legal service delivery for women who are facing these challenges in civil matters and in apprehended violence proceedings or, indeed, under the Family Law Act.

The Services Union is a very skilled practitioner union in terms of this particular area, so this submission is really important. It outlines particularly the history and the challenges we face in this country, the impact of domestic violence and why universal entitlement leave is critical to our country. What we see in the legislation here is simply five days unpaid domestic violence leave. It is really pathetic to think that that's what's going to be included in the National Employment Standards, when it needs to be paid leave.

Before I was elected to this place, I practised for more than 20 years in the area of family law and child protection. I was an accredited family law specialist and a senior partner of a Brisbane CBD law firm. I dealt every day in this particular area and had thousands, if not tens of thousands, of clients who were women who had suffered from domestic violence, which takes many insidious forms: family isolation, financial domination, religious persecution and control of people's lives. The impact is massive for the women I dealt with, in terms of their lives. But the intergenerational impact on their children can't be underestimated as well.

It has been estimated by KPMG that the impact on the Australian economy until 2015-16 was $21.7 billion a year, in terms of the cost of violence against women. Imagine the impact in the workplace. We get lectures from those opposite all time about listening to the voices of corporate Australia and free enterprise. Certainly, in terms of enterprise agreements, corporate Australia and free enterprise are way ahead of this government with respect to the provision of paid domestic violence leave. I think this government, which claims that it listens to the voices of the captains of industry, should listen and have a look at what is being done in this space to protect women from the challenges and ravages of domestic violence. If they listened to the voices of industry, they would see that many, many organisations, whether they're local councils or big companies such as Telstra, Woolworths, Qantas, NAB, Westpac, the Australian Retailers Association, Virgin Australia—a whole range of these particular companies—have paid domestic violence leave policies or clauses in their enterprise agreements. A number of state governments have dedicated paid leave for public sector employees.

Why is it that this government refuses to do the right thing, as Michele O'Neil, the president of the ACTU, mentioned in a recent press release? It's inexplicable that this government has to be dragged kicking and screaming. Whilst we'll support this legislation—because, inadequate though it is, it's certainly a very small step in the right direction—why can't they do the right thing by women? Why can't they do the right thing by those people who are fleeing domestic violence situations, often homeless, often with the challenges and all the problems—the anxiety, often the depression and the threats of violence continuing from their former partners? Why can't they do the right thing? Why can't they come into this place with an amendment to the legislation to do the right thing?

This leave here would be conditional upon experiencing family and domestic violence and needing to do something to deal with the impact of that family and domestic violence that it is impractical to do outside their ordinary hours of work. That's what they're doing here with the legislation.

We need giant leaps in this space. Giant leaps are being made by corporate Australia. Giant leaps are being made by state governments, Labor and coalition, including the Labor governments in Queensland and WA. We have a crisis in this country. Every day police are called to over 700 instances of domestic and family violence across the country. These are challenges for the men and women of the various police forces who face these things—what courage, what bravery. They're often young men and women who are serving in our police forces around the country. Think of them having to deal with perpetrators of domestic violence, who are often armed with weapons and implements, inflicting that assault and violence upon their former partner or partners—and police officers have to front up there. Imagine the challenges they face, and imagine the challenges of the women who are facing this each and every day—700 people who may not have the comfort of being able to miss a day's pay to go and make a police statement, to attend a court hearing, to seek medical assistance, or to search shelters for temporary accommodation.

As I said, domestic and family violence manifests itself in so many different forms—physical, emotional and financial. We're also living in a time when intimate images are used as blackmail or revenge against a current or former partner. We've seen progress in this space at a state level. But the figures are stark, and many of my Labor colleagues have talked about this. Tragically, 63 Australian women died this year at the hands of a current or former partner. More needs to be done. Figures from the advocacy group Our Watch indicate that one in six Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner, and one in four Australian women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Australian women are nearly three times as likely as men to experience violence from an intimate partner. Australian women are almost four times as likely as men to be hospitalised after being assaulted by their spouse or partner. These statistics are really alarming.

In my electorate we have a number of organisations that do tremendous work. One of those organisations is the Domestic Violence Action Centre, whose Ipswich community-based project Being Heard has won crime prevention and child protection awards. I attended one of the award ceremonies recently in Goodna. This program has a focus on education and child safety. It's a program initiative of Sinead Nunan, with funding from the Queensland government and the Ipswich City Council. This is a fantastic service, by the way. The program is geared towards high school students in the Ipswich and West Moreton region. DVAC has expanded beyond Ipswich into Toowoomba and the Darling Downs. Part of the program is advocacy and prevention and it's engaging with young people from high schools. Students undertake a semester of domestic and sexual violence education to recognise, experience and respond to controlling and abusive behaviours—those sorts of behaviours, of course, are forerunners to the issues addressed by this particular legislation. It's a practical, pragmatic, hands-on approach to learning about family and domestic violence and healthy relationships, aimed at educating young people aged 15 to 18 from diverse backgrounds in our community—multicultural communities, Indigenous communities and people from the LGBTIQA community.

This is really important. Young people are the key—that really critical force in reducing instances of domestic violence, and many are currently experiencing unhealthy relationships or family violence, and it's impacting their school life. It's not just the work life of people; it's their school life and setting the foundation for future relationships in adulthood. Others are supported by friends or extended family through their experience of family and domestic violence. Happy, healthy and contented young people are the best learners, and it's important that we make sure that they are supported. When they're 15 to 18, often they are working part-time as well, and it is important that their wellbeing is guarded.

At this point in time in my electorate office in Blair, in Ipswich in South-East Queensland, you'll see what we've described as an 'orange lady'. It's an inanimate object at the front of my electorate office. I recently attended the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I joined with Ipswich and the Zonta Club of West Moreton Area. The launch of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence runs up to 10 December, which coincides with World Human Rights Day. The theme of this year's 16 days of activism is 'End gender based violence in the world of work,' which promotes dignity for women in the workplace. How propitious that we're debating this point and this piece of legislation today when that's the theme of Zonta's 16 days of activism campaign across my electorate and elsewhere. The campaign is focusing on highlighting the prejudice and discriminatory behaviours which women in the workforce experience, with a view to eliminating this as a contributing factor to unequal power relationships at the heart of gender based violence. While the push to prevent workplace harassment of women has been given a focus of intention in the past year, it's important to recognise that often the situation is reversed and women require a workplace which provides a safe and supportive haven from the family and domestic violence experienced at home. That's why so many employers and the unions that I mentioned, in particular The Services Union, are to be commended for the wonderful work they do.

We announced that, if elected, we would implement 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. Paid domestic violence leave is a policy which is we took to the last election and it remains our policy. We're committed to it. We're making sure that, if we do that, we'll provide additional funding for legal aid and help for women in their homes. We will make sure that women, particularly those who have had their Sunday penalty rates cut, will be in a position where they don't have to show up for work on Monday following an incidence of domestic violence. A woman in that circumstance can be worried she won't be able to put food on the table or pay the school fees or the health costs for her family. We think this is particularly important. I was pleased to see that we are following the lead of the Palaszczuk government, in my home state, which provides 10 days leave on full pay for full-time and part-time workers, and 10 days unpaid leave for long-term casual employees. The Western Australian McGowan government has done a similar thing with respect to public servants, making sure they get access to paid domestic violence leave. As is often the case in our region, New Zealand has been at the forefront of this. We are simply catching up; they've had this since July last year.

I want to pay tribute to the Leader of the Opposition for the recent announcement that we will provide critical funding to Keep Women Safe In Their Home and that we will restore the advisory group on the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which the Abbott government got rid of. They should never have done that; that was a tragedy. Restoring the advisory group will assist in terms of advice and development of a new 10-year national plan for tackling domestic violence, pushing this important issue through the COAG process. The legislation before the chamber is simply not good enough but will get our vote.

4:52 pm

Photo of Justine KeayJustine Keay (Braddon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the legislation before the House, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. It is quite disappointing though that it does not go far enough. It's heartening to hear my colleagues on this side of the House talk about the reasons why this piece of legislation doesn't go far enough to support those victims of domestic violence who, as we know, are predominantly women, predominantly on lower incomes, who do need paid leave of at least 10 days to ensure they can do what they need to do to make their lives better not just for themselves but for the children they may have in their care.

We know the facts of domestic violence in this country and we know how shocking it is. We know that every single week in this country at least one woman is killed by a partner or a family member as a result of domestic violence. It is a national crisis. This government has been slow to act on this. When you have around 800,000 women in this country experiencing violence at home this year, it is quite shameful that this government is not taking this matter seriously in supporting the victims of family violence.

This piece of legislation was introduced on 13 September. It has taken until now, December, to debate it. This legislation was on the books to debate all last week, with one member of the government speaking on it. It saddens me that that is the case with this parliament on such an important issue. The minister at the time said that they would introduce legislation as soon as possible to extend the same entitlements that other workers have to access family and domestic violence leave. That was in March this year. We're now at the end of the year, in the last sitting week, and we're just getting around to debating this. Hopefully, we'll have this debated today.

Labor recognises how hard it is for victims of domestic and familial violence to leave a relationship. It's heartening to hear people on this side, my colleagues, express their understanding of this issue and what we will do to support those people that are experiencing domestic violence with 10 days paid leave. We know how long it can take for victims and their children to recover from domestic violence. There are sacrifices and challenges for surviving family members. Meeting with police, lawyers, real estate agents, schools and doctors all takes time. All those services are available during the work day. Counsellors, schools and childcare centres all operate within business hours. It takes hours upon hours to find somewhere new to live, pack up belongings, move to a new house, find a new school or childcare arrangements, and talk to children's support groups, doctors, counsellors and teachers. That all takes time, and that all happens during a work day. Changing bank accounts and other financial arrangements, appointments with Centrelink to apply for or change personal benefits, meetings with police and lawyers to apply for protection orders and, of course, attending court hearings all take place during working hours. The victim has to take time off work to do these things to keep themselves and their family safe. They should be able to count on continuing to receive an income and being able to go back to work. To escape a violent relationship, victims have to take that time off work. There is absolutely no other way around it.

The Senate did an inquiry into this legislation, and one of the bodies giving evidence was the Australian Human Rights Commission. The government senators' report mentions the interaction with work. The report says:

Financial security can be a critical determinant of victims' ability to escape violent and abusive relationships. Employment improves affected workers' ability to remove themselves and their children from abusive family relationships and maintain, as far as possible, a decent standard of living.

So my question is: why should a victim of family violence be financially impacted because they are a victim of family violence? Why is that the case? It's pleasing that so many businesses in this country are supporting what Labor will do if elected, providing 10 days of paid leave, because they understand that a victim of family violence should not be financially disadvantaged because of what they have to go through.

We know that the most dangerous time for a woman, or any victim of family violence, is when she or he is leaving a violent relationship. Without paid leave, victims simply don't have time or resources to find a new safe place to live. We on this side see and understand how difficult it is, and we understand the costs: removalists, new utility connections, new phone lines, lawyers, rental property bond plus rent paid in advance, court costs, child care, counselling, and new house set-up with appliances, food and furniture. Family violence victims are telling us what they need, and Labor is listening to what they need. To leave, they need 10 days of paid leave.

In my electorate of Braddon, family violence is, sadly, very prevalent. I come from a place where multigenerational family violence has been happening for decades and is still happening today. Victims have less opportunity to escape. Traditionally, we just haven't had the services available. We don't have enough lawyers. Many of our residents are isolated, with less public transport. They are in regional spaces where many just aren't aware of services and options. As a result, family and domestic violence in regional areas like Tasmania's north-west is highly complex and will often take the victims a lot longer to process. With limited services and long waiting lists, the trauma increases and is compounded. Clients of organisations like the Burnie office of Women's Legal Service Tasmania often require numerous appointments with a counsellor before enough trust is built so they can feel safe enough to share their experiences. These clients often have to travel a long way just to sit down with someone for an hour to talk about their domestic violence experiences.

I would like to at this point pay tribute to the departing CEO of the Women's Legal Service, Susan Fahey, for the amazing work that she has been doing in this space for about 16 years in the Women's Legal Service and her strong advocacy on issues like this. I wish her all the best in what happens for her in the new year.

The people who come to services like the Women's Legal Service come from all walks of life. They come from all sectors across the workforce in my electorate, whether it be mining, forestry, dairy or tourism. They are people who are suffering significant trauma, shame and fear and are dealing with the enormous stigma that is still attached to these experiences. In situations of domestic and family violence, a child's safe place should be their school; for adults, it should be and is their place of employment. Adults may feel that they have nobody else in their life whom they can trust enough to disclose their situation to. For many victims, their workplace is their only support mechanism. Their work colleagues, and sometimes their employer, may be their only support in these situations.

Among the claims as to why the government is not putting forward paid leave is the impact on small business. But I doubt whether there would be very many employers who would not want to value their staff and support them in any way possible—and giving them paid leave is the best way to do that. They come to work sometimes after being up all night, not only because of being terrified and terrorised by an abusive or drunken partner but also because of dealing with children who are frightened and confused. They come to work to feel safe, but often their capacity to do the job is impacted: they become unreliable in getting to work, or they start making mistakes at work. A national employment standard that offers a victim five days of unpaid leave is inherently cruel and is moving well behind the pace that is currently being set by many employers on this issue. It is not safe, it is not supportive, and it is using a system as a means to perpetuate the violence. The minute an employer says, 'Here are your five days of unpaid leave to attend court,' they are penalising the victim. This legislation will make it even harder on domestic violence victims, and easier on domestic violence perpetrators. It will impact on the organisational climate, and on an employee's sense of wellbeing in their workplace. It lacks compassion and it lacks understanding across the entire community. What this government is offering is a belated effort and, frankly, it's completely inadequate.

The Minister for Women has said:

People do have access to personal and carers leave … people do have the ability to take unpaid leave …

Under this government, that's the price you pay for being a victim of family violence. The former Minister for Women is on the record as saying that domestic violence leave would be a 'perverse disincentive' to employ female workers. I mean, that's just ridiculous. What happens with the extra six million predominantly women workers that this leave will cover? Does it mean that they're not going to be employed, because they are going to take unpaid leave? Those extra six million workers will be covered, regardless, under this new legislation. But how many are likely to come forward and seek the support required from their employer if their employer makes the process difficult for them to come forward at all? They are faced with choosing between getting help or toughing it out and paying the bills.

There was a dissenting report put forward with the Senate report on this issue. Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia gave evidence that one in four Australian households possess less than $1,000 in cash savings, whilst people suffering from family and domestic violence suffer a 25 per cent loss of income associated with abuse. Victims are therefore more likely to experience food insecurity, struggle to find affordable housing, and are less likely to be able to cover the basic essentials like utility bills. Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia stated—and this is in the report—that paid leave is essential in achieving safety for victims. But what is this government doing by not giving that leave to over six million Australian workers? Workers should not be forced to choose between an income and safety. I think that's the crux of what we're talking about here today.

We should also acknowledge the work that we've been doing on this side of the House. The government seem to think that the only option for a victim of family violence is to leave the home, and that, under this government, they have the right to access superannuation early. This is a cost to that person, which may be helpful in the short term but in the long term is a cost, because that money will no longer be there for them in retirement. But if they had paid leave, they wouldn't necessarily have to dip into their superannuation. We know that the victims of family violence are predominantly women and that they have less money in their superannuation funds, but that's the option which the government have put forward. They also put forward an increase in Good Shepherd Microfinance under the No Interest Loan Scheme, which, again, is a good incentive for people who need to maybe buy a new fridge.

But there is this perverse understanding that all victims of family violence must leave the home. Therefore, most victims of family violence are women, they have low and less income, and they're going to go into debt for a considerable period of time to pay off this loan because they need to leave the home.

On the other hand, while Labor are supportive of these measures, they certainly do not address the issue that not all victims of family violence should leave the home and should be financially worse off for doing so. I'm really pleased that Labor will not only invest $18 million over three years to ensure that Keeping Women Safe In Their Home continues after the government had confirmed it was cutting funding to the program—this is a program to keep victims of family violence in their homes—but also commit to a new 10-year plan for reducing violence against women and their children. I think this is important to note, because the government doesn't seem to really understand that it's also important for women and victims of family violence to feel safe in their homes. This program will provide practical help for women and children in their homes, allowing them to live safely away from perpetrators, through expert safety assessments and safety planning; home safety upgrades and devices such as new locks, alarms, cameras and safety phones; screening for bugs to ensure privacy; and supporting women in enforcing apprehended violence orders.

Everyone deserves to feel safe in their home. Women should not have to choose between their homes and their safety, and neither should their children. This is something that the government seems to not take any notice of—that women who are on less income and less superannuation under the policies they've put forward would be financially worse off. They would not be supported to stay at home. They would not be supported to earn an income whilst they're dealing with matters to address the violence they have been subject to.

Safety shouldn't be conditional on where you work. We on this side recognise and acknowledge those employers already offering the support of paid leave to their employees—employers like Houston's Farm in Tasmania, the first privately-owned business in the state to offer paid leave to employees affected by domestic and family violence. In Tasmania, around 50 cases of domestic violence are reported each week. Houston's Farm recognises that, as an employer of over 200 workers, they too share a responsibility to recognise and respond to these issues. Paid leave is offered to both the victims of domestic violence and those who are accused of perpetrating it, and this is paid leave that Labor supports fully. Perpetrators need to access the same paid leave as victims. This needs to be available to everyone, irrespective of gender identification or who is experiencing domestic or family violence. They need to get help; they need money to do that, and only those on this side of the House will acknowledge that support and provide it, if we are fortunate enough to form government next year.

5:07 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in support of the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. This bill is an absolute minimum that should be legislated. But, in reality, as other speakers on this side have said before me, we know that it doesn't go far enough. We know that it doesn't deliver the things that are required for someone escaping domestic violence. It should provide for paid family and domestic violence leave, and I say so because we know that when you're in a domestic violence situation, in a household where you are threatened and where your safety's at risk, there is an urgency about that matter. It's not something that you can plan and do and think out thoroughly before you take any action. Action is required immediately, and, in many cases, that action is escaping that house or that residence as quickly as possible for the safety of you, your children and other family members.

Therefore, to do something along those lines—to get up and leave—you require some form of payment. So, if you're not getting paid for this leave, it affects you economically, which then affects the things that you have to put in place immediately, such as finding a new residence. If you're lucky, you might be able to find something in a few days. Second best would be to go and stay with friends, relatives et cetera or in a safe home that is provided somewhere. But the actions that that person takes are urgent. You need to put your family, your kids, in a safe place. You need to provide food for them. You need to provide perhaps a bond for rent. You need to do a whole range of things. Not having any pay for that period puts an extra burden on that person. It could prevent them from leaving a very dangerous place, in turn meaning that their lives are at risk—their wellbeing is at risk.

Therefore, even though we support this bill, we do so because it's an absolute minimum that anyone can do. But in reality, as I said, it just doesn't go far enough. It should provide for paid family and domestic violence leave.

Extensive Australian research and international research tell us that family and domestic violence can happen to anyone. It occurs in all ages, postcodes and socioeconomic groups. It doesn't matter what religion you are, what race you are, what colour you are or what your socioeconomic standing is. We've seen through surveys and through research that has been done that it happens at all levels. It could happen to anyone, basically. It impacts individuals and families. It impacts the entire community. It impacts the economy as well. It has a ripple effect.

While both men and women may be living in a violent situation or relationship, domestic violence is nearly always perpetrated by the male, and the victim is almost always a woman—not in all occurrences, but in the majority. Almost one million women—up to 70 per cent of women—living in a violent relationship are in the workforce. That's a million women who are in the workforce and may at some stage require to have things such as domestic violence leave put in place for their own safety. These women are more likely to have lower incomes and a disrupted work history. They often have to change jobs at short notice because they're moving around. Perhaps you have to leave the suburb you live in or the city, the town or the area that you live in. It means that it's very difficult for them. As I said, these women are more likely to have lower incomes and a disrupted work history. They often have to change jobs at short notice and are very often in casual or part-time work.

Sixty per cent of these women have children, whose lives are seriously impacted by living with violence. A violent household has massive effects on children. We know this through research and many other things. Domestic and family violence clearly impacts the workforce. It's a workforce health and safety issue as well, because, if that person is not well at work, it affects safety and it affects your outputs, but it also affects the whole workplace.

Prior to coming here, when I had my three years out of this place, I did some work for a great union, the Australian Services Union. A particular case that has stayed in my mind was a woman who had been pulled up by management and had been given a warning about her work. She had left home because of a domestic violence situation, and her partner was calling up to 10 times a day. Someone complained, 'We're taking all these particular calls.' She was called in to management, and she was told to stop talking on the phone or to tell this person to stop calling; 'otherwise, your job is at risk'. That is a situation which I encountered, and this wasn't a very small business; this was one of the major banks. I won't name them and shame them, but it was one of the major banks that had put this woman through this.

She contacted her union at the time, and I happened to be the person who was looking into it. We sat down and negotiated. The warning was taken off, but obviously this particular manager had no idea of the workplace arrangements that had been put in place in a big bank like this particular bank, and he wasn't following the protocol of that business. But there's a little situation where the person who had left the domestically violent household was being harassed at work by the partner and, because he was making so many phone calls and turning up to work, she was the one who was given a warning and told that her work wasn't up to scratch. So that is a situation that can happen. We need good education out there to let people know that domestic violence affects everyone that you're involved with: your children, your family, the community and certainly the workplace itself.

A person with a job is far more likely to leave a relationship, because they, obviously, have some form of income, but if you cut that income when you take your leave for domestic violence that doesn't assist the situation. That's why it's critical that paid domestic and family violence leave is available as a universal right to all Australian workers. It is very important and is a fundamental right, because this is happening through no fault of your own.

I don't think anyone should be forced to choose between their income and their safety, or the safety of their family. As I said, a lot of people will not take action if they know that they will be not receiving any income because you need time to put a whole range of things into place. This bill merely provides five days of no income. There is nothing to help pay the bills that are associated with it, including bonds for new premises if they're renting or money to move furniture out of the house—the things that are required. There is nothing to help them move to a safer home, a safer environment, and nothing to keep the lights on to pay the power companies et cetera. There is nothing to keep a household going.

We know that working women need time and financial independence to make themselves, and sometimes their children, safe. As I said, no worker should have to choose between keeping their job and keeping their family safe, so we need at least 10 days paid leave. Research and other studies that have been done show that 10 days is pretty well an absolute minimum. You need those 10 days to provide pay as well, which gives the person a better opportunity—knowing that they are still getting paid—to be able to take action to leave that violent situation and that very dangerous place.

The New Zealand government has already guaranteed 10 days paid leave, proving that it's possible at the national level. This government needs to do more to assist women, who are being killed every week. We see the statistic of one woman being killed every single week by an abusive partner. We've heard some horror stories over the last few years. Some dreadful things have happened. These have all been women who were subjected to domestic violence. If some of those women were working and had paid leave, who knows? Their situation could have been very, very different. We don't want to see any more women killed because of domestic violence.

As I said, we are supporting this bill, and it is a very small step in the right direction. I would like to back all the surveys and research that has been done, and all those experts who say that you need paid leave. You need paid leave to leave. And you need 10 days pay as a minimum, which is the recommended period.

I'm proud that the union that I worked for, the Australian Services Union—and I am a member and have been a member for nearly 30 years—has members working in the frontline DV services as well. We had members who were working in the domestic violence services. I've spoken to some of them over the years. Just recently they told me how long it can take to recover from having been in an abusive relationship. It doesn't happen overnight. It hasn't happen over a week. It takes time to meet with police, to meet with lawyers and to meet with real estate agents. You might need to see a doctor, to see counsellors for yourself or for your children, to talk to schoolteachers or to the principals of your school to let them know what the situation is for those kids' families. Childcare centres and many, many other services are needed to escape violence. Most of these services are available only during business hours, while that person is working, so you need that time off to be able to access these services, to talk to people and to get everything into balance.

To escape a violent relationship you need to have time off work to attend these appointments, but you also desperately need the money. That is the part that isn't covered in this bill. You need the money you earn in your job to pay for everything that is required: solicitors; removalists; rental bonds; the first month's rent, up-front in most cases; gas and electricity connections; a phone line; counselling; doctors' appointments; new furniture; appliances; and sometimes a new school. And the list goes on and on. There are travel expenses to get to all these appointments as well if you're not driving, and, if you are driving, there is petrol and parking. All these things add up. If there is no money to pay for all these things, that person may think they cannot leave that situation they're in—and we're putting them at risk. We don't want any of those people to be one of those statistics that I just read out earlier—one woman per week on average.

The ASU, and this side of the chamber, has been campaigning for decades for paid domestic and family violence leave—one workplace and one enterprise agreement at a time. I was part of that, and it was interesting to see that a lot of the workplaces were taking it up. I agree with the ASU—which has done the research and many other things—that this entitlement shouldn't just be accessible to workers lucky enough to be employed in a well unionised workplace, with enterprise agreements, where they know that they have the support of their workplace, of the agreement that is in place and of their union; it should be a universal entitlement for all workers.

I take my hat off to the people who are constantly advocating in this important space—in particular, the South Australian state secretary of the Australian Services Union, Abbie Spencer, who has been championing this in South Australia. Some of our councils in South Australia have taken this on board, and many of them have signed up to be a White Ribbon workplace as well. There is a whole set of criteria they have to go through. Many of our workplaces in South Australia have signed up so that they can show that they are doing something for domestic violence.

As I said from the start, we are supporting this bill. It is a minimum step that we can take. But if you really want to make it work, if you really want to assist women who are in the situation that they have to flee to protect their safety and the safety of their children, we need 10 days paid leave so they can afford to pay for the things that are required. Certainly, if they're not getting paid when they are working, we don't want them to stay in a very dangerous situation.

5:22 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

I speak in support of the amendment that has been moved by the member for Gorton, the shadow minister. This is a very, very serious issue. By this time today, and sadly each and every day, police across Australia will have already dealt with hundreds of domestic violence matters. That's hundreds of victims each Monday, week in, week out, of the uncivil war of family violence that continues across our nation. But it can't simply be left to police and our first responders to intervene and help pick up the pieces of broken lives on a Monday or any other day across our nation. Here in this place we have a responsibility to do all that we can to help those out there—not only to prevent situations of domestic violence but also to provide comfort, support and services for those that are victims to help get their lives back on track and, importantly, to ensure that their kids are safe. It's a responsibility, of course, to the victims and their families, along with those hardworking members of our police forces.

On 23 November, a couple of weeks ago, I was walking alongside a number of members of the New South Wales Police Force's Eastern Beaches Local Area Command and Botany Bay Local Area Command on the White Ribbon Walk to stop domestic violence against women. The walk takes place every year—from the top of the hill at Randwick all the way down to Coogee Beach. That brief walk, which took us about 15 minutes, really put into perspective the difficulties and the challenges that we have in combating domestic violence not only in Australia but also, unfortunately, in other countries where the situation is much worse. For the police, so much of their time is spent on the front lines. Yet, for the victims of domestic violence, all of their time, all of their life, is consumed with simply surviving and trying to get through the day when they know they are going to be targeted by someone who has been violent against them or will be violent against them.

So what can we do with our time in this place as legislators to make sure that we're supporting those people? We can take the time to do all that we can to help women and their children live another Monday and more. It's shameful that so many from the other side just can't be bothered to speak about this issue. If you look at the speaking lists that have been circulated in the parliament over the last two weeks, not just this week, unfortunately there are a sparse number of MPs from the government side that have been willing to speak on this issue, about something that really is a national tragedy.

Family and domestic violence leave is crucial for women to be able to leave abusive relationships with their lives. One woman a week is murdered by a cowardly Australian male, and we know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. So many of the cases of violence against women in this country and in others occur during that vulnerable time when a woman has decided to leave a relationship and conveys that to her partner or her ex-partner. At Coogee this year, we heard the harrowing story of a woman in that exact situation, who spoke very bravely about her circumstances and her decision to leave her partner. This woman was very well educated. She was a doctor. She decided to leave that relationship. Unfortunately, in the process of doing that, she was violently assaulted by her partner, and he threw petrol on her and tried to set her alight. Thankfully, she was able to survive. However, it perfectly highlighted that the most vulnerable time for a woman in a relationship is when she makes the decision to leave an abusive relationship.

In circumstances where women have to do that, there are many, many things that turn their lives upside down. They need to find new accommodation and security. They often need to get an apprehended violence order through the police force, to seek treatment for injuries and perhaps to attend court appearances associated with the horrible acts that have been perpetrated against them. It's all consuming, and it's costly. It costs women in these situations a large amount of money. The costs of relocation, medical and counselling bills, and increased transportation costs due to moving or losing access to a car, as well as lost earnings, all add up.

If women need to take time off work to do these vital things to help keep themselves safe and, importantly, keep their kids safe, women in that situation should not have to worry about the tenure of their position with their employment. They shouldn't have to worry about losing pay to do so. A woman in that situation should be able to count on continuing to receive a pay cheque and being able to go back to work. That is a fundamental human right that we as legislators should be able to provide to women in that terrible and shocking situation when they are at their most vulnerable.

Unfortunately, to date this parliament has not been able to do so, and this government has ignored the pleas of victims, victims groups, a number of other state and territory jurisdictions, employers who are already providing this type of leave, and a number of welfare organisations and legal bodies that say this is the right thing to do and a sensible reform to make. Yet this hopelessly out-of-touch government continues to stonewall and not provide that important support for victims of domestic violence. It is one of the most shameful aspects of this government at the moment, and let's face it: there are many.

Victims of family and domestic violence need paid leave. Last year Labor demonstrated that we are listening to those victims and their family and friends when we announced that, if elected, a Shorten Labor government will introduce 10 days of paid domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards. We're disappointed that this government has refused to join us in this important commitment. We've listened to the victims. We've sat down with them and heard what they've had to say about this issue, but the government continues to ignore their pleas and continues to find excuses not to provide that legislative protection in our National Employment Standards.

We've heard from frontline workers, from businesses, from unions and from organisations that deal with domestic violence victims on a daily basis. Their clear message is that people who have experienced domestic violence need more support in the workplace. This is not a matter that's confined to the home. We don't say anymore: 'Listen, that's something you have to deal with at home. Don't bring that to work.' We all know that when you are a victim of such horrifying acts as these, you can't separate them from your workplace. For some women, their workplace is actually a support mechanism. Their work colleagues and sometimes their employer may be the most important support that they have in these difficult situations.

Other jurisdictions have introduced paid domestic violence leave. Labor believes that Australia's federal workplace system should also provide this important workplace entitlement. For example, in July this year the New Zealand government legislated family and domestic violence leave, guaranteeing 10 days paid leave for all workers who are experiencing violence and need to escape. Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT all offer 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 days and Victoria offers 20 days.

Many employers already provide, through enterprise agreements, paid family and domestic violence leave to their workforces. The Male Champions of Change's 2015 Playing our part report states that:

… 10 days paid leave appears to be a developing norm.

Well, not if you're a member of this government. If you're a member of this government, you've still got your head in the sand when it comes to listening to victims of domestic violence. You are so out of touch that you can't hear the pleas of the victims who are saying: 'This should be a human right. If someone is a victim of domestic violence, they deserve the time off to ensure that they can get their family and, importantly, their kids safe and can get their lives back on track. Employers should be in a position to support that.'

Many employers, as I said, already provide these services through enterprise agreements. More than 1,000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2017 provided for 10 days or more paid domestic and family violence leave. The companies include some of Australia's largest: Carlton & United Breweries, Telstra, the National Australia Bank, Virgin Australia, IKEA and Qantas. These employers and many others have paved the way and helped reduce the stigma that often accompanies domestic violence. So too have Australia's unions. Over many years they've campaigned for domestic and family violence leave and negotiated that important coverage in enterprise agreements. It's now time that the Commonwealth government—this parliament—did the same thing. All of these organisations, victims, their families, victims' groups, welfare organisations, state and territory governments, employers and the trade union movement have been saying for well over five years now: 'This is a reform that is long overdue. It's a basic human right that should be provided in our workplace relations system to victims of domestic violence.'

Labor knows that many small businesses where employees and employers have a close working relationship already support their staff to take paid leave to deal with the consequences of domestic violence. While we do not anticipate that there will be significant uptake of all 10 days leave, it's crucial that it be available for those women who need it and that it be available at that crucial time when they are trying to leave those violent relationships and ensure that their families—in particular their kids—are safe.

Research by the Australia Institute in 2016 estimated that domestic violence leave wage payouts would be equivalent to less than one-fifteenth of one per cent, so we are not talking about a cost burden here for employers. The study also found that the costs to employers associated with those payouts are likely to largely or completely be offset by the benefits to employers associated with the provision of paid domestic violence leave, including reduced turnover and improved productivity. We all know it's a simple formula: an employee who gets the support that they need in the workplace is a happier employee in the workplace and is going to be more productive.

So it's really disappointing that it has taken this long for the government this long to move from their absolute opposition to family and domestic violence to their belated support for unpaid leave. While this bill is a step in the right direction, it simply doesn't go far enough. Other jurisdictions have gone down the track of paid domestic violence leave. It's time that the Commonwealth parliament woke up and listened to those victims who have had the most horrible and horrific acts perpetrated upon them; it's time that we as a Commonwealth parliament listened to those victims; it's time that we supported 10 days paid domestic violence leave; and it's time that this government supported Labor's approach and Labor's policy for this Commonwealth parliament to provide that leave through the National Employment Standards. It should provide for paid domestic and family violence leave.

5:37 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Violence and abuse against women exist in many forms. They can be physical. They can be emotional. They can be financial. Now, in the information age, they can also come in new forms like the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. We've heard these statistics endlessly. On average, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner; one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them; one in five women over the age of 18 have been stalked in their lifetime; and domestic violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and their children. This compares to one in 16 men. Violence against women is a national tragedy. It's a national disgrace. It is a tragedy, but it's also a disgrace. It is a national crisis and it is a national shame. Do you want to know what else is a national shame? The dismissive response that women who are victims of violence or harassment receive from those who are in a position to help.

Last week I stood here in this very spot, and I was sharing experiences of Canberrans in relation to housing stress and homelessness. Straight after my speech, a woman from Victoria called my office to thank me for speaking out and explained why she identified so closely with that speech. The woman receives the disability support pension and she lives in a rental property. The property has no heating. Fancy being able to rent a property with no heating! I remember that one of the first places I rented in Canberra in the early 1990s had no heating, but I would have thought that 30 years later things would be a bit better. So this property has no heating, and that was the first point my caller identified with.

The second was the dismissive attitude of real estate agents. My caller shared her story. She had been the victim of an attempted rape in the previous fortnight and, since then, had been trying to break her lease so she could move somewhere where she could feel safe. The response from her property managers—this is real cute!—was, 'It will cost her $2,000 because of the length of time it will take to find someone to take on the lease.' So, here she is, this woman in the Latrobe Valley in an unheated home, in 2018—I won't say anything to identify her. As someone who spent their very early years in the Latrobe Valley, where I went to kindergarten and to primary school, and where my little sister was born in the hospital at Yallourn, I know that it can get pretty cool and pretty bleak in winter. The fact that this woman is living in an unheated home is a disgrace to the landlord. The property managers then asked her to pay $2,000 to break the lease, which she wanted to do because she had been a victim of a rape attempt and she was trying to find somewhere safe. That is a disgrace. The figures we have on this scourge of domestic and family violence in this nation are an absolute shame and disgrace. It is something we should all hang our heads in shame over. But here we have this woman who is going through really tough times, and the property manager is saying, 'That'll be $2,000.' She explained the situation to the property manager—she shared the intimate details of something so very personal and traumatising that happened to her—and there was no empathy, no understanding and no appreciation of what she was going through. This is a woman who is on the DSP and who has been the victim of a crime, and who is trying to do what she can to feel safe. Where is she going to find $2,000?

That's one story. Over the course of this debate, we have heard countless stories of women fleeing violent situations; in many ways, they are degraded and made to feel lesser in the process of escaping violence, or made to feel even more vulnerable than they were when they were experiencing violent situations. This is just one of the stories outlining the experience of Australian women today going through violence in their homes. The reason I share it with you is to show just how hard it is for women to escape, or to do something to deal with the impact of violence, especially if they are already at a financial disadvantage. So many women are at a structural financial disadvantage as a result of pay inequity. Pay inequity drives the huge gap in women's super and it is one of the reasons that older single women are one of the fastest-growing groups of people falling into homelessness. I have spoken extensively about that and I will continue to speak about this issue until I finish in this place.

The inherent structural financial disadvantage that most women face is the reason that I'm adding my voice to the discussion on this bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. It's a bill that is meant to provide a safety net for those in the workforce who experience family violence. The bill implements a decision made by the Fair Work Commission in March to include a clause in all modern awards to provide for five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. The bill we're talking about today will amend the National Employment Standards to ensure the entitlement will apply in full to all employees—full-time, part-time and casual workers.

According to studies by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, women are at a greater risk of family violence than men. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that around two out of three of all women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. Given this, it only makes sense that any response to domestic violence includes an appropriate workplace response. Yet Australian women effectively work the first two months of every year for free, compared to their male colleagues. And when they face the most traumatic experiences in their lives, under this bill they are expected to undertake life-changing decisions and make arrangements for their safety, all while being unpaid. The structural economic disadvantage for women continues. It is built in. It continues and continues and continues. I'm having conversations and I'm seeing the reality, as are so many people in this place. We are seeing the reality of this disadvantage—this inequity—continuing through a lifetime. We see it when women come to us who are in the private rental market, trying to make ends meet on the pension. They are facing a very, very bleak retirement future.

While this bill is a nod in the right direction, it simply does not go far enough. What those in our communities disproportionately affected by family violence really need is paid family and domestic violence leave. The Australian Law Reform Commission noted in its 2011 final report:

There are strong arguments in favour of the need for paid family violence leave, or a combination of paid and unpaid leave, to avoid provision of a 'hollow' entitlement, risk further disadvantaging victims of family violence, or to fail to achieve the objects underlying its introduction.

The ACTU argued:

Until 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave is a universal … employment standard, vulnerable employees will still be forced to make an unacceptable choice between their safety and their pay check.

How invidious is that? Here we are putting these women in the position where they actually have to make a decision between their safety—not only their personal safety but the safety of their children—and their pay cheque.

Paid domestic violence leave provisions are not new. The Philippines introduced legislation providing up to 10 days paid domestic violence leave in 2004. These arrangements are appearing in Australian workplace agreements in both the private and the public sectors. My colleague the member for Kingsford Smith outlined in his speech not just a range of states and territories across Australia that have introduced similar legislation but also organisations in the private sector and the public sector, including some of our very large companies. He also outlined the range of countries that have introduced this kind of legislation.

The ACT might be small, but it's leading the way when it comes to raising awareness of domestic and family violence and engaging the community in a response. The most recent ACT Policing crime statistics showed that there were 2,150 incidents of family violence reported from January to October 2018, and in the same period there were 603 family violence assaults. These statistics were somewhat reduced from the same period the year before, which had 2,414 family violence incidents and 773 family violence assaults. The ACT has had 20 days paid family and domestic violence leave in workplace arrangements for the public sector since 2013, and it has pushed hard at COAG for paid leave to be included as a national employment standard. The ACT government has implemented a $30 annual levy, paid by each ACT ratepayer, which is used to help fund future prevention and early intervention programs and to assist with demand for crisis housing, health and legal support. The reduction in ACT Policing crime statistics shows that these strategies are having some effect.

In the ACT, there are avenues of support for low-income victims of domestic violence. There are fewer options available for women in the middle-income bracket. These domestic violence survivors make up a missing middle here in Canberra. In the ACT, we have the Assistance Beyond Crisis loans scheme, which was established in 2017 with the help of the Snow Foundation, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Since then, 27 women and 80 children have received financial help under the scheme. Women have been able to secure new homes and furnish them, afford medical bills, pay legal fees and keep their kids in the schools they've been in since kindergarten, which is really important. These are things we might take for granted, but they're things which help maintain a sense of normalcy and stability. These interest-free loans have helped survivors build new lives.

There's a misconception about domestic violence survivors that, if you're earning a certain amount of money, you've got your life together. But just because some women are on generally high incomes doesn't mean they can afford the same things that they did when they were with a partner. Nine times out of 10, their financial circumstances are far more complex than this, and this complexity is yet another reason why women need paid family and domestic violence leave.

A number of submissions from private sector organisations to the Senate committee's inquiry into this bill noted that the time needed by affected employees to sufficiently organise alternative arrangements—living arrangements, financial arrangements and legal arrangements—was between five and 11 days. So 10 days of leave absolutely makes sense.

We know that this government has moved way too slowly. The minister first committed to unpaid leave at the end of March, yet it has taken until September for the government to introduce the bill. Since coming into government, the coalition have tried five times to slash paid parental leave. They've opposed increases to the minimum wage that disproportionately benefit women. They've supported cuts to penalty rates. They've introduced changes to child care, leaving one in four families worse off and meaning that some women working four days a week will actually lose money if they increase their workforce participation. They cut $35 million from community legal centres that provide crucial legal services to family violence victims. They abolished the annual women's budget statement to hide the harmful impacts their policies have on women.

Contrast that with Labor. We've already committed to a $400 million boost to women's superannuation balances for a more secure financial future, which includes paying superannuation on Commonwealth paid parental leave. We have committed to taking action to close the gender pay gap, including greater transparency and accountability for business and government. We have committed to investing $88 million over two years in emergency housing and, most recently, to investing $18 million over three years to ensure that the Keeping Women Safe in Their Home program is able to continue after the government cut funding for this program. This is an amazing program. It provides expert safety advice and upgrades to women to keep them in their home. Why should women and children have to leave the family home as a result of a violent partner forcing them out? Why should they leave the comfort and safety of their own home, the whole school environment and the whole community environment because someone is instilling fear of violence in them? Why should they be the ones who leave? That's why this program is so fantastic in trying to keep those women and their children in their own homes.

We're coming up to Christmas, and this is a particularly bad time for family and domestic violence. So I encourage all Australians, all Canberrans, to please reach out to your support services and ask them what they need. I know that, here in Canberra, women are often having to flee family violence around the Christmas period and particularly on Christmas Day. They need bags full of goodies—phone cards, toys and games. They're going to be in a bleak hotel room, on their own, with their children on Christmas Day. Please, Australia, please, Canberra, reach out and provide every support you can to make Christmas Day for these women and their children that much better.

5:52 pm

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to indicate, as my colleagues have done on this side of the House, that it's my intention to support the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. However, I am critical of the bill, in that the bill does not go far enough in its provision of five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave.

I am very conscious, as I speak on this bill in the roughly 15 minutes allocated to me to do so, that, across the country, in homes in each and every one of our electorates, there is no geographical barrier to the experience of family and domestic violence. It occurs in households, regardless of income, cultural or ethnic background or religion. This scourge in our society is affecting women and children right now, as I'm on my feet speaking. There must be efforts made by this government, by this parliament and by state and federal authorities to do all that we can to address what is a crisis in our community. The direct and immediate impact on people who are facing violence, whether it's physical, sexual or emotional violence, is profound. These people struggle to simply manage and get by and to protect each other, particularly mothers who are looking to protect their children. The day-to-day reality is terrifying for them. We know from many, many long-term studies the terrible impact it has not only on the lives of those who are in the middle of such a crisis but also on their emotional and physical wellbeing well into the years beyond escaping from that home. It impacts on our communities, our society and our economy are real, serious and require attention by all governments.

It is, sadly, the reality, as we know from Our Watch, that the statistics are terrifying. One woman a week is murdered in this country as a result of family and domestic violence. Each day, like many of my colleagues, as I open my Facebook feed I see groups that follow and report on this. Every week we're seeing another death of a woman through family and domestic violence and too often also children. One in three women have experienced physical violence by the age of 15—one in three! One in five have experienced sexual violence. One in six have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner. One in four have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. We have to ask, as a society, what it is that is contributing to this situation, and we have to deal seriously with the underlying structural issues around the way women are viewed and treated in our society to ensure that we are raising young people and children—boys and girls as well—to have respect for each other, and to understand that each and every single person has the human right to dignity, to safety and to see their lives fulfilled, in not just our society but all societies. It should be a universal thing across the world. Until we get to addressing those very fundamental issues we will continue to face this crisis. It is important that we do have policies and procedures in place, things like the bill before us, to assist and protect people in the immediacy of these circumstances.

I will put out a call, as my colleague the member for Canberra just did, as we go into the Christmas season that each and every day we need to be thinking about how we build respect for each other. If we respect each other and respect our right to safety, and our right to be able to fully participate in our society, to go out into our communities and to reach our potential, then we start to challenge the views that obviously feed some people's attitude that they have a right to impinge physically, sexually or emotionally on the wellbeing of another human being. When that is a person you are supposed to love, who you are supposed to be supporting, then you really need to ask: what is it that is driving that level of disrespect in our society? I think we should all be speaking about that constantly. I endorse many of my colleagues across both sides of the chamber who challenge that disrespect.

Importantly, in terms of this bill, we know that the ABS tells us that two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce, so one of the things that we have to address is how the workplace responds to women who are experiencing family and domestic violence. In 2016 KPMG did an exercise estimating the cost of violence against women and their children on production and on the business sector. Whilst I don't argue that economic costs are the only factor, I think it is important to recognise that their study found that $1.9 billion was the cost of family and domestic violence in 2015-16. So it is important. There will be many campaigns prosecuted, in particular by the trade union movement. I acknowledge many of the fabulous people who have been involved in that campaign. We need to address how we support women in the workplace when they're dealing with these matters.

This bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill, follows a decision that was made by the Fair Work Commission in March this year to insert a clause into modern awards that would provide five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. That decision of the Fair Work Commission came into effect from 1 August this year, and that would cover more than two million Australians who are award-reliant employees, giving them that entitlement.

The bill before us amends the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with an entitlement to this five days of unpaid leave if they are experiencing family and domestic violence. The bill before us pretty closely reflects the model clause—that is, it's a five-day unpaid entitlement. It applies to all employees—importantly, including casuals. I think that is very important. It's available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period rather than occurring progressively. It will not accumulate from year to year, but it will be available in full to part-time and casual employees, so this is not pro rata as many entitlements are, and I think that is very important. It is a step in the right direction. Labor has a policy and a commitment that we should have 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave. I think that is the appropriate standard. That's why I'm a little critical of the bill before us. I don't think it goes far enough, but I do acknowledge it is a step in the right direction.

One of the reasons this is so important is that when a woman makes a decision to leave a violent relationship, often with children who have to be taken as well, there are a whole range of implications of that decision that have to be dealt with. In particular, there are things like medical appointments, legal appointments and, as the member for Canberra said, the whole thing about arranging accommodation. Often those types of appointments can only be made during working hours, so it is important for women, in that really difficult and often, sadly, most dangerous time when they decide to leave, that they have the entitlement to leave that will enable them to do those sorts of appointments.

In the time that is left to me, I just want to talk about some of the local organisations in my own area—and I'm sure they're reflected in constituencies across the country—who work in this space and my great respect and admiration for the work that they do. The Illawarra Committee Against Domestic Violence has produced a very important document that goes through the resources and support available. The Illawarra Women's Health Centre works in this space. In particular, I want to acknowledge the Reclaim the Night Illawarra team, which each year raises awareness in our community of the scourge of family and domestic violence and the resources that are available. Whenever I can, I make sure that I go along and support them on those occasions. About two years ago, they collected a petition with over 12,000 signatures calling for action on family and domestic violence, which I was pleased to table in this parliament. The organisers this year—Janine McEvoy from Relationships Australia and Lynelle Samways from the Wollongong Women's Information Service—again rallied the local community on this very important issue.

It is, I think, a space that is not easy to work in, and we certainly should pay respect to the very many people, both workers and volunteers, in organisations in our communities who are working in this space. I just want to—with your indulgence, Deputy Speaker—identify those working locally. They are: White Ribbon Australia; the Illawarra Committee against Domestic Violence; the Illawarra Women's Health Centre; the Wollongong Women's Information Service; Supported Accommodation and Homelessness Services Shoalhaven Illawarra; the Wollongong Homeless Hub; the Housing Trust; Southern Youth and Family Services; headspace Wollongong; Wollongong Youth Services; Violence Abuse and Neglect Services; the Older Women's Network; Community Movers; the Illawarra Legal Centre; the Illawarra Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service; the South Coast Children's Family Centre; CareSouth's Brighter Futures; Housing New South Wales; the local police—with whom I meet regularly to get updates on all the local issues they face, and often domestic violence is right up there; our local hospitals—who, sadly, are often the first places to see people suffering in these situations; and local charities, who are out there day in, day out—CatholicCare, Baptist Care, Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army, Barnardos—providing emergency relief and other services.

Part of the reason I wanted to pay respect to all of those organisations and the work that they do is that I think that, in listing them, we can see the extent of the challenge in our communities. Some of the services provided are counselling services, medical services, housing support, and food and emergency relief services. They are across youth services, women services, health services and, as I said, police. We can see that family and domestic violence has an extensive impact on our community.

I was very pleased last week that the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, along with our shadow minister for preventing family violence, announced that Labor would re-fund—as in, fund a program that the government had not committed to funding—the Keeping Women Safe in their Home program, which provides funding so that, instead of having to flee their homes, women and children are able to stay in their homes. It does things like assessments and safety planning on the home, home safety upgrades, new locks, alarms, cameras and so forth, and supports women in enforcing apprehended violence orders. This was an important initiative, and I'm very pleased that Labor has announced that we will continue the funding for that program.

Finally, I say that this bill is a step in the right direction. It is good to provide this entitlement to workers—permanent, casual and part-time—to enable women to have that support when they are fleeing family and domestic violence. But I would hope that we very soon see a government in this place that will extend that to 10 days family and domestic violence leave, and make that paid.

6:07 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to add my voice to the debate on this bill, Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. Following on from the member for Cunningham, I acknowledge her strong commitment and voice for many people on this. The long list of speakers clearly shows that members of this House and, indeed, the Australian public are committed to ending the scourge that is family and domestic violence. Whilst in recent times this issue has, rightly, seen more coverage in the news and in the community, in many circles it is, sadly, still a taboo topic that is simply swept under the carpet and ignored. A bruised eye from an argument over dinner, broken dishes from a disagreement about paying the bills, or even just the mental pain from repeated threats, bullying and intimidation—all of these acts are considered to be family or domestic violence and can be overlooked or ignored. But, together as a parliament and as a nation, we must say: 'no more'.

My colleagues speaking before me have read out the shameful statistics when it comes to domestic violence, particularly against women. The numbers are as large as they are shocking. The headline figure—that, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner—tells us this is truly a national crisis. Coupled with statistics like the fact that since the age of 15 one in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner, we can see that the problem runs deeper and deeper. These are our sisters, our mothers, our partners, our wives, our aunts and even, in my case, a grandmother. Keep in mind that these numbers are only those women who have the courage and who are brave enough to speak up, and we must encourage more women to do so. We also know that since the age of 15 7.8 per cent of Australian men have experienced violence by a partner.

All forms of violence are unacceptable, which is why it is paramount that this parliament leads the way to ensure that those suffering or escaping from family and domestic violence are given the support they need. Today we go some way towards doing just that. The bill we are debating today, 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 into modern awards a clause providing for 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 domestic violence leave. This new legislation will apply to all employees, including casuals; will be available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period rather than accruing progressively during a year of service; will not accumulate from year to year; and will be available in full to part-time and casual employees. This is certainly a step in the right direction but, I'm afraid to say, comes up short against what is truly needed for victims of domestic violence to feel safe and empowered and to have the time they need to get their life on track. Five days of unpaid leave, whilst a good start, leaves a hole in the family budget and leaves those fleeing from domestic violence a small window to find safety and shelter.

Tonight, I say we must do more. That's why the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has announced that a new Shorten Labor government, if privileged to be elected, would invest $18 million over three years to 2021-22 to ensure that Keeping Women Safe In Their Home continues after the government has confirmed it was cutting funding for the program. This program provides practical help for women and children in their homes, allowing them to live safely away from perpetrators through expert safety assessments and safety planning; home safety upgrades and devices such as new locks, alarms, cameras and safety phones; screening for bugs to ensure privacy; and supporting women in enforcing apprehended violence orders. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their home. Women should not have to choose between their home and their safety, and neither should their children, yet this is not the case for many women who have left violent or abusive relationships.

I was proud to be here on White Ribbon Day last year when the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, announced that a new Labor government would also legislate for 10 days of family violence leave in the National Employment Standards. To this day, my Labor colleagues and I stand by this policy, because it is the right thing to do and because it is what is necessary and it is what is required to support the victims. Almost 40 per cent of women continued to experience violence from their partner while temporarily separated. It's facts like this that show why five days is just too short. We know the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. She will often need to find new accommodation and security, get an AVO from police, seek treatment for injuries or perhaps attend court appearances.

Earlier this year, this bill was referred to the Senate Employment and Education Legislation Committee, which handed down its report just over a month ago. This allowed the community, organisations and victims of domestic violence to have their say on the merits and also the shortcomings of this legislation. In their submission to the inquiry, the Acting Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation, Lori-Anne Sharp, said:

The introduction of Family and Domestic Violence Leave to the entitlements enshrined in the National Employment Standards is an appropriate and welcome safety net to benefit all working Australians.

She also said:

The ANMF's membership of nurses, midwives and carers is approximately 90% female. As family and domestic violence predominantly affects women, this means a significant proportion of the ANMF's membership will at some time in their working lives, be affected by family and domestic violence.

However, she said:

The ANMF considers the provision of 5 days unpaid leave to be a starting point only. The ANMF calls for family and domestic violence leave to be paid leave and for the cap of five days to be removed.

Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia went one step further and said:

At a workplace level, the introduction of FDV leave may challenge attitudes and workplace cultures that support or condone violence against women. It may assist individual staff and managers to recognise and respond to signs that an employee might be experiencing violence at home.

Perhaps the most notable submission, from my perspective, came from the Queensland government who, through the hard work of the Palaszczuk Labor government, has led the way on reforms in this country to give victims of family and domestic violence the support they need. Queensland was the first state to put an entitlement to paid domestic and family violence leave into law as part of the raft of significant new protections for workers under the state's Industrial Relations Act 2016. In doing so, the Queensland government delivered on the recommendations of the landmark Not now, not ever report from Dame Quentin Bryce for a 10-day paid domestic and family violence leave entitlement. I pay tribute and credit to the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Hon. Grace Grace, who said when introducing that legislation:

… just as our workplace laws support workers with leave entitlements in circumstances when they are sick or when their family is sick or when they lose a loved one, those workers experiencing domestic and family violence need and deserve the same type of support to help them in those most desperate of times.

The entitlement in the IR Act, however, only extends to workers in the Queensland industrial relations jurisdiction. To ensure this same support is available to all workers in Queensland and across the country, the Queensland government has consistently called for the provision of a legislative entitlement to paid domestic and family violence leave in the National Employment Standards. Their submission particularly noted that paid leave of up to 10 days is necessary to afford genuine and practical workplace support to employees experiencing domestic and family violence.

Some industry and employer groups will criticise Labor's policy as undermining the decision of the independent umpire. They may claim that 10 days of paid family and domestic violence is leave is an unacceptable burden on employers, particularly small business, but research shows this is just not the case. In their submission to the Senate inquiry, the Law Council of Australia stated:

There are currently over 1,200 enterprise agreements which contain some form of domestic and family violence leave … Despite fears expressed by some groups that including such leave would cause financial hardship to employers through high rates of usage, a 2015 study of 102 employers who offered domestic leave found that the average paid leave taken in the past 12 months was only 43 hours and the average unpaid leave taken … was 19 hours … The workplaces that participated in the study did not report that providing family and domestic leave was an unaffordable burden for their organisation.

Flagship companies that are already leading the way with 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave include Carlton & United Breweries, Telstra, NAB, Virgin Australia, IKEA and Qantas. These employers and many others have paved the way and helped reduce the stigma that often accompanies domestic violence. So too have Australia's unions, campaigning for paid domestic and family violence leave over many years and negotiating domestic leave coverage in Australian workplaces. Only a few days ago, ALDI Australia became the latest business to unveil an expanded domestic violence leave policy amid a broader effort for employers to better support workers with policies which go above and beyond the law. ALDI will now provide its 12,000 full-time employees with access to 10 days of paid domestic violence leave and will also include an additional $250 offered for incidental expenses workers may incur as a result of family and domestic violence. It's clear the business community is up for this, so I ask: why isn't the government?

There is perhaps no greater example through than what our communities are doing on the ground each and every day. This includes, in my own local community, the Inala Says kNOw program, which I'm immensely proud to work with. The program launched last year with a symposium at Glenala State High School, under the leadership of their principal, Anne Lawson. It was attended by hundreds of students and community leaders alongside dozens of stallholders, including the Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, Churches of Christ, Child and Youth Mental Health Services, and the Domestic Violence Action Centre. Glenala State High School captains unveiled the Inala Says kNOw murals, consisting of 264 individual painted tiles of personal messages, quotes and designs that the students had painted during lunchtime. And Inala Says kNOw stickers designed by Glenala State High School student Jennifer Ngo have now been placed on over 70 local business shopfronts to show that the conversation about domestic and family violence has continued outside of the symposium and that the community is taking a collective stance against it.

All of this would seem to tell us that we are heading in the right direction. But sadly it may seem not so. If you look at the ABS release of findings from the 2016 personal safety survey—it was the first consolidated ABS data released on violence against women since the 2012 census—it recorded a 13 per cent increase in partner violence against women. Last year alone, 211,700 Australian women experienced violence at the hands of a current or former partner. Let me put such a large number in numbers which are perhaps more manageable. If you divide that number by the number of days in the year, it means that, from when we woke up this morning to tomorrow morning when we wake up, over 570 assaults and attacks will be recorded—overnight.

So it starts with us here and now in this parliament today that we representatives of the people provide the support and backing that the victims need and deserve. The ABS estimates that around two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workplace. There can be no doubt that a comprehensive response to domestic involves a workplace response. This is what we ask the government to do today.

Whilst Labor will support this bill, it cannot end here. Labor has listened to victims, frontline workers, businesses, unions and organisations that deal with domestic violence. Their clear message is that people who have experienced domestic violence need more support in the workplace, which is why we call on the government to go one step further and legislate for 10 days of paid domestic and family violence leave.

Only when we give our full and unconditional support to victims will we see them properly supported. I have spoken to many service providers in my own community over many years and looked into the faces of people, particularly women, who have fled situations and who have told me their harrowing stories. They are not easy conversations to have, but they are important conversations to have. Today I pledge my support to do everything I can to ensure that those people fleeing family and domestic violence have the support, recognition and leave that they deserve.

6:21 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm really pleased to rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. I obviously support this bill. This is a great step forward for those people all around the country and in my electorate of Petrie who suffer domestic violence. I am sure that all of us members of parliament and the general community have heard domestic violence situations in our own communities. Six or seven years ago when I was living at Woody Point in my electorate I heard a scream from the neighbour next door. When you hear a scream you think, 'What am I going to do?' Then you hear the fight afterwards. On that occasion I called the police and they came immediately. It was a very quick response. It is a difficult situation. People often don't know what to do. They're a little bit scared. Do they intervene? Do they call the police? Do they go and knock on the door? Domestic violence is a real issue. I think the Australian community, rightly, are addressing it and are becoming more aware of it.

Not so long ago just up the road from my electorate office in Clontarf I came across a woman who was seven months pregnant. She was sitting out the front of a coffee shop looking a bit lonely. I approached her and introduced myself, 'I'm the federal MP for the area, Luke Howarth.' I got talking to her and she said, 'My partner has just hit me.' It was difficult because she was seven months pregnant with his child and she was sitting there alone, a bit frightened and not wanting to go home that night. It was clear to me that it wasn't easy or she wasn't able to just leave the situation. She obviously loved her partner—they were about to have a family together—yet this person had been hitting her. I was able to put her in contact with support services like Encircle, which is in my electorate at Redcliffe and in the neighbouring electorate of Dickson at Strathpine, to provide her with some support. It's a very difficult situation.

Currently the Australian federal coalition government have a zero tolerance for violence against women and children—zero. We are committing well in excess of $300 million to address safety. In the most recent federal budget we 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 improve cybersafety for women and $22 million to combat elder abuse. Of course in my own electorate as well we're supporting services like Encircle Redcliffe, the Deception Bay Neighbourhood Centre and many other community organisations that do great work in this space. So providing five days family and domestic violence leave for all employees covered by the Fair Work Act is a step in the right direction.

How does this bill differ? At the moment, of course, employees have 10 days entitlement. On top of their four weeks annual leave, they have 10 days entitlement for sick leave and family leave. If a woman is actually hit and physically hurt, of course, they can take that sick leave, but this bill says that the Fair Work Commission has considered the model clause represented a fair and relevant minimum safety net entitlement and should be reflected in the National Employment Standards. We agree with that and, under the bill, employees will be able to access the leave to undertake a range of activities during working hours that might not be provided during standard sick leave or family leave. These items would include participating in the court processes, for example, if they have to go to court; attending property inspections if they're looking for a new place to live; or attending appointments at financial institutions to get support. They might not have been physically hurt at the time but need some extra time off that might not normally be covered by personal sick leave and so forth. It is crucial that employees have the opportunity to attend to these activities without concern for their job security, and this bill ensures this, which is why I'm very pleased to support it. Of course, most businesses would often provide that opportunity for their employees, but legislating this as a workplace entitlement will actually help those people who do suffer DV.

I want to say as well that it's been a little bit disappointing listening to some of those Labor members opposite that I think have been unfair and partisan in their criticism of coalition MPs. They rise and say, 'Oh, we'll support the bill,' but then they go on to say, 'The government's not doing enough and DV is really bad,' somehow, I believe, reflecting on coalition members, that we're not doing enough in this space. Every coalition member and every member of this parliament, whether they are on the crossbench or in the opposition in the Labor Party, takes DV seriously. I know I do—very much so. I'll talk in a moment about the White Ribbon march in Redcliffe. But it is a little bit rich for some members opposite to get up here on air and take a partisan approach. Domestic violence in Australia should have a bipartisan approach, and the fact is that this bill that we're debating now provides new protections for people who suffer domestic violence in Australia. These are additional protections that don't exist at the moment.

The fact is that the Fair Work Commission has looked into this quite extensively. We know that the Fair Work Commission undertook an exhaustive process to strike the right balance in setting up a new minimum entitlement for family and domestic violence leave. In particular, the question of what type of leave should be available to victims was considered in extensive detail by the commission. And this wasn't just a short process; this took almost four years. Between October 2014 and July 2018 the commission considered 68 written submissions from 27 different parties, reviewed over 2,000 pages of documentation, heard evidence from over 20 witnesses and held over 11 days of hearings. Submissions were called and hearings were convened for every step in the process. Evidence was given from unions, from employers and from community groups, all actively engaged in the commission process. After carefully weighing up all the evidence, the commission came to a very clear determination in its decision. It explicitly stated:

… we are not satisfied, at this time, that it is necessary to provide ten days paid family and domestic violence leave to all employees covered by modern awards.

That's what the Fair Work Commission, which the previous Labor government set up, found after years of research. That's what it came to. The commission also said that there was little evidence about:

… the extent to which employers informally or formally provide such leave or the extent to which employees access existing entitlements for family and domestic violence leave.

The commission concluded:

… the provision of paid leave will increase costs to employers and that given the lack of data, the impact on employers of that increase in costs is difficult to assess.

I raise that because, when opposition members argue for that, they show a partisan view and try to reflect badly on the government. I think what we need to understand here is the different capacity of different sizes of business. Many businesses currently do provide paid DV leave, and they've been rattled off here today by different speakers. I congratulate those large businesses that do that, and some small and medium-sized businesses also provide that. There are many, many small businesses in my electorate with a turnover of well under $10 million—perhaps even $2 million—that are family businesses and, if they had a staff member in a domestic violence situation, would most certainly give them some paid time off to be able to go to court, access a property or visit a financial institution if they'd run out of other entitlements like personal and sick leave. They certainly wouldn't differentiate, but not every small business has the capacity to do that. So I think Labor's criticism and policy hasn't necessarily been thought through on the impacts to every business and every woman who would find herself in this situation.

We heard the good news from the Minister for Women last week in relation to the Women's economic security statement 2018. We're seeing, under our government, the gender pay gap diminishing quite significantly, by three per cent. We don't hear members opposite talk about that or about the fact that there are 3.1 million women now employed full time in Australia. They're some great results. This bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, also contributes to that, which is very important.

MPs in this place and in the other place, as I said before, support women and the fight against DV in a bipartisan way and also support children. Just two weeks ago, I participated in the White Ribbon march in Redcliffe. It started off a few years ago, when there would have been maybe 50 people who marched down the street from the Redcliffe Police Station up to the Mon Komo Hotel. This is organised by Encircle Redcliffe and Encircle Strathpine. This year there were well over 600 people. There were a number of different schools participating: St Patrick's College, which isn't in my electorate; The Lakes College at North Lakes; Clontarf Beach State High School; Clontarf Beach State School; Humpybong State School; Redcliffe State High School; the Australian Trade College North Brisbane; Scarborough State School; and, I think, Mueller College. A number of different schools participated—primary schools and high schools. The signal was that when the men got up to speak—and I spoke on this issue as the federal member for the area—the young boys also got up to pledge that it's never okay to hit women or to have domestic violence against women or children.

So the government is acting here today, but as a community we can all do more as well. That's why that bipartisan march that I spoke about was so important, because it was educating the young boys as well as the young girls on how we should treat each other. I spoke about the fact that when we are dealing with each other we should be saying, 'I'm okay and you're okay,' and treating people well. I want to thank Encircle Redcliffe. But it's not just political leaders and it's not just this government, or the Australian parliament, that makes a stand against this; it's all leaders. It's religious leaders, community leaders, school leaders, community groups, emergency services and the police. Up in my area Redcliffe, North Lakes, Sandgate and Carseldine have all had White Ribbon signs out the front of their police stations. The ambulance service and the fire service participated in the march. It's parents teaching their children.

My father always taught me that you don't hit women. I have three sons of my own, and I teach my three sons the same because I want them to grow up to treat women and children with respect and grow up to be great citizens in the Australian community that our older Australians have left us. We live in the best country in the world because of older Australians and what they left us. I support this bill and I'd like to see further speakers support this bill in a bipartisan manner rather than scoring political points that they think are in the best interests of their party.

6:36 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week saw the release of the annual Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey led by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety. Sadly, the results showed that many in the community still hold outdated and harmful views around family violence. For example, 32 per cent believe that a female victim who does not leave an abusive partner is partly responsible for the abuse continuing and 21 per cent of Australians believe that sometimes a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her when he didn't mean to. If we are going to make a genuine attempt to eliminate domestic and family violence in Australia, then we need to change the way we view violence against women. We must make it clear that we no longer accept that it is merely a private matter conducted behind closed doors. Instead, we need to encourage victims of violence to share their experiences safe in the knowledge that their employers will support them.

This bill amends the Fair Work Act to insert a new National Employment Standard of five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. In speaking with employers from a broad range of industries, I was comforted by the fact that many acknowledged and accepted the intersection between home and work and acknowledged the profound impact that disruption in one will have in the other. In their submission to the Senate legislation committee inquiry on this bill, the Law Council of Australia provided a helpful explanation for the interaction between work and family violence. The Law Council said:

Research indicates that women who experience family violence 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.

What this then perpetuates is a circle of disadvantage: financial hardship confines victims to their abusive relationships. This bill attempts to break that cycle of disadvantage by allowing victims of family and domestic violence time away from the workplace without the fear of losing their jobs. If women are going to start a new life away from their abusive partner, a consistent source of income is essential. An employee will be eligible for unpaid leave if they meet three conditions: firstly, the employee is experiencing domestic or family violence; secondly, the employee needs to do something with the impact of the violence, such as attend a court hearing; and, thirdly, it is impractical for the employee to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence outside of ordinary working hours.

The importance of the National Employment Standards should not be underestimated. A national employment standard applies to all national system employees irrespective of whether the employment contract is a modern award, an enterprise agreement or an individual agreement. It will apply to all employees whether full time, part time or casual. It will be available to all employees, whether it is their first day or their last day in the role. This bill will bring the NES in line with the modern award standard set by the Fair Work Commission and ensure consistency for both employers and employees. But remember, this is just a minimum standard. It does not prevent employers from going one step further and implementing a paid leave policy or perhaps providing additional days of unpaid leave.

While the bill before the parliament today provides only five days of unpaid leave, the inclusion of paid leave was the subject of great debate during the committee inquiry process. It is appropriate that I touch briefly on the issue, in circumstances where discussion on this point will no doubt continue in the Senate. In a paper prepared by Dr Jim Stanford of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute and referred to in the Senate committee report for the bill, the estimated financial impact of 10 days paid family violence leave would be minimal, due to predicted low take-up rates. Dr Stanford estimated that such a scheme will cost between $80 million and $120 million per year for the Australian economy, which equates to around 0.2 per cent of the current payroll. PricewaterhouseCoopers, NAB, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank and KPMG were all offered as examples of where generous paid family violence leave schemes are offset by increased employee productivity. I applaud those companies who are taking the initiative and working hard to generate the cultural change needed to eliminate violence against women.

However, not every electorate will be home to such large corporations, and I'm conscious of the impact that 10 days of possible paid leave would have on small businesses at this time. In my electorate of Mayo we have a wide variety of businesses, from boutique distilleries to large fertiliser plants. Of the businesses registered in Mayo, 99.6 per cent have a turnover of less than $10 million and therefore meet the generally accepted definition of a small business. If we drill down into those figures a little more, we know that over 40 per cent have a turnover between $50,000 and $200,000 and over 25 per cent have a turnover of $50,000 or less. These are small businesses. They are the newsagents, the hairdressers and the gift shops that make up the main streets of our small regional towns. We are not talking about Coles, the Commonwealth Bank or indeed Qantas.

In voicing my concerns, I am mindful they may be misinterpreted as placing the economic interests of employers above the personal safety of employees or as meaning that an employer's balance sheet in some way could determine the level of support they are obliged to provide to employees. That is not my intention. I have met with victims of family violence and, having listened to their stories, I am acutely aware of the positive impact that an employer can have on an employee's journey to independence and safety. I am in favour of compassionate, reasonable and appropriate measures that enable an employee to escape and recover from dangerous situations. But such a measure must be economically viable for small businesses if it is to be sustainable.

I also note that the Fair Work Commission considered this issue earlier this year. Having received a request from the Australian Council of Trade Unions to consider the inclusion of 10 days paid family violence leave in all modern awards, the Fair Work Commission considered a significant number of submissions from stakeholders, before ultimately deciding that five days unpaid leave would be the best approach. That entitlement was inserted into 123 modern industry awards and now covers around 2.3 million workers. This took effect on 1 August 2018.

The introduction of the family violence national employment standard will provide a baseline from which employers can choose to adopt additional entitlements that can be tailored to the unique requirements of their workforce, and I strongly encourage them to do so. I again note that this is the minimum standard and that going forward it may be that the introduction of paid leave is an appropriate progression.

Of course, in an ideal world we wouldn't need to offer family and domestic violence leave. I accept that both government and the private sector are working to eliminate family violence, but the statistics suggest that that day is still a long way off. One woman is killed by her current or former partner every week in Australia—one woman every week. Recent reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the University of New South Wales suggest that 27 per cent of Australian women have experienced violence or emotional abuse at the hands of a partner and 34 per cent have experienced some form of violence. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 23 per cent of women have experienced violence at the hands of a partner before they even reach 15 years of age.

The bill recognises the scale of the problem of family violence in Australia. It is an acknowledgement that family violence is not limited by geography or occupation; it can occur to anyone at any time. I believe that this is a measured first step in line with the Fair Work Commission and I welcome a review. I would urge the government to build in a review in the Senate process of this bill, perhaps in two years time. But wherever you are and whatever role you have, this bill will go a long way to ensuring that you will have the safety net that you need to get you and your children the help that you need. I commend the bill to the House.

6:45 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Family violence is a stain on this nation's character that we, as a parliament, do not do nearly enough to address, and I'm sorry to say that this bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, also does not do enough to address it. The resources needed to address family violence and its horrendous impacts continue to be disgracefully inadequate. This parliament managed in one day to pass into law a bill to get tough on strawberry vandals. That decision showed what can be done with political will and bipartisanship. If strawberries require this parliament's urgent attention, surely the women and children of this nation deserve no less.

I rise today to support this bill. It will go some way to help people suffering from family violence, but let's not pretend it goes nearly far enough. While this chamber is, I assume, unanimously supporting this measure, the government continues to refuse to commit to reinstating $18 million that would ensure the survival of the Keeping Women Safe in their Home program. That is $18 million to keep women safe. It should not even be a question. Last week the Prime Minister told this House that considerations for the funding were going through the 'proper processes'. The notion of proper process would be fair enough, except this is a government that ignores proper process at the drop of a hat. Did the government follow proper process when it handed half a billion dollars to a foundation to manage the Great Barrier Reef or when it flagged moving our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

It leaves a sour taste in the mouth of those suffering family violence to know this is a government that demands that the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed for the expenditure of $18 million that keeps women and children safe but abandons proper process for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on reefs and embassies. Talk about priorities! In this term of the parliament, we have approved billions of dollars in expenditure for defence, hundreds of millions of dollars for national security and tens of millions of dollars to upgrade security at this very Capital Hill, all in the name of keeping Australians safe, yet it is $18 million to keep women safe at home that has the government saying, 'Steady on, we need to take a look at whether this is affordable.' I am pleased, therefore, that a Labor government, if elected at the next election, will reinstate this vital funding.

I would like to acknowledge the work done by the group Our Watch, which last week visited this parliament in order to educate parliamentarians about the crisis of violence that is engulfing this country. Our Watch is dedicated to driving the big changes that are needed to arrest family violence: culture, behaviour and, importantly, gender and power imbalances. I urge all in this House to log on to ourwatch.org.au to read and learn about the violence that blights homes in every suburb, every city and every town across all socioeconomic backgrounds and incomes. It is this violence that kills women and children. Yes, I know that men suffer from family violence too, but the vast majority of victims and survivors are women. The vast majority of perpetrators are men. This should not be allowed to be diverted into a 'but men suffer too' argument.

We have three weeks to go before 2018 draws to a close. So far, more than 60 women have been violently killed by men in Australia this year, with the killer in many cases being the victim's current or former partner or a man otherwise known to her. That is more than 60 women—more than one a week. It is not just unacceptable; it is criminally negligent that it has been allowed to get anywhere near this, when we have the tools and the knowledge to save lives. We just need the political will.

The government and the opposition agree that keeping Australians safe is one of the most important duties any government has, which explains the billions of dollars we invest in intelligence, national security and defence. There is little quibbling about this expenditure. There is an acknowledgement across the board that it is required to keep Australians safe from present and future threats. But, when more than 60 women are killed a year in this country, we have to ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to keep Australians safe, not just from external and potential threats but from threats who live amongst us, in our homes, sharing our beds. If terrorists were murdering 60 women a year in Australia, we would move heaven and earth to stop the carnage.

This is not a new crisis. It has not crept upon us unawares. Five years ago, the Chair of Our Watch, former senator Natasha Stott Despoja, called violence against women a national crisis. As she notes, five years on, the number of women who have been killed has increased. It has got worse, and I do fear that, without strong political leadership to drive cultural change amongst boys and young men, it may well get worse still.

There is a growing movement across the Western world of right-wing men's groups that are rooted both in racism and in misogyny. Some are in lock step with increasingly prominent Nazi movements, emboldened by mainstream conservative parties adopting some of their platforms. One of these far Right groups is the Proud Boys, formed in the US by an objectionable individual called Gavin McInnes, who openly boasts of being violent and antisocial and who revels in notoriety. His followers identify themselves as 'proud Western chauvinists'. In my speech, I've got some notes here about just how objectionable he is, but I'm pleased to say that, in between my writing this speech and coming into this parliament, the government has decided not to allow him a visa into this country, so I'm pleased about that. He is somebody who has no place in this country, spreading his hateful manifesto.

Nationally, we know that one in four women will experience emotional abuse by a current or former partner from the age of 15. One in five women experience sexual violence from the age of 15. One in two women experience sexual harassment during her life. On average, one woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner. Intimate partner violence is the single greatest health risk factor for women aged 25 to 44. Family violence against women is the single largest driver of homelessness for women. A history of family violence is a common factor in child protection cases and is the cause of a police call-out once every two minutes. And we know that the cost to business of violence against women and their children was, according to KPMG, an estimated $1.9 billion in 2015-16.

Recently, I attended an event in New Norfolk, a town in my electorate, organised by Jessica, a young woman who spoke openly about her own exposure to family violence. She spoke about how isolating it was to keep her emotional and physical abuse secret. She spoke about the time her partner kidnapped her at gunpoint. Fortunately for Jessica, her story has a happy ending, but she came close to being another woman killed at the hands of a man she had called her partner, another face on a chart filled with too many faces already.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that two out of three women who experience family violence are in the workforce. This statistic presents both challenges and opportunities, but most of all it presents a requirement for government, for employers and for work colleagues to think differently about their roles and their responsibilities to each other. There is no doubt that a comprehensive response to family violence requires a workplace response, which brings us to this bill.

The bill before the House, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, has been written on the advice of the Fair Work Commission Full Bench decision which earlier in the year expressed the opinion that all employees should have access to unpaid family and domestic violence leave. In short, the bench decided to provide five days of unpaid leave per annum to all employees, including casuals, who are experiencing family violence. The full bench considered a number of matters relating to access to the entitlement and decided that the unpaid leave entitlement will apply to all employees, will be available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period rather than accruing progressively during a year of service, will not accumulate from year to year and will be available in full to part-time and casual employees—that is, not prorated. The full bench also decided not to require employees to consume their available paid leave entitlement before accessing unpaid family violence leave.

This bill is a step in the right direction, but it has taken too long to come before the parliament, and it certainly does not go far enough. I note that the minister first committed to unpaid leave at the end of March but did not see fit to introduce this bill until last month. That is eight months that this bill has been languishing. We dealt with strawberry vandalism in one day, but it has taken eight months for the government to bring women's safety to the attention of the parliament. This bill should provide for paid family violence leave, not unpaid. That is why I am supporting Labor's amendment to this bill. Women and men who need time off work to deal with family violence should not have to worry about losing financial security. We know that the most dangerous and unpredictable time a woman faces is when she decides to leave a violent relationship. She will often need to find new accommodation, arrange security, access an apprehended violence order from the police, seek treatment for injuries and perhaps attend court appearances. When a woman works, it is difficult to fit these necessary aspects in, particularly if she is doing so covertly for her own safety. If a woman needs to take time off work to do these vital things to keep herself and her children safe, she should not have to worry about losing pay or her job to do so.

The need for paid leave has been recognised by Australian unions for some time, and they have been working hard for its inclusion in awards and enterprise bargaining agreements. I was proud to stand with Unions Tasmania and the ACTU to back their campaign for 10 days of paid family violence leave. Like many of my colleagues, I signed a pledge to work towards it, and it is a pledge that those of us on this side of the House will deliver if we are elected to government. Once again, just as with child labour laws, the eight-hour day, safe working conditions, minimum wages, penalty rates and superannuation, it is Australian unions that are leading the important and necessary social changes that improve Australian lives. Once again, it is the Liberal Party standing in the way, claiming that it is too hard or too expensive, that it will lead to ruination and the end of days.

We have been here before. The Liberals' kneejerk reaction is always to oppose progress rather than embrace it. Paid family leave is now available at a number of worksites across my electorate, including Able Australia in New Norfolk, Anglicare in Perth, May Shaw in Swansea, and the New Norfolk, Campbelltown, Oatlands, Deloraine and St Helens hospitals. There have been no reports of access to this leave being abused. I am pleased to report that a number of councils in my electorate also include family violence provisions in their EBAs, including Meander Valley, Break O'Day, Glamorgan Spring Bay, Central Highlands, Derwent Valley, Southern Midlands and Sorell.

No-one is keen to use it, but the inclusion of 10 days of paid family violence leave is vital. It provides an essential safety net. Research by the Australia Institute in 2016 estimated that domestic violence leave wage payouts will be equivalent to less than one fiftieth of one per cent—that is, 0.02 per cent—of existing payrolls. That is a very, very small—infinitesimal—price to pay for women's safety. That study also found that the costs to employers associated with the payouts are likely to be largely or completely offset by benefits to employers associated with the provision of paid family violence leave, including reduced turnover and improved productivity.

Last year Labor announced that, if elected, a Bill Shorten Labor government will introduce 10 days of paid family violence leave into the National Employment Standards. We remain disappointed that the government has refused to join us in this important commitment. It would be so much better if the Australian people could see a bipartisan commitment on this very important matter. For many women, their workplace is a primary support mechanism. Their work colleagues, often their employer, may be the most important support they have when suffering family violence. For others, going to work can be an escape. The thought of losing a job affects not just financial security but also social support. We need to do more. If Labor is elected, we will do more.

7:00 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to tell you the story of a young woman that is a classic example in the cycle that is family and domestic violence. Anna was married and had two children. Her children were still in primary school when the abuse began. And after multiple acts of violence over a period of a few years, enough was enough and one day Anna was courageous enough to leave. Anna expected the emotional turmoil and the unfortunate but expected incidents with her ex-husband, but what Anna didn't expect was the time she needed during her work hours to get the protection she and her children needed. She was told she'd need to apply to the courts for an intervention order to protect herself from her ex-partner. Many of the meetings she needed to attend to protect herself and her children were only available during business hours, when she was required to be at work. Anna struggled on for months in secret, taking time off work as sick leave. By the time Anna told her employer what was happening, she had missed a lot of work and was worried then that she might lose her job. However, Anna was lucky. What she hadn't known was that her employer was willing to offer her domestic violence leave. This was the support that she needed to get her life in order without the risk of losing her job. However, sadly, Anna is not alone: more than 210,000 Australian women were victims of family and domestic violence in 2016.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that around two out of every three women who experience family and domestic violence are in the workforce. There can be no doubt that a comprehensive response to family and domestic violence involves a workplace response, because being a victim of family and violence can put jobs at risk. Women, like Anna, may need time off work, because they are injured and need to attend medical appointments, have to go to court to get a restraining order, or have to pack up and move house. We know financial insecurity makes women more vulnerable to family and domestic violence. We know being a victim of family and domestic violence makes you more likely to experience lifelong economic disadvantage. It is a very vicious cycle. Having a job and some degree of financial independence makes it easier for women who want to leave an abusive relationship. It's easier to walk away when you don't have to worry about whether you'll be able to afford the rent or whether you'll be able to put food on the table for children. One in twelve women return after trying to leave a violent relationship, in part because they have nowhere to go and are struggling to support themselves and their children. That's not a price anyone should have to pay when trying to stay safe. That is why it is so important that women have the financial support to ensure they stay employed.

I have heard from many frontline workers in Townsville in the domestic violence services who say the women that they are helping are delaying leaving violent relationships as they fear that taking time off work will lead to them losing their job. Women should never be in a position where they have to choose between staying alive and keeping their children safe or keeping their job. And it is very good news that many employers and companies understand that women who are victims of family and domestic violence need to be supported to keep their job. Telstra, NAB, CUB, Qantas, Virgin Australia, IKEA, Dulux and Blundstone all provide paid domestic violence leave. Medibank has announced that it will start providing unlimited personal leave for employees to deal with issues relating to family and domestic violence. These companies demonstrate that there is a clear business case for supporting your employees through tough times.

We know that, in addition to the terrible personal and social cost of family and domestic violence, there is also a significant cost to business. In May 2016, KPMG estimated that the cost of family violence against women and their children to production and in the business sector was $1.9 billion for the year 2015-16. Even a small reduction in family and domestic violence rates from the introduction of paid leave would more than pay for a few days of additional leave.

State governments are also following suit. Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT now provide 10 days paid domestic violence leave for people working in the public sector. Others, such as South Australia and Victoria, provide more.

Federal Labor has been calling for some time for the introduction of paid family and domestic violence leave. Sadly, for far too long, we did not see much but walls and whiteboards from those opposite. The former Minister for Women Michaelia Cash thought family and domestic violence leave would provide a 'perverse incentive' for employers to discriminate against women. Finance Minister Cormann has been so callous as to describe paid family and domestic violence leave as just 'another cost on our economy'. Women did not need those comments. Victims did not need the LNP pushback. These comments demonstrated ignorance regarding this issue, a critical issue for both women and the national economy.

Research by the Australia Institute in 2016 estimated that family and domestic violence leave wage payouts would be equivalent to less than one-fifth of one per cent, 0.02 per cent, of existing payrolls. The study also found that the costs to employers associated with these payouts are likely to be largely or completely offset by benefits to employers associated with the provision of paid family and domestic violence leave, including reduced turnover and improved productivity.

Many companies have already started picking up where the LNP government has failed. More than 1,000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2017 provided for 10 or more days of paid family and domestic violence leave. We shouldn't have to lobby this government for what is rapidly becoming the norm. The Male Champions of Change Playing our part report in 2015 also outlined this point, suggesting that 10 days paid leave appears to be developing to be the norm.

After much lobbying effort, we have this bill here today, which, it must be said, does not go anywhere near far enough. This bill implements five days paid family and domestic violence leave, which falls short of the growing norm and Labor's commitment to 10 days. It is a grudging effort by those opposite. 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 on 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 of up to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave if they are experiencing family and domestic violence and need to do something to deal with the impact of that family and domestic violence and it is impractical to do that thing outside of their ordinary hours of work.

The provisions of the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 appear to reflect a model clause and provide the five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave entitlement. It will apply to all employees, including casuals; will be available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period rather than accruing progressively during a year of service; will not accumulate from year to year; and will be available in full to part-time and casual employees—that is, not pro rata.

It is disappointing that it has taken this long for the LNP government to move from their absolute opposition to family and domestic violence leave to their belated support for unpaid leave. We note that the government first committed to unpaid leave at the end of March but did not introduce this bill until now. For more than six months, victims have had to wait.

We know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. She will often need to find new accommodation and security, get an apprehended violence order from police, seek treatment for injuries and perhaps attend court appearances. As was the case for Anna: she needed to take time off work to do these vital things to keep herself and her family safe. She would not have to worry about losing her job to do so, and that would be a good thing. She should be able to count on continuing to receive a pay cheque and being able to go back to work.

Last year Labor announced that a Shorten Labor government would introduce 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave into the National Employment Standards. As I said, it is disappointing that the LNP government will not be bipartisan on this important and life-saving commitment. Ten days is what a fair and reasonable community would expect. In meeting with women, family and domestic violence services, victims and unions the message is clear: 10 days of domestic and family violence leave is needed and it is urgently needed.

I support this bill, but I call on the LNP government to urgently enact the 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave that is so desperately needed by so many women and children in our communities.

7:11 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

This is an opportunity for the government to listen not only to the reasons of the people on this side of the House but also to the reasons that are being expressed in the community. Whether it be our trade union movement, our many not-for-profits working in the space or our state governments, all are calling for paid family violence leave.

It is disappointing that within this debate we've got the same old, tired rhetoric coming out of the conservatives when we're debating paid leave. We are hearing similar comments—that it would send businesses broke, that it would be abused and that people won't hire women—to those that they were using about paid maternity and paternity leave back when it was being discussed in the community and in this parliament. They are the same arguments the conservatives used way back when around an allocation of paid sick leave and paid parental leave. They are the same old arguments from the conservatives, 'We'll let you have it unpaid, but you cannot have an entitlement of paid,' because of outdated views in relation to leave.

Like many in this House, I have met women in these circumstances where, if they had been able to access an allocation of paid family violence leave, their lives could have been very different. It was probably about 18 months ago that I met a woman in Kyneton. She wanted to share her story, her journey. At that stage she was finally in suitable accommodation for her and her son. When she decided to leave she was homeless, because she was locked into a mortgage with her former partner and was still paying that. She drove to Melbourne because there was no accommodation available in the Macedon Ranges. It's a regional area. That is common in a lot of regional areas. She arrived at a shelter and they said, 'Our priority is for women who don't have transport; because you have a car, you can sleep in your car.' After a few nights of that she rang her employer and said, 'I can't come in,' because, of course, she was homeless, living out of her car, and eventually she did actually lose her job. The employer was incredibly sympathetic but basically said, 'We are going to terminate your employment.' Being homeless without a job, trying to find somewhere, trying to get herself back up on her feet and dealing with the trauma associated with family violence—it was a longer journey back for her and for her son. She raised this experience with me to say that we need to do more. It isn't just about having shelters, which would have helped her, or suitable accommodation; it's also about making sure that people are able to keep their jobs.

I had another experience where a small business came to see me. They wanted to share their experience. One of their employees, a valued employee, was in a situation where she decided to leave family violence. The small business was not aware of what had been happening at home, and they actually reached out to Fair Work to say, 'Can you help us? We want to know how to support our employee properly.' They spoke to me about how they were shocked that there were no rules and no entitlements for this particular employee. It is a small business. There are only about five people who work in the business. They did give her leave, and they did give her paid leave, because they wanted her to stay on. They supported her through that process.

The reason why this small business came to speak to me is that, as they said, 'Lisa, every victim and every survivor of family violence should have access to leave.' Because the entitlement wasn't there, they actually then and went and spoke to the Women's Health Loddon Mallee service and the Centre for Non-Violence to try to work out the best way to do it. They should be very proud of what they did. They speak out and they speak regularly at different events to encourage other small businesses in our area to offer the same to their employees. So the need for paid family violence leave is there and established. Even in regional areas like my own, we have examples of how it can help change people's lives.

We know the stats. One woman a week is killed as a result of domestic violence. It is a shame and it is a national tragedy. The ABS estimates that two women out of every three who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. The statistics are true. Something I think is really quite shocking is when conservative commentators—and I'm saying 'conservative', I'm not saying 'Liberal' and 'National', because there are people who I know are Liberal and National MPs who do support action on this issue—say that this entitlement could be abused. I've never met a survivor of family violence who has faked it, and it's just insulting to say that. It is quite horrific for anyone to go through this. It's not by choice that they've ended up in this situation; it's not through any fault of their own. It has happened, and when they make the tough decision to leave, we should be doing all that we can to ensure that they not only have access to appropriate support services but also have access to entitlements such as we're discussing today.

If the survivor does leave, there's also a lot of work we need to do with our businesses to ensure that the survivor and other employees are safe, because quite often the perpetrator knows where to find them if they're at work. That's another area where the Centre for Non-Violence in Bendigo is supporting local businesses so they can best manage when the perpetrator arrives at a woman's—predominantly a woman's—workplace in search of her. There is a bit of a triage and wraparound service that is needed.

Whilst it's welcome that, with this particular bill that's in front of us, we will have five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave—it's a first, small step in the right direction—I really call upon the government to back in Labor's proposal to see it be paid and be 10 days. When I've met with survivors in my part of the world and when I've met with unions who've raised this issue with me on multiple occasions, there is no doubt that 10 days isn't going to be enough for a lot of the women in this situation. But it is a really good start and it is something that people can tap into. Others have mentioned that it could be about attending medical appointments, enrolling your kids in new schools, meeting with lawyers to discuss issues or looking at protection orders. Countless time is involved when a woman makes the tough decision to leave, and there is an amount of work that occurs and support that they require, not to mention their own trauma and their own experience of family violence that they've also got to work through.

In a lot of cases, there is also a lot of financial abuse that is involved with victims of family violence. It's not just the physical bruises or the physical attacks. Quite often it's linked to financial abuse, where victims may not have access to funds or there have been ridiculous debts run up on credit cards in their names or on joint credit cards that they're then responsible for. So meetings with financial counsellors are important. It doesn't matter which organisation I talk to locally; they all agree that we need to take a step towards paid family violence leave to really support women to stay in work and to help them access an entitlement so they can be financially okay—not get ahead but be okay.

Moving at any time is expensive, let alone when you are fleeing violence. You just get up and go. You grab the kids, grab the pets, get in the car and go. It's that moment of, 'I have to get out; I need to get free.' You don't think in that first fleeting moment, 'Do I have the financial means to do it?' Unfortunately, for far too many women that's the reason why they end up staying: they can't see how they can survive. They might lose their job. They can't see a way forward, and it is a great tragedy that, quite often, women will stay in an abusive relationship because they can't see a way through financially. That was very common in the eighties and nineties, back when we didn't talk about this so openly and when we referred to these families as just unhappy families or troubled homes or said that things weren't going too well. Women did stay in abusive relationships because they felt that they couldn't leave and couldn't protect their children financially, and that needs to change.

As I mentioned, a number of the unions have been advocating for this for quite some time. I want to acknowledge the work of the Australian Services Union, the union that represents a lot of women who work in this space. Its representatives were coming to see us as members of parliament, in our electorates and here in parliament, and rather than saying, 'This is an entitlement that we want for our members,' they were saying, 'This is an entitlement that we want the women who access our services to have.' So here was a union advocating for its clients to have the right to paid family violence leave. That is extraordinary. For all the name-calling we get from those opposite about unions, very rarely is there recognition of the good work that they do for broader social movements and on issues such as this.

In my electorate, I had City of Greater Bendigo workers, women who worked at the Centre for Non-Violence, and women who worked at Annie North, which is a refuge in my electorate, come to see me, and they spoke to me about the need for this place to adopt these amendments to the Fair Work Act. They spoke in quite passionate terms about how, if you really want to help women who are survivors of family and domestic violence to get back on track, having access to paid family violence leave is a good step. What it also does—and I acknowledge that this will also happen because of this bill—is encourage a conversation with employers and employees around the country. Once you have access to an entitlement, it means that businesses will be reaching out to know how to best manage it. As I said, there are businesses who are already doing it. It's not just the big corporates that we've heard about—businesses like IKEA and CUB. It's also small businesses. At the moment they're doing it in a very ad hoc way, but we could do more for the millions of workers who are on the award by making sure that we have access to paid family and domestic violence leave in our awards.

There's a lot of work we need to do when it comes to industrial relations, and I feel that this government is really sort of tinkering at the edges with bits and pieces here, when we could have done so much more with the bill before us. It is welcome, though, because it is a step in the right direction. But I encourage those opposite to consider the amendments that have been put forward by the opposition.

More than 1,000 enterprise agreements already have provided access to 10 days or more of paid family violence leave. It is, again, a demonstration of how workers and employers are getting on with the job of making sure that these clauses are in their agreements. I want to acknowledge the work that some of our construction unions, mining unions and manufacturing unions have done. Even though their female workforce might be quite small, they too have included these clauses in their agreements, because they acknowledge the importance of every worker—every woman—having access to this.

Labor has listened to the victims, to the survivors, to the frontline workers, to the businesses, to the unions and to the organisations that deal with domestic and family violence each and every day. If we are serious about tackling this scourge and making sure that women do feel safer, we have to look at the financial side of things. That is why I support the amendments that have been put forward, and I encourage the government also to do so.

7:26 pm

Ged Kearney (Batman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. Labor supports this bill in principle, but we note that it falls far short of Labor's commitment to introduce 10 days of paid domestic and family violence leave. I thank Senators Marshall, O'Neill and Waters for their dissenting report, following the Senate inquiry into this bill, which lays out the reasons for the need for paid leave.

Way back in 2008 or 2009, when I was still federal secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, as it was called then, I was contacted by a woman called Ludo McFerran, who ran a small outfit called the Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, an organisation dedicated to working for the eradication of domestic violence and to helping survivors. I met with Ludo, who I quickly realised had a life's passion to help people experiencing this violence, to raise awareness about the issue, to bring it into the realm of consciousness of our legislators and to find best-practice initiatives to stop it. She was driven, but in a gentle, determined and somewhat strident way. She told me she had had a revelation of sorts. All the while she had been trying to work with governments, with police, with employers and with other organisations and policymakers, and still the issue of family and domestic violence was not raised in prominence, was not being properly addressed, was not getting the traction that it deserved with legislators or policymakers, and was not being taken seriously enough by the justice system. Women were dying. In fact, right now, one woman a week dies at the hands of a domestic partner or someone she knows intimately. It is a national shame. The issue of a young boy who was tragically king-hit in Kings Cross rightly got immediate media attention and a legislative outcome, yet the issue of hundreds and hundreds of women being violently killed receives barely any attention.

Returning to Ludo, she told me she realised that a new path had to be forged, a path that would raise awareness, destigmatise the problem for women survivors, create effective outcomes, and focus policy and, ultimately, specific legislation. In forging that new path, she turned her mind to the union movement. It was a sunny, bright day that I joined with her, Tanya Plibersek, and comrades from the NTEU at the University of New South Wales. This was a union meeting to discuss the insertion of a clause that specifically allowed for paid family and domestic violence leave into the EBA being negotiated with the university. The clause had been developed in conjunction with Ludo and the clearing house. It not only went to paid leave but also to the development of training for HR staff and line managers to help them work through options with staff experiencing family and domestic violence leave. It dealt with issues of safety for the employees and managers, from perpetrators coming onsite, and with the privacy of the workers who were affected.

As a nurse, I had seen firsthand the pain and suffering of the physical and psychological consequences of being attacked by a partner or intimate other. I saw the shame and, often, the lies that went with presentation at hospital. I saw the impacts on the children in the family and I saw all too often the complete desperation and despair when there was nowhere else to go. I relayed my experiences to the union members, encouraging them to continue to fight hard to get the clause up in their EBA. Unfortunately, they were not successful. The university would not include such a clause, but they did develop a comprehensive policy position, and a trajectory had begun.

Debate interrupted.