House debates

Monday, 3 December 2018


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

1:02 pm

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

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Gorton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question is that the amendment be agreed to.

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

In fact, I was planning to speak in continuation, since I was speaking earlier last week regarding the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, to observe the fact that this government appears to have a problem with women. We've had since then a motion to suspend standing orders. The defence to the suspension of standing orders was not that the government didn't have a problem with women but rather that this side of the House, the Labor Party, didn't want to speak about important matters that were before the parliament. That defence was absolute nonsense because there are, by my count, 32 speakers on this side ready to speak on government legislation—32 speakers from Labor ready to speak about issues that are important to the Australian public—and only one government member who is prepared to speak on any legislation today. So that defence obviously fails utterly.

We have a government that doesn't take women seriously. We have a government whose own Minister for Women has indicated that the Liberal Party is 'anti-women', if she's been correctly quoted. We have a Prime Minister who has different priorities. He prefers to attend other events within this parliament rather than to attend the family violence event Our Watch.

Back to the point at hand: the vital issue of family and domestic violence. I was talking, before I was interrupted, about the costs of being involved in domestic and family violence and what it costs to leave an abusive relationship. The costs of leaving an abusive relationship can be significant, they can be immediate and they can be long term. The costs will include relocation—including lease-break costs, costs to repair damaged furniture and/or a damaged tenancy, and the cost of finding alternative accommodation—medical and counselling bills, increased transportation costs, including loss of access to a car, and lost earnings. The ACTU has placed a total figure in the typical case at approximately $18,000. Postdoctoral research fellow Kate Farhill has noted the considerable disadvantage flowing through a victim's life. It can adversely affect lifetime earnings. Some studies from the United States show a 25 per cent loss in income associated with domestic violence and abuse. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that around two out of three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce.

There can be no doubt that a comprehensive response to domestic and family violence must involve a workplace response. Other jurisdictions have introduced paid domestic violence leave. Labor believes that Australia's federal workplace system should also provide support and a workplace entitlement. In July this year New Zealand legislated paid 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 their public service employees, whilst South Australia offers 15 days and Victoria 20.

Many employers also provide paid family and domestic violence leave to their workforce through their enterprise agreements. More than 1,000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2017 provide for 10 or more days of paid domestic and family violence leave. These include flagship companies such as Carlton & United Breweries, Telstra, the National Australia Bank, Virgin Australia, IKEA and Qantas. These employers are to be congratulated, as they have paved the way and helped reduce the stigma that often accompanies domestic and family violence.

The union movement is to be congratulated for its campaign for paid family and domestic violence leave over many years and for its role in negotiating domestic leave coverage in Australian workplaces. Labor knows that many small businesses, where employers and employees have close working relationships, already provide the important support for staff to take paid leave to deal with the consequences of domestic violence. We know that, in addition to the terrible personal and social cost of domestic violence, it is a significant cost to business. In May 2016, KPMG estimated the cost of violence against women and their children on production and on the business sector at $1.9 billion for 2015-16.

Labor has listened to victims. Labor has listened to front-line workers, businesses, unions and organisations who are at the forefront of domestic violence prevention. Their clear message is that people who have experienced domestic violence need more support in the workplace. We all benefit from a range of social supports. Social isolation creates and perpetuates many problems, including psychological and physical health issues. For some women, their workplace provides a vital support mechanism. Work colleagues and empathetic employers may be the most important support they can receive in this situation. They can also provide an important oasis away from conflict.

The government's response, whilst welcomed, has its shortfalls. I'm concerned, yet again, that this bill is 'too little, too late' from a government which is increasingly seen as completely out of touch. The Liberals do not support paid domestic violence leave; they should do so. This parliament should support paid domestic violence leave. I commend the bill to the House.

1:09 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On White Ribbon Day I joined the Women's Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services of Western Australia, together with Starick services and many others, in the silent march through Perth city. The march was the largest in its history. Following a shocking year of violent deaths in Western Australia, that's hardly surprising. This year 28 women, children and men in WA have lost their lives in domestic homicides. That's 28 individuals who won't be at the dinner table this Christmas. One death is too many. The killing of 28 people at the hands of loved ones is a tragedy.

At all levels of government and in all areas of the community, more needs to be done to ensure a coffin-free 2019. I've spoken in this place many times about my previous work with Starick services and the important work it does in my community to provide safe places for women and children who are escaping domestic and family violence. I've spoken in this place many times on the need for adequate funding for women's refuges. Only last sitting I told this place that, because of the $2.4 million funding cut at the hands of this government, the future of a number of domestic violence services in Western Australia had become uncertain. I told this House that fortunately the McGowan Labor state government has stepped in to ensure—at least for the moment—that those services can continue to operate in my community and across Western Australia just a little longer.

But it shouldn't stop there—it needn't stop there. This responsibility should not lie with the state government alone, nor solely with the federal government—or with any one area of our community. We require a multidisciplinary, multiagency and whole-of-community approach if we're going to ensure a domestic-violence-free future. That is why Labor announced last week that it will restore the funding for the Safe at Home program that has been discontinued by this federal government. We understand the need to ensure a safe place for people who are fleeing family and domestic violence and also to ensure that that place can be their own home.

Labor also commends this bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, for the changes it will make to the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with an entitlement to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave. This legislative change will provide an important workplace entitlement to an additional six million people, which will affect predominantly women, though not exclusively women. The provisions of this fair work amendment will ensure that it will apply to all employees, including casuals. It will be available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period rather than accruing over the course of a year. It will be available in full to part-time and casual employees, regardless of the number of days or hours worked.

With all of this in mind, we of course do not oppose bill. But this bill requires more than words, more than rhetoric. We must demonstrate that we actually care. This bill falls short of Labor's commitment, made almost a year ago, that a Shorten Labor government, if elected, will introduce 10 days of paid domestic violence leave, and this will be written into all modern awards. For working women, it is essential that paid domestic violence leave is available so that they and their children can reach that immediate safe refuge and rebuild their lives while maintaining their job support network and without fear of financial ramifications, because we know that domestic violence is predominantly gendered. We know that it's women who are usually financially implicated when it come to carers duties—not to mention women who are already concluding their working life with without half the retirement-age savings as men. Of course, the leave will be available to victims of domestic violence regardless of gender.

Domestic violence is no minor issue. One in three women have experienced some form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse by a current or former partner. One woman a week is killed as a result of domestic violence. That number is unconscionable. It is a national tragedy. It is one that receives a lack of attention given the size and scale of this problem. But it is not just a women's issue. It is an epidemic that does not discriminate by pay grade, socioeconomic status, geographic area or age.

In a study released just this Friday, it was revealed that many opinions on domestic violence remain astonishingly archaic. A concerning proportion of Australians believe gender inequality is exaggerated or no longer a problem. This is an issue that cannot be swept under the carpet. Reports of abuse continue to climb. Indeed, the reporting of domestic violence incidents in Western Australia is most prevalent in my community. As such, those suffering at the hands of loved ones should not be deterred from seeking refuge or seeking assistance by the financial implications of missing work, so that they can look after themselves and their children. We know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. She will need to find new accommodation and security, put in place legal arrangements and seek treatment for injuries. The last thing that she or her family need to worry about is keeping her job or how she's going to be able to pay the bills to keep financially above water.

I applaud the efforts of the union movement, which has already been successful in negotiating enterprise agreements that cover about 30 per cent of the workforce. I wish also to applaud the companies who have chosen to implement 10 days of domestic violence leave, without any legislative requirement. Companies such as Qantas, United Breweries, Virgin and Telstra and also many state governments have already taken this step. What they have chosen to do and undertake will make a positive impact on countless lives—the lives of individuals and the lives of families.

Whilst moving forward, we don't expect there to be a massive uptake of all 10 days of leave across the board; however, we do acknowledge its importance to those who need it. It will make a valuable difference to their lives. Economically, providing paid leave makes sense. The financial impact of implementing 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave is indeed minimal. Dr Stanford in his study titled Economic aspects of paid domestic violence leave provisions revealed that such paid leave will cost a relatively modest $80 million to $100 million a year for the Australian economy. When broken down, it means 0.02 per cent of current payrolls across the country. Compared to the costs incurred from domestic violence on the Australian economy, 10 days paid leave is a logical investment. While financial investment will be required by business to make these payments, think of the costs that it will offset, like the costs of employee turnover. The increased productivity that will result is significant. This legislation would reduce absenteeism and the cost of recruitment, hiring and training of employees to replace those employees who may traditionally leave their jobs as a result of such violence.

Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia have told us that the introduction of paid family and domestic violence leave will go a long way to shift general attitudes towards violence against women. It said:

It may begin to address the economic inequalities and hence the core driver of violence against women, which we know is gender inequality.

Critically, for those who complain or who are concerned about the cost of paid domestic violence leave, I ask you this: if the concern is the cost of the leave to support those who are clearly in the most vulnerable position in our society then maybe think about what we should be investing in instead for the prevention of family and domestic violence in order to bring this to an end. If you are concerned about the cost, let's bring down that cost by making sure that no-one finds themselves in a position where they have to call on it.

It's actually the foundation that sits behinds things like Medicare. We have invested in Medicare because it helps business, it helps those who are ill to support themselves economically, because it means that, when they're sick, they can find the service and health support which they need. As a consequence, people don't have to call on their sick leave anywhere near as often. Fortunately, that sick leave is available so that they can access the services when they need them. We know that, in the medical sense, accessing medical services up-front and quickly can save people's lives down the track. Similarly, the introduction of paid domestic violence leave will mean that people can escape family and domestic violence situations, they can put themselves in a safer place, they can look after their families and they can access the services which they need so that they are not in a vulnerable position in the future. If the concern is the cost then maybe people need to start thinking about the investments which are needed to bring domestic violence to an end.

Family and domestic violence is gendered, but we can all play a part in ensuring this prevalent crime is actually preventable. Family and domestic violence destroys individuals—literally destroys them. It tears families apart. It causes physical, emotional and financial suffering for the victims, their families and the people around them, including for the employers who rightly support them. If the bill is not extended to include paid leave, this legislation will fail to support the most vulnerable workers affected by family and domestic violence as they should be supported. We ask the government to amend the bill to support victims financially for just 10 days, if they need it, but when they need it, because that cost is nothing compared to the cost of the lives of families across Australia that are suffering from family and domestic violence.

We would like to see further amendments to strengthen this bill and to make it do the proper work that it should, just as with the government's legislation to prevent cross-examination, which, unfortunately, is not matched with supports for legal assistant services to ensure that can actually happen as people progress through the family courts. Again, this legislation goes part of the way and is to be commended for doing that, but there is more for the government to do here.

1:20 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sure everybody in this House agrees that it's a national tragedy and a national shame that one woman a week is killed as a result of domestic and family violence. The ABS estimates that two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce, so any kind of comprehensive response to domestic violence necessarily needs to look at the workplace and incorporate a workplace response as well. The bill currently before us, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, amends the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with an entitlement of five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave if:

(a) the employee is experiencing family and domestic violence; and

(b) the employee needs to do something to deal with the impact of the family and domestic violence; and

(c) it is impractical for the employee to do that thing outside the employee's ordinary hours of work.

While this bill is a step in the right direction, which is why Labor supports it, we certainly don't think it goes far enough. We're arguing that it should provide paid family and domestic violence leave for 10 days. It's disappointing that it has taken the government this long to move from their absolute opposition to family and domestic violence leave to their belated support for unpaid leave.

I'd like to put to the House exactly what it takes to leave a violent relationship. I'd like everybody in the House to consider whether or not these steps that I'm going to outline can be done with five days of unpaid leave, because here's what you have to go through. The first thing that you need to do is secure some form of accommodation, whether that is in a refuge, if you are facing impending threat to your individual wellbeing and safety and to that of your children, or that is with a friend who'll put you up for a few days, maybe on their sofa. But, in terms of a long-term or sustainable solution to leaving and the ability to leave, you really need some place to go. Apart from sorting out your accommodation and where it is you're going to go while you're escaping from your violent partner, you have to find time to get together your personal belongings just so that you can continue to have some form of normality in your life in that interim period as you leave your violent partner and the violent situation that you're in.

You may need to seek some kind of violence restraining order, and that can take several days of going to court. You may need to put in a police report. Often, at times, you'll have to go to hospital and fill in some hospital reports there, particularly if you've just been victimised. You may have to tend to some serious injuries as a result of that. If you've got children at school, you have to ensure that the school knows what's going on, so you'll have to go and make an appointment to talk to the school. You may have to take your children out of the school, if their wellbeing is also threatened. You may have to find them a different school in the interim as well. You or your children may need some counselling for trauma, alongside medical treatment. My son lost his hair—his hair just fell out. I spent three days taking him to specialists and seeking medical treatment for alopecia that was brought on by the stress and the trauma of what was going on in my relationship with his father. You will have to seek legal assistance and look at your banking and financial situation. You may have to set up a bank account and work out how your bills are going to be paid from that bank account—how you're going to extricate yourself financially from that person who is carrying out violence against you.

I ask the House to consider whether any of those things can be done in five days. Speaking from experience, they can't. Speaking from experience, five days of unpaid leave just doesn't cut it, particularly when that period of finally having come to a decision to leave a violent relationship—the critical period within those first few weeks—is absolutely essential to the continued wellbeing of both yourself and your children. If a woman needs to take time off work to do these vital things to help herself, to keep her family safe and to continue to have some form of consistency so that the family doesn't continue to suffer, she should be able to count on continuing to receive a pay cheque, continuing to have that kind of financial security over the next week, two weeks, three weeks or even a month or two months that it takes to really extricate oneself from a violent relationship.

Last year Labor announced that a Shorten Labor government would introduce 10 days of paid domestic leave into the National Employment Standards. Again, I want to reiterate the disappointment here that the government has refused to join us in this important commitment. I'm sure that members on both sides of the House have spoken to constituents who've been through this situation themselves, and I'm sure that if they continued to listen to those constituents and those members within their communities they would also have a better understanding of just what it takes to leave a violent relationship and just how important it is that women are supported to do that—through the legal process and also, importantly, through their workplace and the continuation of paid entitlements while they are organising themselves and securing a future life for themselves and for their children in the process of leaving a violent situation. We've listened to those victims. We've listened to frontline workers. We've listened to businesses, unions and organisations that deal daily with victims of domestic violence, and the clear message is that people who have experienced domestic violence need more support from their workplace.

In conclusion to my contribution here today, I'd just like to reiterate that yes, this is a step in the right direction, but, speaking from experience, it doesn't go nearly close enough to what's needed in order to prevent family violence and to ensure that those who escape family and domestic violence are able to do so with the reassurances that they will be supported and that they will be able to build a life for themselves, having escaped family and domestic violence.

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Medicare) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, given that it is almost 1.30, I was wondering whether we might be able to go straight into 90-second statements rather than commence another 30-minute speech on the bill that's currently being debated.

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

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.