Tuesday, 4 December 2018
Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018; Second Reading
A trajectory was sweeping the union movement, not just here but worldwide, for the implementation of paid family and domestic violence leave, a trajectory that has brought us to this moment, a trajectory that is not yet finished by any stretch of the imagination. There is still so much to be done. Ludo McFerran began the Safe at Home, Safe at Work project and continued to work side by side with me and others in the union movement to pursue paid domestic violence leave; to ensure there are educated and informed workers, managers and employers; to destigmatise the issue within our society; and to protect and help people experiencing violence and survivors with practical, sensible effective measures. Ludo was awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission's community award for her work pioneering policy on support systems to enable women and children to stay safe. I am proud to call Ludo McFerran a colleague and friend and I take this opportunity to thank her.
A couple of years after that fateful meeting at the university, I again attended a union meeting. This time, however, it was to celebrate the first ever enterprise bargain agreement clause allowing for 10 days paid domestic violence leave. This time it was with the mighty ASU in Victoria. They had successfully negotiated the leave with the Surf Coast Shire. Sharon Karyasa was one of the shire employees, a union delegate who helped negotiate the clause. She was a young and committed woman who had suffered terrible abuse at the hands of her partner. I first met Sharon at a union women's meeting in Geelong. I had been travelling the country promoting the ACTU's family and domestic violence clause, encouraging unions to include it in their bargaining, and Sharon heard me explain why I thought it was an important part of tackling the terrible scourge.
Sharon took it completely to heart. She discussed it with her ASU organiser, who supported her, and together they made it clear to the shire HR team that they wanted a paid family and domestic violence leave clause in the EBA. Sharon recalled to me later that at first the HR manager laughed out loud at her, derisively telling her and the organiser that they were dreaming. But Sharon was not giving up, and the ASU was standing with her. If that HR manager thought Sharon was dreaming then that dream became a reality. The Surf Coast Shire council became the first public sector employer in Australia to offer special paid leave of up to 20 days a year to employees who experienced domestic violence. The council eventually listened, and heard and recognised that employees sometimes face violence in their personal life which affects their work attendance and ultimately their performance. Surf Coast Shire CEO at that time, Mark Davies, said that they had agreed to the clause to ensure that the council was an employer of choice. He said at that time:
Including this family violence clause in Surf Coast Shire's new EBA is a socially progressive measure that shows our commitment to the wellbeing of all staff.
He went on to say:
The personal toll of domestic violence alone is unacceptable. It also poses a cost to employers and organisations. … The best way to reduce any costs is to ensure any staff suffering are supported.
ASU Victorian assistant branch secretary, Lisa Darmanin, said the paid leave would help survivors hold down stable jobs and maintain their career paths. I want to thank Lisa Darmanin and the ASU more broadly for being champions of promoting and implementing paid family and domestic violence leave. In particular, I would like to thank Linda White, the national assistant secretary, and Natalie Lang, the New South Wales branch secretary. They picked up the baton and pursued with vigour, along with other unions and the ACTU, the fight to have 10 days of paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards, a measure I am proud to say that a Labor government will implement.
Family violence could interrupt women's lives, including their work, and keeping an income through such times is paramount to their wellbeing. The last thing someone trying to flee domestic violence needs is to lose their job and their economic independence. Research fairly and squarely shows that having a job and an income means far better outcomes than struggling without money. Two-thirds of family violence victims are employed, and direct costs to employers include absenteeism, staff turnover and lost productivity.
We knew that tackling family violence needed a multifaceted approach, including in the workplace. The Australian Council of Trade Unions Women's Committee took up the challenge with gusto and developed a domestic violence policy that was endorsed by the ACTU congress in 2012 and has led to domestic violence clauses being included as part of the standard claims by many unions. As a result of collective bargaining, millions of workers are now protected by paid domestic violence clauses across all industries, like retail, public transport, education, manufacturing, maritime, banking and finance, and the public sector.
Australian employers are increasingly prepared to negotiate these clauses, including companies like Carlton & United Breweries, Qantas, NAB, IKEA and Telstra. Most states now offer paid family and domestic violence leave to their public servants. In New Zealand, there is legislated paid leave that guarantees 10 days of leave for all workers experiencing violence who need to escape. With the advent of the Fair Work Commission's ruling, all awards now have unpaid leave. That is a disappointing outcome, like this bill, given the fact that paid leave is what is needed.
For the naysayers and doomsayers who abhorrently say this will be used to take sickies, I will repeat what the wonderful Rosie Batty said about that. She was with me once at a press conference when a journalist asked me that inevitable question. She elbowed me aside, leapt in front of the cameras and said, 'Do you think any woman would make up a story that she had been beaten and subjected to the pain and suffering of domestic violence just to get the day off? I don't think so.' I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rosie for the support she gave to the campaign for paid leave and her contribution to raising the bar on dealing with family and domestic violence. She is a champion. At any rate, most employers would be able to ask for some sort of proof of family violence from police, GPs, district nurses, lawyers or support agencies.
The bill offers unpaid leave for only five days. Fleeing domestic violence actually costs money. Research shows that escaping an abusive relationship costs $18,000 at least and takes 141 hours, almost all of which are during working hours. That's for things like going to court, dealing with estate agents or emergency services, attending doctors and counselling appointments, seeing a lawyer, moving house and talking to the kids' school teachers. It all takes time, and time is money. Finding that money and time can be hard. Just knowing that there is an avenue for you to talk to your employer about it, that there is no shame and that your employer can help by offering some much-needed leave with pay makes a huge difference. Everyone who has this leave is telling us just that. The testimonies are compelling.
Of course, learning that your employee is suffering from domestic violence can be challenging in itself, which is why it is necessary to ensure that a contact officer, human resource manager or line manager is trained to deal with people experiencing family violence in a confidential and respectful way. Such training must be delivered by experts in the area. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Sue Wilkinson and the Darebin City Council in my electorate for winning a prestigious WorkSafe award for their workplace training and management of domestic and family violence and for ensuring that their workers have access to 20 days of paid leave. Darebin City Council are amongst the hundreds of workplaces that offer paid leave to their employees. That is because they know that paid leave is vital for their employees' welfare but also because, as employers, it makes them an employer of choice and contributes their vital share of the complex solutions to the terrible problem of family and domestic violence. But we need paid leave in the National Employment Standards to cover all workers who are not able to bargain for it.
One vital part of this important journey, which began so many years ago, has been to take the issue of paid leave to the world. Just last year I had the honour of working with my international union sisters and brothers, along with Ludo McFerran and her international network, with international groups of employers and governments from right around the world to ensure that family and domestic violence leave was recognised by the International Labour Organization. I am so proud to say that our preliminary work was rewarded with recognition that the workplace is a vital part of that solution and that bargaining for leave is important. Other countries are now beginning to follow suit.
This bill does fall short, as it provides for only five days of unpaid leave. I'm proud to say that the best outcome for working women and men will be when a Shorten Labor government is elected and we legislate 10 days paid leave in the National Employment Standards, because, without paid leave, you can't leave.
I don't think that I'm alone amongst Australians in that my feelings about the national crisis that we face when we look at domestic violence rates in Australia have moved from sorrow and despair to now sitting squarely in white hot anger. If we have a look at what is happening in Australian society today, in 2018, we see that the statistics are stark and they are horrifying: more than one woman killed each and every week in 2018 in the Australia that we preside over. So I think we in the parliament need to ask ourselves: are we doing absolutely everything that we can be doing to stop this national disgrace? Sadly, I believe that the answer to that is no.
We come here today to debate a bill which, in effect, means that a woman who is trying to flee domestic violence will not be punished by losing her job if she needs to take five days of unpaid leave. Well, woo hoo, this is a step in the right direction, but it is a teeny-tiny step in the right direction. I believe that every parliament, every member of parliament, every elected official should be asking themselves: what more could we be doing to help prevent the tragedies that are taking place far too often? Sadly, I think that there will be many, many answers that come forward. Perhaps when the Prime Minister talks, as he does so often at the moment, about the Canberra bubble, we should ask ourselves: are we living in the Canberra bubble when we are not, as a parliament, standing up and debating and discussing solutions to this crisis each and every day, when we're not taking the action which all of the evidence and the experts say is required to be taken if we are going to support those brave and courageous women who are trying to flee the situations that they find themselves in? All of that evidence and all of those experts suggest that, when it comes to leave from the workplace, it needs to be paid leave and that five days is not adequate; it needs to be 10 days of paid leave.
I know that we've all heard statistics, and they stop having their full meaning when we throw them around all the time. We know that, in Australia, at least 55 women have been murdered in 2018. In fact, we know that some 63 women have been killed by acts of violence, 55 in domestic violence situations. We know that intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk for Australian women aged 25 to 44. This is quite literally killing women far too often. I know that there has been progress made in recent years. There's been progress made in terms of awareness. There's been progress made in terms of taking this out of the shadows, no longer talking about this as a private issue, as a family issue, but recognising that this is a national crisis. But, whilst there has been progress made, we still see these statistics and we know that each and every one of these statistics represents a human tragedy—a woman's life lost and, in many cases, their children's lives forever altered. We know in too many of these cases that it is continuing a cycle, which we know can have profound effects later in life.
In the local area that I'm so lucky to represent, the electorate of Adelaide, The Advertiser ran an article on the weekend in which they listed the top 10 metropolitan postcodes for domestic violence related offences. Two of these, in metropolitan Adelaide, are postcodes that I have the privilege to represent in this House. Of course, what that means is that too many people whom I have been elected to represent in this House are finding themselves subjected to domestic and family violence. Postcode 5000, Adelaide City, and postcode 5084, Kilburn and Blair Athol, are among the top 10 metropolitan postcodes.
We also know that South Australia Police investigated more than 10,800 crimes linked to domestic violence last financial year. That's just South Australia Police—10,800 crimes. South Australia Police Chief Superintendent Doug Barr told The Advertiser that many people thought of domestic violence as assault, but the new data shows that it is so much more than that. Examples among the 10,000 crimes include brandishing a gun and threatening a partner or a child; endangering a family member by driving at them or forcing them into a car; releasing intimate images of a partner; spray-painting offensive language on their fence; sending excessive harassing text messages; and breaking into ex-partners' homes and stealing items.
This has gone on far too long and we as a parliament must challenge ourselves: what more can we do? We know that this is an issue that needs to be tackled on a range of different levels. Primary prevention is so incredibly important if we are going to change attitudes and ensure that future generations don't see these horrifying levels of this crime. Our law enforcement and judicial system needs to be best equipped to appropriately deal with these issues. There are serious issues when it comes to accommodation, when it comes to refuge, when it comes to support for women and their families who are fleeing this situation. In fact, just last week I received an email on behalf of one of the local churches in my electorate. It says:
We write to you as Federal Member for Adelaide, to express our concern at the chronic shortage of crisis, social and affordable housing that is forcing women who want to flee a violent household to have nowhere to go. We have attached a photo of our congregation at the Parkside Baptist Church (Adelaide) reflecting on this issue at our services on 25 November. We were shocked to discover that domestic violence is the leading contributor to homelessness in Australia. Housing experts anticipate that if we are to be a country where every person can enjoy safe and secure housing we will need an additional 500,000 social and affordable homes by 2026. Yet present trends show that social housing is declining as a proportion of housing stock and a large number of crisis accommodation services report that they do not have sufficient resources to accommodate all those who need it, and as a result, regularly turn people away. Please make this a priority issue and keep it as priority issue until every woman, child and man fleeing violence has a safe and secure place to go.
Thank you for your time.
On behalf of Parkside Baptist Church
Thank you, Frances and your congregation for continuing to speak out and keeping this issue on the agenda. For my part, I will represent your concerns and I will fight for more accommodation, something that I'm pleased Labor has released our policy for. We know how important safe shelter is for women and children in particular in these situations.
That brings us to the bill that we're debating here today. Of course, accommodation and shelter are required if and when a woman makes a decision to leave the dangerous circumstances that she finds herself in.
My concern about this bill here today is that we know that two out of three women who are experiencing domestic violence are in the workforce. That means that for many of them, when they are in controlling, abusive relationships at home, that time in the workforce is actually the only safe time that they have outside of the house. If these women are contemplating leaving this situation—and we can only imagine how hard that decision is—the statistics make it clear that fleeing an abusive domestic violence situation is when they are at their most vulnerable. It is the most dangerous time. So it is a hard decision. Anyone who says, 'Why don't they just leave?' needs to have a look at the huge range of issues that need to be considered and just how difficult this can be. If someone's contemplating leaving, there's a lot to do: finding accommodation, in many cases getting apprehended violence orders or restraining orders, in many cases making court appearances and in many cases speaking with the local law enforcement. All of these things can be incredibly time consuming. So of course, if people are going to contemplate undertaking all of this, we should not add the disincentive of them losing their ongoing pay as a result of that. If we do not have paid domestic violence leave, we are leaving these women in a situation where they have to decide whether they are going to forgo some of their salary, which they know they will be absolutely relying upon if they choose to go it alone, or whether, if they take more leave than they have, they are going to lose their jobs and start what should be a phase of rebuilding their lives in unemployment, where we know that poverty is a very real concern. That is what this parliament should be reflecting upon. We are not addressing those concerns in this bill here today. In this bill here today, all we're saying is that for five days you can leave without pay and you won't get sacked as a result of that. That is too little action, and I call upon this parliament to do more.
I know that, as I said, there has been progress. That progress was highlighted just last week when ANROWS released the summary of the NCAS, the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey. I was incredibly proud when one of our own South Australians, Arman Abrahimzadeh, spoke at the launch of this. Arman told his story as he has powerfully done previously—the story about how his father murdered his mother, about the household that he grew up in and about how he needs to see this cycle change. What we learned from this survey is that there has been some progress in some areas. We know that most Australians support gender equality and that Australians are more likely to support gender equality in 2017 than in previous surveys. We know that Australians are less likely to hold attitudes supportive of violence against women in 2017 than they were previously. But there are also some concerning results. There continues to be a decline in the number of Australians who understand that men are more likely than women to perpetrate domestic violence. A concerning proportion of Australians believe that gender inequality is exaggerated or no longer a problem. We know that, among attitudes condoning violence against women, the highest level of agreement was with the idea that women used claims of violence to gain tactical advantage in their relationships with men. We know that one in five Australians today would not be bothered if a male friend told a sexist joke about women. I'd like to thank the amazing team at ANROWS and, indeed, all of the amazing people who have been working to change attitudes, to bring about change and to provide support. You do an extraordinary job.
I stand here and say: of course we'll support this teeny-tiny step that is being taken by the government, but each and every member of parliament owes it to our community to reflect upon what more we can be doing. I'm incredibly proud that, further than this, Bill Shorten and Labor have announced that we will introduce 10 days of paid leave. We know that this is what the evidence suggests. We know that this is what other jurisdictions are doing. New Zealand has already legislated guaranteeing 10 days of paid leave. Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT all offer 10 days of paid leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 and Victoria 20.
There is more that we can do. I urge this parliament to do more when it comes to supporting women who are trying to leave and not seeing them crippled financially by unpaid leave, but also when it comes to accommodation, when it comes to shelter, when it comes to support, when it comes to primary prevention, when it comes to law enforcement and when it comes to our judicial system. It should be a priority for this parliament, for every state parliament and indeed for every local government. Australia cannot continue to see more than one woman killed by someone she loved or once loved and not treat it as a national emergency. I urge this government to go further than they have with this bill, and I stand proudly with my colleagues in saying that if we're lucky enough to be elected to government we will do more.
I commend the member for Adelaide for her comments on the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. In recent times this government and coalition governments more broadly have been the subject of accusations of gender inequality, bullying, discrimination against women, and the like. It's an image that this government is failing to shake off. Indeed, you might have thought that the government would have used this legislation to do just that. If it is the case that this legislation was brought in in an attempt to dispel the perception of the poor image on gender inequality that this government has, then this legislation falls very flat.
I'll make two observations about it. Firstly, yes, the legislation is a step in the right direction. But it falls short in making it clear that this government is serious about addressing women's inequality issues. It falls short because the adoption of the Fair Work Commission's five days of unpaid domestic violence leave is at odds with perhaps 1,000 or more private businesses and other governments, at both state and international level, that already provide paid domestic leave to people in their jurisdictions. So, we're already behind what other governments are doing. You might have thought that if this government was wanting to use this legislation to reinstate its credibility with respect to the treatment of women in this country, then it might have done what has already been done, in a much fairer manner, by other jurisdictions.
Secondly, I note that since this debate started—at the time there was only one government speaker listed to speak on the legislation—two or three others have come on board and spoken. Nevertheless, if government members truly believe in this legislation, why are they not in this chamber speaking in support of it? Why are they in fact evading the opportunity they have to speak in support of it? Is it because they don't really support it? Or is it because they maintain this image of a party that is completely out of step with women's issues in this country?
This legislation brings recognition to the serious and very widespread issue of domestic violence. Of course, the greater effort should always be on prevention, so that supporting measures are not ever required. But, sadly, that is not—and possibly will never be—the case. That would be the ideal situation, however: if we didn't need this kind of legislation. But we do have a long way to go and, in the meantime, we need to support victims of domestic violence, who in most cases are women.
The ABS estimates that two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. How difficult must it be for them to front up to work the day after perhaps a terrible incident in their home, and how difficult must it be for them to have to interact with their work colleagues and perhaps with customers if they are in a business that deals directly with the public? I can only begin to imagine, yet they clearly do it day in and day out around the country.
According to a study that KPMG conducted in 2015-16, domestic violence costs society $1.9 billion. Again, I don't know how those figures are derived, but, quite frankly, I'm not at all surprised that we're talking about billions of dollars, and it may even be higher. What is even worse, however, is the sobering figure that has been put time and time again by members on this side of the chamber in speaking in this debate, and that is that every week one or more women lose their lives because of domestic violence. That is not to mention the psychological impact a loss of life has on the surviving children, because in most cases there are children. Nor do I know how many suicides of both women and children have their origins in domestic violence. I don't know if any studies have been undertaken with respect to that, but I suspect that, if there were, we would find that there is a link and that many of the suicides that we see around the country, sometimes years down the track, date back to a domestic violence household. As the member for Adelaide quite rightly pointed out, we also know that domestic violence is one of the key causes of homelessness.
We also know that there is a real concern for women who suffer in silence. Because they might be further abused, because of shame or because of their need to protect their children, a lot of the women who are subjected to domestic violence never, ever speak out, and they live a life of misery and stay in the relationship that they are in. I could talk about personal cases that I have been directly or indirectly involved with, but I won't go there. But I say this as someone who has spoken to families that have had a serious domestic violence issue. I've seen the impact it has on those families—both the children and the women.
For those who do need the domestic violence leave that this legislation provides—or the 10 days of paid leave that this side of the House would prefer to see—the reality is that it may not always be taken up. Clearly, it will be taken up only if there is a need to do so. I say to members of the government: spare a thought for the hardship, suffering and trauma of the person who is saying, 'I need additional support.' Spare a thought for the children in that household because, quite frankly, their needs are much, much greater than what they might be asking for. Spare a thought also for the psychological effect on those people as they continue to live their lives. They are people at a critical time in their lives and need all the support they can possibly get. Sometimes 10 days of paid leave or, as the government is offering, five days of unpaid leave might be all they need. On other occasions it might be more.
I make two other observations about the complexities of domestic violence. We know that one out of every three victims of domestic violence are not in the workforce. For them, this legislation provides no support whatsoever. Indeed, for them it's often even harder because they are isolated, in many cases, in their own homes. They don't go to work and interact with other women and other work colleagues to whom perhaps they can sometimes confide what is happening within their lives. So they remain even more captured than the others.
I also note that, between 2012 and 2014, there were 126 intimate partner homicides in Australia and, of those, 32, or roughly a quarter, were of Indigenous people. I suspect that most of those Indigenous people were also unemployed. Clearly, we need to make a much greater effort towards assisting Indigenous communities with this very serious issue, and the statistics are there for all to see.
As we also know, in most cases the statistics make it very clear that domestic violence seems to occur at even greater levels within lower socioeconomic communities. Clearly, one of the things we need to do as a nation is to ensure that we provide the level of assistance, whether it's through employment programs or even unemployment programs, to help get those people out of the poverty that they are in, because quite often it is the very situation that they find themselves in that leads to domestic violence.
I want to take the opportunity in speaking on this bill to acknowledge two local women's groups in my area that have done some fantastic work with respect to supporting victims of domestic violence and, in particular, women and children. I refer to the Zonta Club of Para District Area and also the Tea Tree Gully VIEW Club. I commend them for their efforts over many years in providing assistance to women and children caught up in domestic violence situations. The women of the Zonta and VIEW clubs quietly, without any fanfare, have over the years engaged in several projects that I'm aware of that provide real assistance to victims of domestic violence, and I indeed thank them for their efforts to do so.
In closing: of course our primary effort should always be in preventing domestic violence. I note that there are several good initiatives around the country, some at local level and some at national level, that are already underway, and I'm sure that they are making a difference, but I also believe that we could do a lot more. And we should be focusing on doing more because ultimately that would minimise the impact of this legislation or any other support measures that are required when a family has to go through a domestic violence situation.
Domestic violence is a serious matter, and it shouldn't be ignored, because of the trauma it causes and the lives it ruins. I believe that there is opportunity for us as a nation to put in both support measures and preventative measures. I see this legislation as a step in the right direction because it does a bit of both. It both supports the person who finds themselves in that situation and simultaneously says to the perpetrator of violence, 'There is some support that will be provided to your partner, to your wife or whoever it may be, if you become violent with them.' That in turn, I hope, might act as a deterrent, at least in some cases, to the violence that would have otherwise been committed. For those reasons, as other members of this side have said, we will support the legislation, but of course we believe it could have gone further and should have gone further.
I rise to speak on this important piece of legislation, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. I suspect there's hardly anybody in this country who doesn't know someone—a family member, a friend, a colleague at work, someone within one of the groups in which they mix—who has been the subject of family and domestic violence. This is a blight upon our society. It is one which governments of both persuasions, people on both sides of this chamber and elsewhere in state and territory parliaments, have worked for a long time to try to address in a more successful manner, but the challenge remains with us in this place as elsewhere in the country, so I want to speak on this bill.
I've also seen the impact of this. As some members will know, my wife and I worked for many years with an agency helping couples and families. You see the consequences even when talking to young couples approaching marriage, for example, where something like the experience of domestic violence in their parents' relationship has had an impact in an intergenerational way upon their own relationship. As we learn from social science research, these impacts are not confined merely to the people who are caught up in these situations; they are intergenerational and can extend even beyond the next generation into a third generation. So this remains an important subject for all of us in this place to address.
As other speakers have noted, this bill will provide as a minimum standard five days unpaid leave for all employees covered by the Fair Work Act. It is an important step to take in relation to family and domestic violence. Since 2013 the government has committed over $300 million to address family and domestic violence. In 2015 the government committed $100 million through the Women's Safety Package, which provided crucial funding for the 1800RESPECT national telephone and online counselling information service to provide more support for men and women and also for local women's caseworkers to coordinate support for women escaping domestic violence, including housing, safety and budgeting services.
In 2016 a further $100 million was committed under the third action plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. In previous incarnations, in the employment ministry and the social services ministry, I was pleased to work with colleagues at both the state and territory levels and elsewhere on the various action plans as part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and to work with advocates for addressing the blight of domestic violence—with people such as Natasha Stott Despoja. I note that work on the fourth action plan is now well underway. As part of this process the Minister for Women, Ms O'Dwyer, who is at the table at the moment, co-chaired in December this year the COAG National Summit on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children.
Recent budget measures also add to this issue. There is $55 million for community legal centres, directed to frontline family law and family violence services; $10.7 million for family law courts to employ additional family consultants; $12.7 million for establishing the parenting management hearings, a new forum for resolving family law disputes between self-represented litigants; and $3.4 million for expanding the national pilot program for specialist domestic violence units to provide wraparound legal and other support services to women who are experiencing or are at risk of domestic and family violence. In addition to that, in this year's budget there were further measures announced, including $22 million over five years to address elder abuse in Australia; $14.2 million over four years for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner; $6.7 million to maintain funding for DV-alert to continue its domestic violence response training for community frontline workers; and an additional $11.5 million for the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, 1800RESPECT, for the next two years. 1800RESPECT has provided vital support services for many people. Of course, that is why that additional funding was provided. In November, just last month, we had the first Women's Economic Security Statement, worth $109 million over four years. All these measures are important. If there were a simple answer to this problem then it would have been found by now. There is not, so we must continue our efforts.
In conclusion I wish to say a couple of things. Like previous speakers, I'd like to acknowledge the work of local groups in my constituency who have worked with the victims of domestic violence in particular and groups that support women within the community. The Women's Friendship Group in Doncaster, for example, is an important agency. It's a mechanism by which women come together to support each other. It has done a very wonderful job. Then there is the important work of Doncare, the major welfare charity in my electorate. It has provided for the victims of domestic violence and families for many years now. I've been delighted to help them with funding through the Stronger Communities Program for a variety of services that go to help the victims of domestic violence within the area.
Finally, I think we all have a responsibility in terms of the language we use. There seems to have been a coarsening of language within the community and within the polity in Australia. People get on social media, like Facebook and Twitter, and say all sorts of misogynistic things off the top of their head. We have a responsibility to stand up against that and call out people who are misogynistic in their comments online. We should not like or retweet those sorts of comments. We should call out people who have a history of making those sorts of comments. It's this sort of coarsening of the language which gives licence to other people within the community to say similar things, and if people use language of this nature then, unfortunately, that gives licence to some people to think that they can act that out within their own families. This is a regrettable trend which has occurred, and I believe all of us have a responsibility to call it out when we see it.
I thank all members for their contribution in this very important debate on this very important bill. The Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 will enshrine five days unpaid leave in the National Employment Standards. It will for the first time extend a guaranteed entitlement to up to six million workers who do not currently have access to such leave. This is an historic and important step that is supported by the government's broader agenda to strengthen women's personal safety and economic security. The government is pleased to be delivering on its commitment as soon as possible to ensure that employees covered by the Fair Work Act will have access to a new safety net entitlement of five days unpaid leave to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence.
I introduced the bill in the spring sitting, the first sitting period after the Fair Work Commission finalised the model award term in July 2018. I thank the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee for its inquiry into this bill and those individuals and organisations that provided submissions and attended the public hearings to assist the committee in its deliberations. I'm pleased that the committee recommended that the bill be passed. The question of what workplace leave should be available to victims of family and domestic violence was considered in extensive detail by the Fair Work Commission. The consideration included whether leave should be paid or unpaid, how much leave was appropriate, who should have access to leave and the circumstances in which leave should be available.
Between October of 2014 and July 2018 the Fair Work Commission considered 68 written submissions from 27 parties, received over 2,000 pages of documentation, heard evidence from 26 witnesses and held over 11 days of hearings. Submissions were made and interested parties were given an opportunity to provide input at every stage and step in the process. Unions, employers and community groups all actively engaged in the Fair Work Commission's process. The government respects the integrity of the fair and balanced process the Fair Work Commission undertook in making its decision. The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee in its report into this bill acknowledged the extensive consideration of the issue by the Fair Work Commission and noted that it did not receive evidence which would challenge the basis of the Fair Work Commission's decision.
In relation to paid leave the commission explicitly stated in its decision:
… 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.
… … …
The ACTU has not provided a satisfactory explanation as to how it arrived at ten days and the evidence does not support a finding that ten days paid leave is necessary.
The Fair Work Commission decided that five days unpaid leave represents a fair and relevant minimum safety net entitlement. This of course does not mean that employers cannot offer something above that minimum safety net, but this is the minimum that will apply to all.
The bill will extend the decision of the Fair Work Commission to all employees covered by the Fair Work Act. It is the right step to take right now. The commission's decision applied to award-reliant employees. This bill will provide a universal safety net entitlement for all workers under the Fair Work Act, regardless of the basis of their employment or the size of their employer. Many workers covered by the Fair Work Act currently have no entitlement to family and domestic violence leave, as they are not award reliant. This new safety net entitlement will not prevent employers from providing other support to employees experiencing family and domestic violence. However, we must recognise that employers need to make business decisions that reflect their own situation. Enterprise agreements and workplace policies are the appropriate place for more generous entitlements to be provided where individual employers are able to do so.
As the Australian Industry Group submitted to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee's inquiry into the bill:
Employers have different capacities to provide support to employees who are experiencing family and domestic violence. … Smaller employers often do not have written policies but they typically adopt a reasonable and compassionate approach when their employees suffer genuine hardships. The Bill implements an appropriate safety-net entitlement.
I know some members have spoken about the need for people to experience family and domestic violence to be able to maintain their employment and not feel that they have no choice but to resign. By providing for family and domestic violence leave as a workplace right in the National Employment Standards, all workers covered by the Fair Work Act will be protected from adverse action for taking family and domestic violence leave. This includes actions such as dismissing someone or reducing their shifts. Under the government's bill, people who need to take leave to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence will be able to do so safe in the knowledge that their job is protected.
We know that, sadly, victims of family and domestic violence are overwhelmingly women. This year, already, too many women have been killed violently at the hands of men, and one death is just too many. Addressing violence against women remains a key priority for our government, and we are taking comprehensive action. Our government has invested over $300 million to improve women's safety since 2015. In the 2018-19 budget, we announced $54.4 million in new funding for online safety initiatives and critical domestic violence services to ensure that women can be safe at home, online and at work. This included funding for DV-alert, a program to build capacity in frontline workers for whom managing family violence is not a core function of their role. It also included funding for 1800RESPECT, the flagship national service for domestic, family violence and sexual assault counselling, information and support. 1800RESPECT has proved to be a vital support for so many. I'm pleased that, in addition to this budget funding, on 27 November this year the government announced that 1800RESPECT will receive $10.9 million in additional funding to meet ongoing demand.
The government has also previously committed $100 million to the Third Action Plan, a further step in the 12-year national plan to achieve a significant and sustained reduction of violence against women and children. One project under the Third Action Plan I would like to draw attention to is the development of a one-stop shop for online resources. The resources will provide holistic, best-practice guidance for employers and employees to help support victims of family and domestic violence.
I also want to welcome the positive response to the latest ads, which were part of the award-winning Stop it at the Start campaign. In partnership with states and territories, we have committed $30 million to target the influencers of young people—such as parents, friends, teachers and coaches—to help bring about generational change in attitudes around violence against women.
I was pleased to co-host the COAG National Summit on Reducing Violence Against Women and their Children on 2 and 3 October 2018 in Adelaide. I look forward to continuing to work with states, territories and the Australian community as we develop the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. The government is also proud to be contributing $500,000 towards the Australian Human Rights Commission's inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace, which is to be led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
This government understands that we can help women to build their financial security through practical measures. It is one of the key reasons why I delivered the first ever women's economic security statement, which focused on three key pillars: workforce participation, earning potential and, importantly, economic independence. These important measures support women's financial security to help them to be able to escape violent relationships. Our government's record on women's economic security is strong. Under our government, there are more women in work than ever before, with over 5.9 million women in work. Women's workforce participation is at record highs. We are on target to meet the G20 commitment to reduce the gap in women's workforce participation by 25 per cent to 9.1 percentage points by 2025. In October 2018 the participation gap was standing at 9.5 percentage points. Under our government we are also making good progress on closing the gender pay gap.