Nov 29, 2018

Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 – Second Reading – Thursday, 29 November, 2018

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:55): I rise to support the amendment moved to the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 by the member for Gorton. This bill is a small step forward, but it doesn’t do what is required. The bill proposes that the National Employment Standards be amended to provide all employees with an entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. It follows the decision of the Fair Work Commission in March of this year to insert a clause into modern awards with an entitlement providing for five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. This decision came into effect from 1 August. It has provided more than two million award-reliant employees with up to five days unpaid domestic violence leave. This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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