FAMILY AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LEAVE

Ms Bird (Cunningham) (17:52): 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 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 and 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 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, children, men and boys—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 continually 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, our right to be full people able to 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 view 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, 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 view.

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, from their study, they 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 unpaid leave if they are experiencing family and domestic violence. The bill before us pretty closely reflects the model clause—that is, it's five days 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 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 locally.

There is: 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 them are providing 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 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 the home, women and the children are able to stay in their home. It does things like assessments and safety planning on the home, home safety upgrades, new locks, alarms, cameras and so forth, and supporting 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.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.