Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave)

House of Representatives, Bills - Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 

Watch Matt's speech here

Mr KEOGH (Burt) (13:09): 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.