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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5188


Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (17:42): I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the response by the Attorney-General, Ms Roxon, to a resolution of the Senate on domestic and family violence.

Leave granted.

Senator RHIANNON: I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Senate resolution that the Attorney-General has responded to relates to discrimination in the workplace as a result of domestic and family violence. I note that the Attorney-General's response states that a range of views were received, both for and against, including this ground of discrimination, and that these views are currently being considered. I certainly welcome the fact that this is still before the Attorney-General. I would like to make some comments on this matter, because many people are looking to the Attorney-General for leadership in this area and for a willingness to include domestic violence in the antidiscrimination laws.

The prevalence of family and domestic violence is much greater than most of us understand. I will shortly share some figures with the Senate. Every time I read those figures I am quite shocked at how extensive it is. There is a link to disrupted work and negative impact on career paths and income levels for the victims of domestic violence, who, in by far the majority of cases, are women.

The issue is a big one. The Greens argue that it is time for federal discrimination laws to catch up and to ensure that women in the workplace are not discriminated against because of the violence they face in the home. Current discrimination laws do not cover this problem, and that is why it has been raised by many organisations, both in the legal sphere and by community groups that work in the area of domestic violence and on women's issues.

Thousands of women suffer damage in two areas. For victims of domestic violence, there is the horror of that, and then they are so often discriminated against in the workplace because of possibly associated disability, illness and forced absenteeism. Some of the big problems are associated with the time factor—that they need to take time off to be able to access services and handle the criminal justice system. Again, this goes back to why we need that workplace flexibility and recognition.

What antidiscrimination protection for victims of domestic violence would achieve has been described as providing the missing link in Australia's regulatory response to domestic violence. It has been well established in law, in services and in many of the debates on issues to do with priorities addressing women's discrimination that we need a national response on domestic and family violence. We know that that domestic response needs to include antidiscrimination protection. The suggestion for the adoption of antidiscrimination protection for domestic violence victims, as I said, comes from a range of organisations. Some of those organisations set it out quite clearly.

The Australian Law Reform Commission in 2011 was asked to examine whether federal laws could be reformed to better address domestic and family violence. Its final report released in February this year recommended numerous changes, including amendments to the Fair Work Act in respect of workplace regulation. The Law Reform Commission recommended that the Australian Human Rights Commission examine the possibility of protection for victims of family violence under antidiscrimination laws. The Human Rights Commission took up this proposal and made submissions for federal discrimination laws to be amended to include protection on this new ground for victims of family violence. Interestingly, the ALP national conference last year resolved to 'ensure that Fair Work and antidiscrimination frameworks provide appropriate protection to victims of domestic violence in the workplace'. So, many groups recognise that now is the time. As I said previously, this is the missing link in the national context of how we respond to the worrying trend of domestic violence.

The figures are deeply troubling. The most recent estimates show that family violence is the leading preventable cause of death, injury and illness for Australian women under 45 years of age. That comes from a Victorian health study in 2004. It remains pervasive across all Australian communities and costs our community around $423 million annually in lost productivity. That was an assessment by Access Economics. The Council of Australian Governments' national plan to reduce violence against women and children seeks to reduce the violence experienced by women and children to enhance the social and economic participation of victims. So, both the figures on the extent of domestic violence and the many organisations that have recognised the issue of domestic violence in the workplace and social participation of the victims of domestic violence underline why we are now at the point where we need to have that shift. The Greens will continue to work on this because we think it is time that the government considered introducing domestic and family violence as a separate ground of discrimination and considered making discrimination related to domestic and family violence unlawful in the workplace, extending this to not just the public sector but also private companies to include domestic violence clauses in enterprise agreements.

The evidence is there. It is another area where we need political will and leadership: addressing the missing link of legal protection by expanding the antidiscrimination laws provided to assist the victims of family and domestic violence.

Question agreed to.