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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12264

Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (17:22): I speak in support of the amendment that has been moved by the member for Gorton, the shadow minister. This is a very, very serious issue. By this time today, and sadly each and every day, police across Australia will have already dealt with hundreds of domestic violence matters. That's hundreds of victims each Monday, week in, week out, of the uncivil war of family violence that continues across our nation. But it can't simply be left to police and our first responders to intervene and help pick up the pieces of broken lives on a Monday or any other day across our nation. Here in this place we have a responsibility to do all that we can to help those out there—not only to prevent situations of domestic violence but also to provide comfort, support and services for those that are victims to help get their lives back on track and, importantly, to ensure that their kids are safe. It's a responsibility, of course, to the victims and their families, along with those hardworking members of our police forces.

On 23 November, a couple of weeks ago, I was walking alongside a number of members of the New South Wales Police Force's Eastern Beaches Local Area Command and Botany Bay Local Area Command on the White Ribbon Walk to stop domestic violence against women. The walk takes place every year—from the top of the hill at Randwick all the way down to Coogee Beach. That brief walk, which took us about 15 minutes, really put into perspective the difficulties and the challenges that we have in combating domestic violence not only in Australia but also, unfortunately, in other countries where the situation is much worse. For the police, so much of their time is spent on the front lines. Yet, for the victims of domestic violence, all of their time, all of their life, is consumed with simply surviving and trying to get through the day when they know they are going to be targeted by someone who has been violent against them or will be violent against them.

So what can we do with our time in this place as legislators to make sure that we're supporting those people? We can take the time to do all that we can to help women and their children live another Monday and more. It's shameful that so many from the other side just can't be bothered to speak about this issue. If you look at the speaking lists that have been circulated in the parliament over the last two weeks, not just this week, unfortunately there are a sparse number of MPs from the government side that have been willing to speak on this issue, about something that really is a national tragedy.

Family and domestic violence leave is crucial for women to be able to leave abusive relationships with their lives. One woman a week is murdered by a cowardly Australian male, and we know that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. So many of the cases of violence against women in this country and in others occur during that vulnerable time when a woman has decided to leave a relationship and conveys that to her partner or her ex-partner. At Coogee this year, we heard the harrowing story of a woman in that exact situation, who spoke very bravely about her circumstances and her decision to leave her partner. This woman was very well educated. She was a doctor. She decided to leave that relationship. Unfortunately, in the process of doing that, she was violently assaulted by her partner, and he threw petrol on her and tried to set her alight. Thankfully, she was able to survive. However, it perfectly highlighted that the most vulnerable time for a woman in a relationship is when she makes the decision to leave an abusive relationship.

In circumstances where women have to do that, there are many, many things that turn their lives upside down. They need to find new accommodation and security. They often need to get an apprehended violence order through the police force, to seek treatment for injuries and perhaps to attend court appearances associated with the horrible acts that have been perpetrated against them. It's all consuming, and it's costly. It costs women in these situations a large amount of money. The costs of relocation, medical and counselling bills, and increased transportation costs due to moving or losing access to a car, as well as lost earnings, all add up.

If women need to take time off work to do these vital things to help keep themselves safe and, importantly, keep their kids safe, women in that situation should not have to worry about the tenure of their position with their employment. They shouldn't have to worry about losing pay to do so. A woman in that situation should be able to count on continuing to receive a pay cheque and being able to go back to work. That is a fundamental human right that we as legislators should be able to provide to women in that terrible and shocking situation when they are at their most vulnerable.

Unfortunately, to date this parliament has not been able to do so, and this government has ignored the pleas of victims, victims groups, a number of other state and territory jurisdictions, employers who are already providing this type of leave, and a number of welfare organisations and legal bodies that say this is the right thing to do and a sensible reform to make. Yet this hopelessly out-of-touch government continues to stonewall and not provide that important support for victims of domestic violence. It is one of the most shameful aspects of this government at the moment, and let's face it: there are many.

Victims of family and domestic violence need paid leave. Last year Labor demonstrated that we are listening to those victims and their family and friends when we announced that, if elected, a Shorten Labor government will introduce 10 days of paid domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards. We're disappointed that this government has refused to join us in this important commitment. We've listened to the victims. We've sat down with them and heard what they've had to say about this issue, but the government continues to ignore their pleas and continues to find excuses not to provide that legislative protection in our National Employment Standards.

We've heard from frontline workers, from businesses, from unions and from organisations that deal with domestic violence victims on a daily basis. Their clear message is that people who have experienced domestic violence need more support in the workplace. This is not a matter that's confined to the home. We don't say anymore: 'Listen, that's something you have to deal with at home. Don't bring that to work.' We all know that when you are a victim of such horrifying acts as these, you can't separate them from your workplace. For some women, their workplace is actually a support mechanism. Their work colleagues and sometimes their employer may be the most important support that they have in these difficult situations.

Other jurisdictions have introduced paid domestic violence leave. Labor believes that Australia's federal workplace system should also provide this important workplace entitlement. For example, in July this year the New Zealand government legislated family and domestic violence leave, guaranteeing 10 days paid leave for all workers who are experiencing violence and need to escape. Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT all offer 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 days and Victoria offers 20 days.

Many employers already provide, through enterprise agreements, paid family and domestic violence leave to their workforces. The Male Champions of Change's 2015 Playing our part report states that:

… 10 days paid leave appears to be a developing norm.

Well, not if you're a member of this government. If you're a member of this government, you've still got your head in the sand when it comes to listening to victims of domestic violence. You are so out of touch that you can't hear the pleas of the victims who are saying: 'This should be a human right. If someone is a victim of domestic violence, they deserve the time off to ensure that they can get their family and, importantly, their kids safe and can get their lives back on track. Employers should be in a position to support that.'

Many employers, as I said, already provide these services through enterprise agreements. More than 1,000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2017 provided for 10 days or more paid domestic and family violence leave. The companies include some of Australia's largest: Carlton & United Breweries, Telstra, the National Australia Bank, Virgin Australia, IKEA and Qantas. These employers and many others have paved the way and helped reduce the stigma that often accompanies domestic violence. So too have Australia's unions. Over many years they've campaigned for domestic and family violence leave and negotiated that important coverage in enterprise agreements. It's now time that the Commonwealth government—this parliament—did the same thing. All of these organisations, victims, their families, victims' groups, welfare organisations, state and territory governments, employers and the trade union movement have been saying for well over five years now: 'This is a reform that is long overdue. It's a basic human right that should be provided in our workplace relations system to victims of domestic violence.'

Labor knows that many small businesses where employees and employers have a close working relationship already support their staff to take paid leave to deal with the consequences of domestic violence. While we do not anticipate that there will be significant uptake of all 10 days leave, it's crucial that it be available for those women who need it and that it be available at that crucial time when they are trying to leave those violent relationships and ensure that their families—in particular their kids—are safe.

Research by the Australia Institute in 2016 estimated that domestic violence leave wage payouts would be equivalent to less than one-fifteenth of one per cent, so we are not talking about a cost burden here for employers. The study also found that the costs to employers associated with those payouts are likely to largely or completely be offset by the benefits to employers associated with the provision of paid domestic violence leave, including reduced turnover and improved productivity. We all know it's a simple formula: an employee who gets the support that they need in the workplace is a happier employee in the workplace and is going to be more productive.

So it's really disappointing that it has taken this long for the government this long to move from their absolute opposition to family and domestic violence to their belated support for unpaid leave. While this bill is a step in the right direction, it simply doesn't go far enough. Other jurisdictions have gone down the track of paid domestic violence leave. It's time that the Commonwealth parliament woke up and listened to those victims who have had the most horrible and horrific acts perpetrated upon them; it's time that we as a Commonwealth parliament listened to those victims; it's time that we supported 10 days paid domestic violence leave; and it's time that this government supported Labor's approach and Labor's policy for this Commonwealth parliament to provide that leave through the National Employment Standards. It should provide for paid domestic and family violence leave.