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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12280


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (18:36): Last week saw the release of the annual Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey led by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety. Sadly, the results showed that many in the community still hold outdated and harmful views around family violence. For example, 32 per cent believe that a female victim who does not leave an abusive partner is partly responsible for the abuse continuing and 21 per cent of Australians believe that sometimes a woman can make a man so angry that he hits her when he didn't mean to. If we are going to make a genuine attempt to eliminate domestic and family violence in Australia, then we need to change the way we view violence against women. We must make it clear that we no longer accept that it is merely a private matter conducted behind closed doors. Instead, we need to encourage victims of violence to share their experiences safe in the knowledge that their employers will support them.

This bill amends the Fair Work Act to insert a new National Employment Standard of five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. In speaking with employers from a broad range of industries, I was comforted by the fact that many acknowledged and accepted the intersection between home and work and acknowledged the profound impact that disruption in one will have in the other. In their submission to the Senate legislation committee inquiry on this bill, the Law Council of Australia provided a helpful explanation for the interaction between work and family violence. The Law Council said:

Research indicates that women who experience family violence have a more disrupted work history, are on lower personal incomes, have had to change jobs frequently and are [more] often employed in casual and part time work, compared to women with no experience of violence.

What this then perpetuates is a circle of disadvantage: financial hardship confines victims to their abusive relationships. This bill attempts to break that cycle of disadvantage by allowing victims of family and domestic violence time away from the workplace without the fear of losing their jobs. If women are going to start a new life away from their abusive partner, a consistent source of income is essential. An employee will be eligible for unpaid leave if they meet three conditions: firstly, the employee is experiencing domestic or family violence; secondly, the employee needs to do something with the impact of the violence, such as attend a court hearing; and, thirdly, it is impractical for the employee to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence outside of ordinary working hours.

The importance of the National Employment Standards should not be underestimated. A national employment standard applies to all national system employees irrespective of whether the employment contract is a modern award, an enterprise agreement or an individual agreement. It will apply to all employees whether full time, part time or casual. It will be available to all employees, whether it is their first day or their last day in the role. This bill will bring the NES in line with the modern award standard set by the Fair Work Commission and ensure consistency for both employers and employees. But remember, this is just a minimum standard. It does not prevent employers from going one step further and implementing a paid leave policy or perhaps providing additional days of unpaid leave.

While the bill before the parliament today provides only five days of unpaid leave, the inclusion of paid leave was the subject of great debate during the committee inquiry process. It is appropriate that I touch briefly on the issue, in circumstances where discussion on this point will no doubt continue in the Senate. In a paper prepared by Dr Jim Stanford of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute and referred to in the Senate committee report for the bill, the estimated financial impact of 10 days paid family violence leave would be minimal, due to predicted low take-up rates. Dr Stanford estimated that such a scheme will cost between $80 million and $120 million per year for the Australian economy, which equates to around 0.2 per cent of the current payroll. PricewaterhouseCoopers, NAB, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank and KPMG were all offered as examples of where generous paid family violence leave schemes are offset by increased employee productivity. I applaud those companies who are taking the initiative and working hard to generate the cultural change needed to eliminate violence against women.

However, not every electorate will be home to such large corporations, and I'm conscious of the impact that 10 days of possible paid leave would have on small businesses at this time. In my electorate of Mayo we have a wide variety of businesses, from boutique distilleries to large fertiliser plants. Of the businesses registered in Mayo, 99.6 per cent have a turnover of less than $10 million and therefore meet the generally accepted definition of a small business. If we drill down into those figures a little more, we know that over 40 per cent have a turnover between $50,000 and $200,000 and over 25 per cent have a turnover of $50,000 or less. These are small businesses. They are the newsagents, the hairdressers and the gift shops that make up the main streets of our small regional towns. We are not talking about Coles, the Commonwealth Bank or indeed Qantas.

In voicing my concerns, I am mindful they may be misinterpreted as placing the economic interests of employers above the personal safety of employees or as meaning that an employer's balance sheet in some way could determine the level of support they are obliged to provide to employees. That is not my intention. I have met with victims of family violence and, having listened to their stories, I am acutely aware of the positive impact that an employer can have on an employee's journey to independence and safety. I am in favour of compassionate, reasonable and appropriate measures that enable an employee to escape and recover from dangerous situations. But such a measure must be economically viable for small businesses if it is to be sustainable.

I also note that the Fair Work Commission considered this issue earlier this year. Having received a request from the Australian Council of Trade Unions to consider the inclusion of 10 days paid family violence leave in all modern awards, the Fair Work Commission considered a significant number of submissions from stakeholders, before ultimately deciding that five days unpaid leave would be the best approach. That entitlement was inserted into 123 modern industry awards and now covers around 2.3 million workers. This took effect on 1 August 2018.

The introduction of the family violence national employment standard will provide a baseline from which employers can choose to adopt additional entitlements that can be tailored to the unique requirements of their workforce, and I strongly encourage them to do so. I again note that this is the minimum standard and that going forward it may be that the introduction of paid leave is an appropriate progression.

Of course, in an ideal world we wouldn't need to offer family and domestic violence leave. I accept that both government and the private sector are working to eliminate family violence, but the statistics suggest that that day is still a long way off. One woman is killed by her current or former partner every week in Australia—one woman every week. Recent reports by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the University of New South Wales suggest that 27 per cent of Australian women have experienced violence or emotional abuse at the hands of a partner and 34 per cent have experienced some form of violence. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 23 per cent of women have experienced violence at the hands of a partner before they even reach 15 years of age.

The bill recognises the scale of the problem of family violence in Australia. It is an acknowledgement that family violence is not limited by geography or occupation; it can occur to anyone at any time. I believe that this is a measured first step in line with the Fair Work Commission and I welcome a review. I would urge the government to build in a review in the Senate process of this bill, perhaps in two years time. But wherever you are and whatever role you have, this bill will go a long way to ensuring that you will have the safety net that you need to get you and your children the help that you need. I commend the bill to the House.