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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12288


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (19:11): This is an opportunity for the government to listen not only to the reasons of the people on this side of the House but also to the reasons that are being expressed in the community. Whether it be our trade union movement, our many not-for-profits working in the space or our state governments, all are calling for paid family violence leave.

It is disappointing that within this debate we've got the same old, tired rhetoric coming out of the conservatives when we're debating paid leave. We are hearing similar comments—that it would send businesses broke, that it would be abused and that people won't hire women—to those that they were using about paid maternity and paternity leave back when it was being discussed in the community and in this parliament. They are the same arguments the conservatives used way back when around an allocation of paid sick leave and paid parental leave. They are the same old arguments from the conservatives, 'We'll let you have it unpaid, but you cannot have an entitlement of paid,' because of outdated views in relation to leave.

Like many in this House, I have met women in these circumstances where, if they had been able to access an allocation of paid family violence leave, their lives could have been very different. It was probably about 18 months ago that I met a woman in Kyneton. She wanted to share her story, her journey. At that stage she was finally in suitable accommodation for her and her son. When she decided to leave she was homeless, because she was locked into a mortgage with her former partner and was still paying that. She drove to Melbourne because there was no accommodation available in the Macedon Ranges. It's a regional area. That is common in a lot of regional areas. She arrived at a shelter and they said, 'Our priority is for women who don't have transport; because you have a car, you can sleep in your car.' After a few nights of that she rang her employer and said, 'I can't come in,' because, of course, she was homeless, living out of her car, and eventually she did actually lose her job. The employer was incredibly sympathetic but basically said, 'We are going to terminate your employment.' Being homeless without a job, trying to find somewhere, trying to get herself back up on her feet and dealing with the trauma associated with family violence—it was a longer journey back for her and for her son. She raised this experience with me to say that we need to do more. It isn't just about having shelters, which would have helped her, or suitable accommodation; it's also about making sure that people are able to keep their jobs.

I had another experience where a small business came to see me. They wanted to share their experience. One of their employees, a valued employee, was in a situation where she decided to leave family violence. The small business was not aware of what had been happening at home, and they actually reached out to Fair Work to say, 'Can you help us? We want to know how to support our employee properly.' They spoke to me about how they were shocked that there were no rules and no entitlements for this particular employee. It is a small business. There are only about five people who work in the business. They did give her leave, and they did give her paid leave, because they wanted her to stay on. They supported her through that process.

The reason why this small business came to speak to me is that, as they said, 'Lisa, every victim and every survivor of family violence should have access to leave.' Because the entitlement wasn't there, they actually then and went and spoke to the Women's Health Loddon Mallee service and the Centre for Non-Violence to try to work out the best way to do it. They should be very proud of what they did. They speak out and they speak regularly at different events to encourage other small businesses in our area to offer the same to their employees. So the need for paid family violence leave is there and established. Even in regional areas like my own, we have examples of how it can help change people's lives.

We know the stats. One woman a week is killed as a result of domestic violence. It is a shame and it is a national tragedy. The ABS estimates that two women out of every three who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. The statistics are true. Something I think is really quite shocking is when conservative commentators—and I'm saying 'conservative', I'm not saying 'Liberal' and 'National', because there are people who I know are Liberal and National MPs who do support action on this issue—say that this entitlement could be abused. I've never met a survivor of family violence who has faked it, and it's just insulting to say that. It is quite horrific for anyone to go through this. It's not by choice that they've ended up in this situation; it's not through any fault of their own. It has happened, and when they make the tough decision to leave, we should be doing all that we can to ensure that they not only have access to appropriate support services but also have access to entitlements such as we're discussing today.

If the survivor does leave, there's also a lot of work we need to do with our businesses to ensure that the survivor and other employees are safe, because quite often the perpetrator knows where to find them if they're at work. That's another area where the Centre for Non-Violence in Bendigo is supporting local businesses so they can best manage when the perpetrator arrives at a woman's—predominantly a woman's—workplace in search of her. There is a bit of a triage and wraparound service that is needed.

Whilst it's welcome that, with this particular bill that's in front of us, we will have five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave—it's a first, small step in the right direction—I really call upon the government to back in Labor's proposal to see it be paid and be 10 days. When I've met with survivors in my part of the world and when I've met with unions who've raised this issue with me on multiple occasions, there is no doubt that 10 days isn't going to be enough for a lot of the women in this situation. But it is a really good start and it is something that people can tap into. Others have mentioned that it could be about attending medical appointments, enrolling your kids in new schools, meeting with lawyers to discuss issues or looking at protection orders. Countless time is involved when a woman makes the tough decision to leave, and there is an amount of work that occurs and support that they require, not to mention their own trauma and their own experience of family violence that they've also got to work through.

In a lot of cases, there is also a lot of financial abuse that is involved with victims of family violence. It's not just the physical bruises or the physical attacks. Quite often it's linked to financial abuse, where victims may not have access to funds or there have been ridiculous debts run up on credit cards in their names or on joint credit cards that they're then responsible for. So meetings with financial counsellors are important. It doesn't matter which organisation I talk to locally; they all agree that we need to take a step towards paid family violence leave to really support women to stay in work and to help them access an entitlement so they can be financially okay—not get ahead but be okay.

Moving at any time is expensive, let alone when you are fleeing violence. You just get up and go. You grab the kids, grab the pets, get in the car and go. It's that moment of, 'I have to get out; I need to get free.' You don't think in that first fleeting moment, 'Do I have the financial means to do it?' Unfortunately, for far too many women that's the reason why they end up staying: they can't see how they can survive. They might lose their job. They can't see a way forward, and it is a great tragedy that, quite often, women will stay in an abusive relationship because they can't see a way through financially. That was very common in the eighties and nineties, back when we didn't talk about this so openly and when we referred to these families as just unhappy families or troubled homes or said that things weren't going too well. Women did stay in abusive relationships because they felt that they couldn't leave and couldn't protect their children financially, and that needs to change.

As I mentioned, a number of the unions have been advocating for this for quite some time. I want to acknowledge the work of the Australian Services Union, the union that represents a lot of women who work in this space. Its representatives were coming to see us as members of parliament, in our electorates and here in parliament, and rather than saying, 'This is an entitlement that we want for our members,' they were saying, 'This is an entitlement that we want the women who access our services to have.' So here was a union advocating for its clients to have the right to paid family violence leave. That is extraordinary. For all the name-calling we get from those opposite about unions, very rarely is there recognition of the good work that they do for broader social movements and on issues such as this.

In my electorate, I had City of Greater Bendigo workers, women who worked at the Centre for Non-Violence, and women who worked at Annie North, which is a refuge in my electorate, come to see me, and they spoke to me about the need for this place to adopt these amendments to the Fair Work Act. They spoke in quite passionate terms about how, if you really want to help women who are survivors of family and domestic violence to get back on track, having access to paid family violence leave is a good step. What it also does—and I acknowledge that this will also happen because of this bill—is encourage a conversation with employers and employees around the country. Once you have access to an entitlement, it means that businesses will be reaching out to know how to best manage it. As I said, there are businesses who are already doing it. It's not just the big corporates that we've heard about—businesses like IKEA and CUB. It's also small businesses. At the moment they're doing it in a very ad hoc way, but we could do more for the millions of workers who are on the award by making sure that we have access to paid family and domestic violence leave in our awards.

There's a lot of work we need to do when it comes to industrial relations, and I feel that this government is really sort of tinkering at the edges with bits and pieces here, when we could have done so much more with the bill before us. It is welcome, though, because it is a step in the right direction. But I encourage those opposite to consider the amendments that have been put forward by the opposition.

More than 1,000 enterprise agreements already have provided access to 10 days or more of paid family violence leave. It is, again, a demonstration of how workers and employers are getting on with the job of making sure that these clauses are in their agreements. I want to acknowledge the work that some of our construction unions, mining unions and manufacturing unions have done. Even though their female workforce might be quite small, they too have included these clauses in their agreements, because they acknowledge the importance of every worker—every woman—having access to this.

Labor has listened to the victims, to the survivors, to the frontline workers, to the businesses, to the unions and to the organisations that deal with domestic and family violence each and every day. If we are serious about tackling this scourge and making sure that women do feel safer, we have to look at the financial side of things. That is why I support the amendments that have been put forward, and I encourage the government also to do so.