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Thursday, 29 November 2018
Page: 11997


Ms BURNEY (Barton) (11:00): I rise to support this bill. I also rise to say that while we think this bill goes some way to addressing the challenges facing individuals experiencing family or domestic violence, it does not go far enough, and we can do more and we will do better. A job means putting food on the table. It means paying the rent, paying the bills and buying schoolbooks for your children. It means having an income. No-one should have to choose between all of that and their physical safety and the safety of their children, their emotional safety and the safety of their children, or their psychological safety and the safety of their children.

We know about the fear, anxiety and uncertainty of leaving a violent or abusive relationship. When should I leave? How will I leave? Where will my children sleep tonight? What will we take with us? How can we do this? What if they show up at work? Will I keep my job? How will I pay for things? No-one should have to make these heartbreaking choices between two fears—the fear for safety and the fear for livelihoods.

Family and domestic violence is a scourge on our nation. It is a national shame and it is a national crisis, and it should be seen as that. It is a leading cause of death, disability and illness among women between the ages of 15 to 44 years. We hear time and time again the statistics of homicides. We also need to think about the fear that is passed onto children. We need to understand the intergenerational effects of violence in the home. It can be in many, many forms.

As my colleague the member for Gorton has pointed out, two out of every three women who experience domestic and family violence are in the workforce. The workforce, therefore, represents an important space in the prevention of family violence. The Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 will amend the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave. Employees, including casuals, will be entitled to this leave if they are experiencing family and domestic violence and they need to do something to deal with the impact of that violence, and if it's impractical for them to undertake this outside their ordinary hours of work. It will be available in full at the beginning of each 12-month period so employees will not have to accrue this leave. It will not accumulate from year to year. It will be available in full irrespective of full-time, part-time or casual status.

This follows the decision of the Fair Work Commission in March to grant five days unpaid leave under modern awards, which provided over two million award employees with this leave. This bill will provide this to all employees but, unfortunately, it does not go far enough. Individuals experiencing violence should not have to choose between their pay and their safety. We know that often perpetrators continue their abuse while the victim is at the workplace. We know that the loss of income can act as a barrier to escaping a violent relationship. We know that those experiencing family violence are often on low incomes, lack job security and are very seldom in circumstances where they can confidently negotiate leave arrangements.

The Productivity Commission inquiry's Workplace relations framework report, published in November 2015, cited the National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey, which surveyed individuals experiencing domestic violence. Nearly half reported that the violence affected their capacity to work, often the result of the victim suffering physical injury or restraint. But the survey also found that the violence and abuse continued at the workplace itself. This included constant, ceaseless, threatening or emotionally abusive phone calls, text messages or emails. It also included the abuser physically attending the victim's workplace. The workplace itself became another space in which individuals were placed at risk.

The workplace is an important component of the family violence policy area. We know that one of the most dangerous times for a woman is when she is leaving a violent relationship. She will need to work out a time to leave; she will need to find a place to stay; and she may have children, and she will need to ensure her children have a place to stay and are safe and secure. She may need to prepare for and attend court to seek a protection order, she may need to see the police and she may need to seek treatment for her injuries. All of this can take time. She may need to find counselling. She may need to find legal advice. This takes time, effort and resources. It is essentially turning your world on its head. It can be costly, both financially and mentally, and, as I said, it takes time. It is a dangerous and an incredibly anxious and stressful time as well.

As the Productivity Commission report stated:

… a single incident may trigger a chain of major events, including interactions with the health and legal systems and needs for new housing and new schools. All of these interactions take time, are stressful and can affect a victim’s ability to work. They can have repercussions in workplaces.

The National Domestic Violence and Workplace Survey found that 16 per cent of victims reported being distracted, tired or unwell. Ten per cent needed to take time off, and seven per cent were being late for work. Individuals fleeing violent relationships should not have to worry about taking time off, losing pay or losing their jobs. We know that these considerations, these economic factors, represent barriers to escaping violence. The Australian Law Reform Commission states:

… employment is a key factor in enabling victims to leave violent relationships, providing longer-term benefits associated with financial security.

The Law Reform Commission went on to say:

… the ALRC acknowledges the role that financial security and independence through paid employment can play in protecting people experiencing family violence.

They should be able to count on continuing to receive their pay and being able to go back to work.

We have listened to the sector in this space. We have listened to those who have been affected by violence. We have listened to frontline workers. We have listened to businesses, unions and advocates. Their message was clear: workers experiencing domestic violence need more support in the workplace to leave violent or abusive relationships in the home. The Productivity Commission cited that victims of family and domestic violence:

… 'have a more disrupted work history and are consequently on lower personal incomes, have had to change jobs more often and are employed at higher levels in casual and part time work' …

They are also more susceptible to economic abuse. To that end, a consistent income or lost income is more critical to their welfare. They are a particularly vulnerable class of individuals, and they are least likely to be in positions to negotiate domestic violence related provisions in their workplace agreements.

Family violence is complex and pervasive. It comes in many forms; it does not discriminate. It can be physical, emotional, financial and other forms. It finds its way into all aspects of the community and all aspects of society. It will require fundamental cultural and attitudinal change for awareness and education over the long term. But we also need to do everything we can now to make it easier for women to leave violent and abusive relationships as quickly and as safely as possible. Labor has made this an immediate and urgent priority. This is why Labor is focused on delivering more safe places for women to go to leave violence, making it easier and safer to find legal relief and reducing financial barriers to escaping violence. Labor's policy position is paid domestic violence leave for 10 days. Labor will invest in new safe-housing funds to increase housing options, including for women and children escaping domestic violence.

We have also announced $18 million in funding for the Keeping Women Safe in Their Homes program. We will also invest in advocacy and make sure that people who are directly affected by this terrible scourge are listened to. Labor will back in new laws prohibiting direct cross-examination by alleged perpetrators by boosting Legal Aid funding to meet the increased demand on Legal Aid. Labor is committed, as I said, to legislating for 10 days paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards.

As we have said, the complex and widespread nature of domestic violence means prevention is everyone's business. Everyone has to play a role in preventing family violence—government and non-government; community and family. It has been great to see government and the private sector embrace their respective roles and responsibilities in this space. I commend those government and private sector organisations that are embracing 10 days paid leave. We need to listen to the leading advocates in this space.

While we support the principle of this bill—affording leave to those fleeing family violence—it is simply not enough. If we want to provide those fleeing violence with real and substantive support, it needs to be 10 days and it needs to be paid. We call on the government to join with Labor and commit to the same. In that context, we will support this bill, but we do say very clearly that we have a different view on the length of time that women need in order to leave violent relationships and we have a very different view about the nature of the leave: it should be paid domestic violence leave for 10 days.