Speeches

BILLS - Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018 - Second Reading

November 29, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (11:40): I should make it clear from the outset, as my other colleagues have, that Labor is supporting the passage of this legislation, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018. But, in doing so, Labor certainly has a reservation that this bill does not go far enough. It's certainly way short of Labor's commitment to introduce 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave.

Many of us on both sides of the House spoke in this place only last week about violence against women. We once again commemorated White Ribbon Day, the day that the UN selected to commemorate our efforts to eliminate violence against women. Everyone on both sides of the House spoke not only about this reprehensible crime being perpetrated, primarily against women, but also about the effect it has on women themselves, who are victims and survivors, and their families. When we have a situation where, at the moment, on average, one woman is being killed each week at the hands of a partner or a former partner, there's plenty that we should be doing.

When I spoke last week, I was able to recount to the House that I have spoken to the police and I know that, in my electorate alone, more than 50 per cent of all physical assaults reported to the police are assaults that arise out of domestic violence. This is a real issue, and it is not something that should be trivialised by thinking, 'We will extend unpaid leave for the situation.' We are talking about women who are being physically attacked, assaulted and threatened, and that's just the physical nature of it; the psychological aspects of this are probably, in many instances, even greater. We still find many women reluctant to go and report domestic violence to the police out of fear of reprisals and, mainly, out of concern for their children.

That's a heck of a lot on a woman's plate if she's a victim of domestic violence. To think that we cannot give 10 days paid leave—just think of it: if you're a victim of violence and you do have the courage and tenacity to stand up and do something about it by going to the police, then, apart from seeing police officers and making a statement, you're probably going to have to go and see your solicitor. There will be court time required of you, time for swearing your apprehended violence order, time for looking after your children and maybe time for seeing a psychologist or a doctor or doing other things to assist with your injuries. We're saying, in this piece of legislation, 'That's all good, but you can only get unpaid leave off your employer if you can actually state that you cannot do all that outside normal work time.' For goodness sake, we're talking about women who are out there supporting their families. To think we're going to trivialise this by saying, 'Unless you can do this by yourself, outside paid employment time, you're not entitled to unpaid leave, let alone paid leave.'

The ABS estimates that two out of every three women who experience domestic violence are in the workforce. The 2011 National Domestic Violence and the Workplace Survey found that nearly half of the women respondents who experienced domestic violence had their ability to work affected. Of course it affects your ability to work. Of the main impacts of violence that were reported by victims in the survey, 16 per cent of the survivors reported how it distracted them, how they felt unwell, how they felt uncomfortable going to work after experiencing violence—and then probably having to explain it to everybody or cover it up from everybody—and 10 per cent said they had to take time off work because of their injuries. The government's legislation in this respect means that those 10 per cent who had to take time off because of their injuries could, in that case, have unpaid leave. Pretty cold comfort for a woman who is supporting a family, and who has to do all of those other things that I mentioned, to simply be told, 'Well, in that instance, you can have unpaid leave.' For some people, unpaid leave, despite the circumstances, is not a reality.

I don't know about all of those on the other side of the House, but I happily represent a very multicultural community—as a matter of fact, the most multicultural in the country. It's a very colourful and vibrant community. I'm very proud to represent my seat of Fowler. But it's not rich. The average household income in my seat is just a little over $60,000. Now, that's not individual income; that's average household income. If a woman is supporting a family and works, which most in my community do, and is a victim of domestic violence—regrettably, incidents of domestic violence are also overrepresented in my community—the simple fact is that she cannot afford not to go to work.

This piece of legislation, whilst it goes some distance to acknowledging that this is a reality in the workplace and something needs to be done about it, certainly falls far short of community standards—what many like to refer colloquially to as the 'pub test'. You could have a situation where people can experience this violence at home. They will be affected and there will be many responsibilities they have to take on their shoulders as a consequence—as well as looking after their families—but we're not prepared to write into legislation that it's paid leave? We have paid leave for many other things that the ACTU and our union movement have fought for over the years. Maybe in the past our forebears did not see the necessity for domestic violence leave. I'm sure it's not something of a recent vintage; perhaps domestic violence was just something that was not spoken about. You don't have to go too far back in the history books to find out that even the police, say 25 to 30 years ago, would probably have taken the view that issues of domestic violence—'Well, that's just a matter in the household. That's not really a matter for us as police.' Whereas now, in my community—and I can't speak for everyone else—more than half of the assaults reported to police are domestic violence related. This shows there's very much a need to act.

The bill which is now before us provides for five days unpaid leave. It will be provided by employers, of course; they will have to grant it. It will be available at the commencement of each 12-month period. It will not accumulate, nor would you expect it to, quite frankly. It will be available for full-time as well as part-time workers. As a piece of federal legislation, this is an advancement. I've got to give it to the other side; it is an advancement. But when you see what is occurring—one of the worst aspect of being in public life, against many good things, is seeing the effects of domestic violence on your community. I'm lucky to have very active people in my community who do a lot to assist in looking after victims of domestic violence, including the Bonnie Support Services group, chaired by Betty Green and her executive officer, Tracy Phillips. They have a huge and committed team of young people who do a heck of a lot in trying to look after women who are in probably the worst sort of environment you could think of.

I see a couple of fellas up there in the galleries and, when it gets down to domestic violence, this is something we should be personalising. In my case, as most people know, I'm married to Bernadette. Of my three kids I have Elizabeth, and of my 10 grandchildren I have six granddaughters. According to all the statistics that we accept out there, one in five are going to be affected by violence in their lifetime. One in five girls will be affected by violence in their lifetime; that means that my family is absolutely overrepresented. So, for me, this whole issue of what we do about domestic violence is personal. I would not like to think that we can stand by and allow something to affect deleteriously one of the eight or so females in my immediate family—if I chuck my mother in there as well!

As legislators, we can do better than that. We have to be here in this place to make change for the better. It can't be that our ambition for being here is for the money or the glory of having a seat in parliament or anything else. Unless we're here with a view to making a change for the better in our communities, quite frankly, we shouldn't be here.

We're talking about making changes, and I know that the ACTU did a lot of research on this—as my colleague from Batman said. The union has fought very strong and hard for these conditions and made sure that women's rights are understood in the workplace. That is the testament: the trade union has been very responsive.

I would also indicate a young woman who addressed our caucus passionately about paid domestic violence leave some time back. I'd like to acknowledge the commitment and determination of Natalie Lang. She is the secretary of the Australian Services Union—an extraordinary young woman who is very passionate in her fight for domestic violence leave and also in her support for the rape crisis centres which were subjected to defunding by this government. She made the case for 10 days paid domestic violence leave very passionately to our caucus. She did that not only on behalf of her members—and I imagine that the Australian Services Union would have a lot of female members; probably 50 per cent at least—but for every woman in the workplace. No doubt, she was doing her job, but she did it in a way that was really able to electrify the whole room to understand that this may not just be a public servant or another woman doing a job but that this could be any one of our kids or our grandkids into the future.

I don't know about everybody else here, but if it were my kids who were being affected I would probably want to go to see the police myself and I'd probably want to engage lawyers who I knew so that they got the best representation. I'd probably go to court with them—you would do all that as a father or as a grandfather. And, yet, many of these women in various communities out there don't have access to the same levels of extended community. They still have the key responsibility of putting food on the table and looking after their own children, not just in the motherly way but, in many instances, in very much a physical way. That we can only extend five days unpaid leave to them when they are confronted with domestic violence is, I think, wrong of us—and particularly wrong of a government that thinks it can do many other things, like giving tax cuts to big business.

This is something that will make a change. Labor's policies will make a change for the better.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST