Parliamentary speeches

Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018

November 29, 2018

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on this very important bill, which deals with some issues of fundamental importance. It's been a pleasure to have been in the chamber to hear the contribution of the member for Fowler and, before him, the member for Lindsay; in particular, to hear once again the personal and affecting perspective that the member for Lindsay brings to this debate. This debate, for all of us, at one level at least, is personal and affecting, and it goes to the core of our responsibilities as lawmakers.

Like all my colleagues, I rise in support of this legislation but also to say that it is too little and too late. In saying that it's too little, I will make some criticisms of the government over the course of my remarks. When I say that it's too late, that's a criticism that belongs to all of us in this place. It belongs to all of us in this place when we think about our responsibilities to women at work and our failure to acknowledge a broad understanding of what workplace regulation means for people at a whole range of challenging times in their lives. It's hard to conceive of more difficult circumstances for working women than having to deal with family and domestic violence issues and having to absent oneself from work using other forms of leave or, perhaps, without support at all.

The introduction of this bill follows a significant change that came through a decision of the Fair Work Commission earlier this year that, for the first time, inserted a clause into modern awards that provided for unpaid family and domestic violence leave of five days. This provision came into effect on 1 August. So a significant change has happened, and it's important that that be acknowledged. More than two million award employees are now entitled to this important part of the framework of their workplace entitlements. Unfortunately, it isn't enough, and Labor has been pushing for quite some time now for 10 days leave—beyond the change to the National Employment Standards provided for in this bill—and for this leave to be paid.

The journey to where we have come to today hasn't happened solely through this place. Though I speak about this bill being too late, it's important to acknowledge the work of advocates in the family and domestic violence sector. I particularly want to acknowledge the work of my union, the Australian Services Union, which has led from the front in this regard. I acknowledge, in particular, my dear Ingrid Stitt, who recently left the union to join the Victorian parliament as a member of the Daniel Andrews government but who did so much in this space; my friend Lisa Darmanin, the secretary of the ASU SACS branch in Victoria; and Linda White, who has been a powerhouse in that union at a national level for such a long time. Their advocacy on behalf of their members, and on behalf of women in workplaces across Australia, is something that I'm very keen to recognise.

This bill before us, the Fair Work Amendment (Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2018, will amend the National Employment Standards to provide all employees with an entitlement to five days unpaid family and domestic violence leave, mirroring, in effect, the principle adopted by the Fair Work Commission this year. This will be available if the worker in question is experiencing family and domestic violence, needs to do something to deal with the impact of that family and domestic violence, and it isn't practical to do that thing outside their ordinary hours of work. So it does seem to be the case that the provisions reflect fairly the model clause and provide that entitlement, which will imply that for all employees, including casuals, it will be available in full at the commencement of each 12-month period, rather than accruing progressively over a year of service; will not accumulate from year to year; and will be available in full to part-time and casual employees, which of course is very important, given the patterns of work of many Australian women.

These provisions are significant. They are a step forward and a step in the right direction, but do not go far enough. This is too little. This bill should provide for paid family and domestic violence leave. It is disappointing that it's taken so long for this government to move—and we welcome that move—from absolute opposition to any leave to this support for unpaid leave. I've spoken about the delay generally and reflected upon it being a responsibility of all of us, but it is of course most particularly a responsibility of those opposite, those in the government of the day. The commitment to unpaid leave was made in March. We're now very nearly at the end of the year. It's disappointing that effecting a reform such as this, even in terms that we on this side are critical of, has taken so long. It's not exactly like the legislative calendar has been particularly crowded. It's just difficult for me to understand why putting forward a provision to deal with this fundamental challenge, a challenge that, I must say, was spoken about with passion and authority by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull—it is a bipartisan commitment. It is a matter of concern to all members of this place and the other place to respond effectively to family and domestic violence. This is a piece of legislation which ought to have been brought before the parliament earlier.

There are other ways in which this matter could have been addressed, of course. I think about the example of my own state, the example of the Andrews Labor government, which was recently re-elected. The Andrews Labor government kicked off its time in office by initiating a royal commission, under Commissioner Marcia Neave, into family violence in Victoria and made clear at the start that that government would adopt every recommendation of the commission. Following that in-principle decision, one of the early decisions of the Andrews government after the commission handed down its recommendations was to make it compulsory for new public sector enterprise agreements to include paid family violence leave—20 days separate and additional to sick leave. That's leadership. That is a fair recognition of the significance of this issue to Australian women and their children and their families more broadly, and indeed of the significance of this issue to the functioning of the Australian economy and the functioning of Australian society. Provisions such as these aren't simply the code that governs the relationship between a worker and her employer. They set the standard for the sort of society we want to live in. They set the standard for the world of work, which is not simply about a purely commercial relationship.

We on this side of the House have been talking a lot about the need to change the rules at work. Members opposite will hear us talk about it quite a bit more often. We want to get the balance right between those who work and those who employ them. That is principally about ensuring that people get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, that people who work for a living get to share in the prosperity they generate or get a reasonable remuneration for their contribution to the public good through employment in the public or community sectors. But it isn't simply about the dollars and cents. Work is much, much more important than that. I stand here at the dispatch box as a member of the Australian Labor Party. The clue is in the name. We understand the value of work and its significance. For most of us, what we do in the paid workforce defines who we are and how we see the world. On issues like this, which are a crisis and a scourge on society, to simply pretend that they can be divorced from the world of work, from people's obligations at work and from people's involvement at work is not only a nonsense but an offensive one.

Again, I ask government members, if any want to make a contribution to this debate—I think only one has put his name down—to think about how we can go further, how we in this place can set out a stronger framework to ensure that women who are workers, as most women are, can be appropriately supported if they are subject to family and domestic violence, as way too many of them are. I don't think it's too much to ask. I think the moral argument is unarguable. I think the economic argument is unarguable. I hope that government members can reflect on both of those questions when they think about the passage of this legislation or alternatives. I ask them to consider the amendment that has been moved by my friend the member for Gorton. It's the sort of step that advocates have been looking for. It's the sort of step that Australian women, particularly those who are victims or potentially victims of family and domestic violence, deserve.

I will go back to the Victorian example. I note that in February this year The Guardian Australia reported that since the introduction of the Victorian changes two years ago, more than 1,000 days have been taken by 143 people from the 10 core agencies of the Victorian government, including Victoria Police and VicRoads. It's quite striking that 143 people were able to avail themselves of this. At a time of, no doubt, extraordinary stress and challenge in their life, they had one less worry. They were getting paid and they were able to look after themselves. I don't know the stories of these 143 women, but I'd like members opposite to think about those stories and think about the circumstances those women are in. Think about how much easier it was to deal with awful circumstances affecting them, perhaps affecting their children, perhaps affecting their parents—affecting all who are dear to them—knowing that they were going to get paid, and they were able to focus on resolving this immediate crisis.

Of course, other jurisdictions have dealt with this matter in the way that Labor proposes. In July of this year New Zealand legislated paid family and domestic violence leave on pretty much the same model that the member for Gorton and the Labor Party are proposing. We see that jurisdictions within Australia other than Victoria, such as Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the ACT are also making provision for this.

I acknowledge that there are many good and decent employers who have taken the right step here, and who have sent the signal that I think legislators across the parliament should send. They have agreed, through bargaining, or perhaps otherwise in some cases, to provide for paid family and domestic violence leave. I note that they seem to have paid heed to reports, such as that of the Male Champions of Change, Playing our part, which have suggested that '10 days paid leave appears to be a developing norm'.

I note that there are more than a thousand enterprise agreements approved that provide for 10 or more days of paid domestic and family violence leave. These agreements include those entered into by some of our major employers. I think about companies like Qantas, Virgin, Telstra and NAB. This is a list of employers, and many others like them, who have taken a big step forward for their workers—the thousands of them—and, as I said earlier in my contribution, to the wider Australian community to reduce the stigma that too often still accompanies domestic violence.

Again, in talking about these agreements I acknowledge, having spoken a bit about the ASU and the Australian union movement more broadly, that it's been heartening to see so many trade unions that are dominated by men leading the charge here. I should acknowledge my dear friend and neighbour the member for Batman and the leadership that she showed in her previous office. I hope she doesn't mind me saying that I'm very pleased she's left her previous office and has joined us in this place, where she has made an extraordinary contribution. The member for Batman made an extraordinary contribution on behalf of the working people, and in particular the working women of Australia, in her unflinching advocacy in this area.

Lastly, I just want to touch on the community that I represent, the City of Whittlesea, which constitutes much of the electorate of Scullin. A community wellbeing indicators report last year exposed deeply distressing news about the prevalence of domestic violence in the Whittlesea community. In the years 2013-16, the number of incidents per 100,000 'increased annually from 1,127 in 2013 to 1,452 in 2016'. That's an increase of nearly a third. It is very significantly higher than the Victorian average.

This is an issue that affects too many of my constituents. I don't stand here to say that any change to the Fair Work Act will resolve all of those issues, but it is a nonsense to pretend that we can divorce the world of work from taking seriously our moral obligation to support victims of family and domestic violence as we seek to bring family and domestic violence to an end. It's also a nonsense to suggest that we can't ignore the economic arguments at two levels: to the workers forced to lose income and their dependants, and to our community across the board. I thought the Liberal Party were interested in boosting our economy. Here's an idea in this amendment that would help them do just that.