Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family And Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022

Second Reading

Dr HAINES (Indi) (18:20): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker Sharkie, and congratulations on your elevation to the Speaker’s panel. The Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022 will provide all employees covered by the National Employment Standards with 10 days paid leave at their full rate of pay if they’re experiencing family or domestic violence. It expands the definition of family and domestic violence to cover actions by former intimate partners and unrelated household members. It also extends the entitlement to those who are employed on a casual basis and delays its implementation for employees of small businesses in order to give those employers more time to be ready for those changes, which is so important.

I welcome this legislation. Family and domestic violence is an epidemic in our society and this is just one of many measures the government must take to address an issue that leaves a wide and deep scar across the lives of too many people, predominantly women and children. Family violence is the leading preventable contributor to death and disability in women aged 15 to 45 years, and it’s the biggest contributor to women’s ill health. It’s also the largest driver of homelessness for women and—unbelievably!—results in a police call-out on average once every two minutes across Australia. It’s extraordinary. Throughout my clinical career I met countless women experiencing family violence, and that’s not surprising, because one in six Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or previous partner. As a midwife, I screened for intimate partner violence, and this was an important evidence based intervention because it’s estimated that around 15 per cent of women who report abuse report that that abuse started or worsened during pregnancy—again, a shocking revelation.

The rate of family violence in the biggest towns of my electorate of Indi is staggering. Women in Wodonga and Wangaratta experience family violence at a rate 33 per cent higher than the Victorian average, and in Benalla it’s 76 per cent higher. Those numbers are hard to fathom, but they represent thousands of women I represent, and I wish to use this platform to assist them in any way that we as legislators can. Of course this change won’t solve family and domestic violence; it’s just one piece in the puzzle. I hope to see much more from the government on the prevention end of this scourge, and I welcome what I heard from the member for Bendigo just now about the prevention space. For someone experiencing family and domestic violence, this leave could make what previously seemed impossible possible: attending a doctor’s appointment, attending an antenatal check, attending hospital, going to the police, appearing in court, attending an appointment with a counsellor or with a lawyer, going to the bank, opening a new account or going to an inspection of a new rental to start a new life. Previously, a victim of family violence may have felt those tasks to be out of their reach because they couldn’t afford to miss work. Leaving their relationship may have already seemed an insurmountable task because of the huge financial cost involved. This goes some way to lightening that load, but this is just the beginning. Family violence can have long-term impacts on the health, wellbeing, education, relationships and, so importantly, the mental health of women and their children.

Making this leave available isn’t just about doing the right thing for women at the most vulnerable times of their life; it also makes sound economic sense to make paid leave available to those experiencing family and domestic violence because that violence is having a seriously negative effect on our economy. In 2015, PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated that the broad economic costs of violence against women by their partners totalled $12.6 billion per year. I note that the Australian Industry Group has aired concerns about the cost this will place on employers, believing it to be too much of an impost. But employers are already paying the cost of domestic violence through absenteeism and lost productivity. Making this leave available will help good employees who, through no fault of their own, are experiencing domestic and family violence. At the Jobs and Skills Summit last week, much was said about increasing women’s participation in the workforce and about reducing barriers to participation. This is just one of the ways in which we can assist women to stay in the workforce and ensure their own economic security as they respond to the violence they’re experiencing.

While this is welcome, I know that for some employers it will be a challenge. There are many good employers across my electorate who want to do the right thing by their employees, who want to be fair and who want to support them when they are experiencing family violence. The CEO of COSBOA, Alexi Boyd, made the very important point that many small businesses have treated these situations with compassion and generosity, but they’re not experts in handling trauma. While we are really welcoming this measure, we must also ensure that there’s education and support, especially for small businesses. Implementing this reform must be simple and it must not cause unnecessary red tape for employers—and especially not for victims of violence. We mustn’t create another barrier in the effort to remove one for those experiencing family and domestic violence.

This is a great first step, but it must not be the last step. I look forward to seeing many more bills coming into this House to address the scourge of family and domestic violence, to see funding for primary prevention, for education and support services, and for strategies which focus on changing behaviour and, crucially, the structural, cultural and societal contexts that target underlying causes, such as gender inequality and poverty.

I close by acknowledging the work of the incredible people across my electorate of Indi who work in this very difficult space: Women’s Health Goulburn North East, Gateway Health, our GPs, our social workers, our nurses, our midwives and our emergency department staff. Case workers across Indi, I thank you for your work, and I thank the government for this important bill.

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