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

SECOND READING DEBATE - FEDERATION CHAMBER

The legislation before us today is about paid family and domestic violence leave. It's a new piece of legislation. The Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022 is a really important piece of legislation, and it's something that this government is really proud to be introducing to Australia. The legislation is important for many, many reasons, but I want to put on record why I think that having the leave is critical. It is critical so that people who are suffering from the impacts of domestic violence have time, space, energy and support at a critical time in their lives to ensure that they can continue in their employment, continue to provide for their families, find the housing they might need and get the support that they might need.

The legislation is critical for other reasons as well. We measure what we care about. The domestic violence leave will mean that there will be data that will demonstrate for us the impact of domestic violence in our communities. That data will be incredibly important because it can then be used to make changes in response to what we find. There is nothing more true than that in modern Australia. Across everything in our communities—in education, in business, everywhere—we measure what's important to us. We need to be measuring this so that we can see the impacts of domestic violence not just in our community but also on business and on industry because then we'll be able to measure and be able to say what impact domestic violence is actually having on productivity and on our GDP. That will change the conversation about domestic violence and take it to a place that it hasn't been before because not only is it a scourge emotionally and physically but it is a life-changing experience for many that then impacts on their entire lives, which includes where they work. It's of critical importance that this legislation be passed and that people support this legislation because millions of workers in Australia still face that impossible situation of having to choose between their safety and their income.

On a personal note, we've all had moments in our lives when something happens that impacts in similar ways —perhaps a marriage breakdown. There may not be abuse or violence involved, but a marriage breakdown means that somebody is scrambling to ensure that the bank accounts are right, that whatever they've got to do at Centrelink is done, that they've got their child support arrangements in place. We've all had these kinds of impacts—for example, a death in the family. Domestic violence is no different. There are many reasons why this leave needs to be in place, but one of the things it does is ensures that the person involved has no impact on their income. That continues, but they've got time and space to do the things they need to do: to see a doctor if they need to see a doctor, to see a police officer if they need to see a police officer, or to attend a court hearing if they need to attend a court hearing.

All of these things at the moment, without this leave, ultimately come down to the relationship you have with your employer or your line manager. Are you confident to say to the person that you work most closely with and for, 'I need a few days off at this point,' and to make a personal explanation, if you like, about why you need that time? How much easier would that be if it were an accepted practice? How much easier would that be if it were a simple email to say, 'I need five days leave,' or 10 days leave, and you could tick a box? Then there is no inquisition. You don't have to sit and expose yourself to those things and feel like you're asking a favour. It's clear, it's in law and it will work. People will have the time to do the things they need to do.

It may ultimately mean that we lift the veil further on domestic violence. I'm really sad to say this, but I heard it argued in the chamber in the last sitting fortnight that sometimes these things are left for private conversations. That's the problem. The problem is, if we pull the blinds down and say, 'Let's not talk about this,' then we're not supporting a victim of domestic violence; we're supporting a perpetrator of domestic violence. If there is someone in our place of work who visibly shows the possible impacts of domestic violence, and we walk past them every day in the office or on the factory floor, then we become part of the people who don't talk about it rather than being the people we need to be, the people who do talk about it, the people who say, 'This is intolerable.' They say that by wrapping the supports around the people who need the support, and this is one way we can do that in law.

It will change lives. It will change the lives of people on their worst days, and that's always what comes back to me. In our role as members of parliament, as representatives of our electorates, our job is to come here and tell those stories and change the laws in this country so that those things change on the ground. In communities like mine, this is a really critical piece of legislation. It will change lives. We know that the victims of domestic violence are more likely to be women. I'm not going to say they are exclusively women. But it changes lives if they know they will be paid. What's most important about this legislation, in an electorate like mine, is that it's going to cover casual employees, which is extraordinary. So often we create legislation and we change legislation here, particularly around women's issues, and we leave out the bulk of the people who need it the most. In my patch, that would be casual employees, male or female, who are victims of domestic violence. That is a critical element of this piece of legislation and something that should be celebrated and welcomed across the country.

In my electorate, the rate of casualisation is really high. It has been growing annually across the last decade. We know that in areas like retail, child care and aged care—highly feminised workforces—the rate of casualisation is really high. This legislation will mean that a victim of domestic violence who needs time off will be able to have time off without losing their job and will have support while they do so. This is a critical element, because these points of disruption in our lives send us one way or another. They send us, with support, on a new journey, feeling supported in the process and able to pick up and move on—or they send us off the rails. These can be the points in people's lives when they end up living with six kids in the car. I can't put enough emphasis on this.

In my electorate, I was talking to a local principal about student attendance numbers, and I had this story shared with me—completely de-identified, for obvious reasons. This school had done terrific work in ensuring that families were supported and that at-risk families were contacted all the time. They're a very proactive school. They go out and find kids who've missed two days of school. They knock on the door to see if everything's okay. They lost a family. Overnight they lost a family. In the last two weeks of school, things get busy. You have a two-week window to see if everything's okay. When they got back after the Christmas holidays, they learned that a mum and six kids had slept in the car across the whole summer, cut off from the support that would have been provided by the school if they had known. The impetus of that is domestic violence. That's a life-changing experience, and a family is thrown into homelessness. This legislation could have meant that, as a casual worker, potentially that mum would have had support, time and income so that she wouldn't have been unable to pay the rent and wouldn't have found herself without the usual supports that our local community provides.

So, I can't stress enough how important this piece of legislation is and how much I want to see it pass this parliament and be enacted in law, because it will change lives in the community I represent. It'll change lives around the country. I look forward to a day when we measure the impact of domestic violence through every corner of our society so that we have data and, better informed, we can create legislation to support the most vulnerable in our community at their most vulnerable time and ensure that fewer families fall into poverty and homelessness—because that's the reality that we're talking about here. Forget everything else. At this point in time, the impact of domestic violence may change lives forever. The legislation may also mean that, potentially, victims who may have had a history of suffering domestic violence suddenly access this leave, because it's there, to get support, and, because they've got the financial support and the support of the workplace and the Australian government to do so, they will connect more to services to support themselves and potentially their children. I can't think of a better outcome.

The fact that the legislation covers casuals is inspiring. It's a first, and we need to do more of it. We need to do more to ensure that we've got people working in more permanent jobs and paid well, but, even if we get to that place, this will help those people. People who choose to work in a casual environment or as casuals will see that under the law they're seen as equal to permanent employees, and I think that's absolutely critical.

So I support this legislation for the social reasons, for the economic reasons and because of the impact that this could potentially have in the long term by giving us information about productivity, but, more importantly, because it will inform us as a country, inform us as a government and inform us all as legislators. It potentially will create data that will see us create better and better legislation that may, sometime in a bright future, see us drive the scourge of domestic violence out of our communities and out of our homes—an end to domestic violence. This is a step towards an end to domestic violence. That's why I'm so pleased to be here today to support this legislation. I look forward to voting for it in the House, and I know that my colleagues do too.

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