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

03 Dec 2018 speech

Ms FLINT (Boothby) (15:38): I think everyone in this place would agree that women should be safe whatever they are doing and wherever they are doing it in our society. Unfortunately, we're here today because they're not. Women don't necessarily feel—and they are not necessarily—safe, and women need to be safe in their communities, online, at home and in their workplaces. Unfortunately, we know that this is not the case with around 17 per cent of women over the age of 15 years, who report that they have experienced violence from a current or former partner.

Our government is committed to addressing family and domestic violence. It is an issue that demands action on many fronts, and that is what we are doing. There is no one course of action that needs to be taken to solve this terrible issue—and, in fact, I think we can call it a crisis—in our society. We need to do a variety of things. The bill before us provides for a minimum standard of five days unpaid leave for all employees covered by the Fair Work Act. It is an important step to take now to add to the many, many other things we are doing to protect women and keep them safe from domestic violence and to try to prevent domestic violence.

This bill adds to the suite of measures that we are taking and that we have already taken. Since we were elected in 2013, we have committed over $300 million to address family and domestic violence. In 2015, we committed $100 million through the Women's Safety Package, which provided crucial funding for 1800RESPECT, the national telephone and online counselling and information service, which ensures more women can get support when they need it. We also supported local women's caseworkers to coordinate support for women escaping domestic violence, including housing, safety and budgeting services.

In 2016, we then committed a further $100 million under the Third action plan 2016-2019 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. This plan set out an ambitious agenda. With the support of key stakeholders and the community, this ambitious agenda will substantially reduce domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia. But, of course, that's not all we are doing. We are developing the fourth action plan at the moment, and work on that plan is well and truly underway. As part of this process, the Minister for Women, the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer, co-chaired the COAG National Summit on Reducing Violence Against Women and their Children in Adelaide on 2 and 3 October this year.

Our recent federal budgets have also demonstrated our commitment to addressing family and domestic violence. There were a number of measures announced in the 2017-18 budget. As I said, we have to do a range of things to address family and domestic violence. There is no one single solution; we need a range of measures. What we announced this year was $55.7 million for community legal centres so that we can provide frontline family law and family violence services to women who are in desperate need of that support at one of the most difficult times of their lives. We budgeted $10.7 million to family law courts to employ additional family consultants who prepare family reports to inform the court about risks that may be present to family safety in those cases. We provided $12.7 million to establish parent management hearings, a new forum for resolving family law disputes between self-represented litigants, and we provided $3.4 million to expand the national pilot program for specialist domestic violence units that provide wraparound legal and other support services to women who are experiencing or are at risk of domestic and family violence.

There were further measures announced in the 2018-2019 budget, which included $22 million over five years to address the abuse of older Australians, which affects up to 20 per cent of women who are our senior citizens, and $14.2 million over four years for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, to help make cyberspace safe for women, because, as I noted at the outset of my speech, it is not just in person that people are at risk; it is often online where women are suffering abuse and violence and where they are feeling unsafe. We also provided $6.7 million to maintain funding for DV-alert to continue its domestic violence response training for community frontline workers. These are the support people that are so crucial for women who find themselves in these awful circumstances.

We also provided an additional $11.5 million for the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, 1800RESPECT, over two years. 1800RESPECT has been a vital support service for so many people, and on 27 November this year we announced an additional $10.9 million to fund this service and ensure that it continues to deliver a trusted and valued service to the community.

In November, the Minister for Women also delivered the first women's economic security statement, worth $109 million over four years, to shine a light on the obstacles to women in building their financial security and to focus on practical measures to help change that. We know that when women are financially independent, when they have financial security, they are more able to make the decisions and to leave if that's necessary to get themselves out of harm's way and to keep themselves safe. The measures in the statement to support women's economic independence are worth $35.6 million over four years, and they include several measures to help Australian women experiencing family and domestic violence. We have continued funding to specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships, which will also include financial counselling. We are extending early access to superannuation beyond terminal illness and severe financial hardship to those experiencing family and domestic violence so they can access funds that they may desperately need to help them get to safety.

We're funding Good Shepherd Microfinance to provide no-interest loans to help 15,000 women experiencing family and domestic violence to access finance when they most need it, without high interest. These loans can be spent on things like relocating to somewhere safer, finding a new home, essential household items and also rental bonds, which can be a very large up-front expense that women may not have the cash on hand to provide for themselves.

We're also funding legal aid commissions to support changes to family law that will ban cross-examination in certain cases where women are escaping family violence and where they fear cross-examination by their expartner. I'm pleased that these changes to family law under the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018 have passed the House, and I hope that the Senate will pass them as well.

The bill before the House now is an important part of the support that working women who are experiencing family and domestic violence need. As I said, it is one of the many, many things that we need to do for women who find themselves in these terrible circumstances. Providing a minimum safety net of five days unpaid leave will provide women experiencing family and domestic violence with time off to deal with the impact of that violence, and it will ensure that they can be confident their job is protected while they do so.

As I've already noted, our government is taking a number of steps to promote the economic security of women—not just women who experience domestic and family violence but women throughout all stages of their lives. We're supporting women to be financially independent, whether they are school leavers, jobseekers, new mums returning to the work force or senior Australians nearing retirement age.

One of the most important things, as I noted earlier, is that women are financially independent and they can afford to make the decisions that they need to make for their best self-interest and to keep themselves safe if necessary. When you have a job, when you can provide for yourself, you can make those decisions if need be. We have added almost one million jobs to the Australian economy since September 2013, when we came to government. Significantly, 58 per cent of these jobs went to women, and the minister reminded the House of these fantastic statistics during question time today. In 2015-16 alone, around 90,000 more women than men joined the labour force. These are very encouraging statistics. These are excellent statistics. By contrast, when those opposite left office, women's full-time employment was going backwards, so I'm so proud that we have been able to see more women into work and more women into full-time work.

What we're doing on our side of the House is helping women access the job market by providing affordable and accessible child care, because we know this is one of the biggest barriers for many women who want to return to work. We've started the national rollout of the ParentsNext program, which helps eligible parents prepare for employment, with approximately 96 per cent of participants expected to be women, including around 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In the May budget we committed $64.3 million to establish a jobs and market fund to grow the National Disability Insurance Scheme workforce and service providers, because we know that women make up almost 80 per cent of employees in the health, social assistance and disability care industries. We've extended the pension work bonus to allow pensioners to earn more income without reducing their age pension, and mature-age women will benefit from expanded access to the Restart wage subsidy, offering an incentive of up to $10,000 to encourage businesses to hire and retain mature-age employees. Women aged between 45 and 70 will benefit from the Skills Checkpoint for Older Workers Program.

When it comes time for women to retire, or when they want to retire, our government has provided a superannuation system that provides flexibility, sustainability and equity. We have introduced the low-income superannuation tax offset to support accumulation of superannuation for low-income earners. We have levelled the playing field by scrapping restrictions on who can make personal deductible contributions, benefitting 800,000 Australians, including women working in roles without access to formal salary sacrificing arrangements.In fact, in 2015-16 almost 320,000 low- and middle-income-earning women were paid $100 million in cocontributions. And of course we have also announced the Protecting Your Super package, which will help many, many women. We're assisting 1.6 million women who are still contributing to low-balance accounts by helping to protect their super as well. We know that the biggest risk to some of our senior Australian women is the retiree tax that the opposition wants to introduce should they to be elected to government. This is going to do a huge amount of damage to people who have worked very hard and saved very hard for their retirement. We know that women who have retired will be heavily impacted by that policy.

Our government is doing a range of things to support women who are experiencing domestic and family violence, but we are not the only ones who are working to support them. I'd like to take this opportunity to recognise some of the wonderful work that local groups and organisations in my community do to keep women safe and to also keep their children safe and support them in their time of deepest crisis and fear. Just down the road from my electorate office is MarionLIFE Community Services, a not-for-profit community organisation that strives to provide meaningful, flexible and responsive care and support to individuals and families in need. MarionLIFE is led by chairman Peter Fowler and director Leighton Boyd and provides a range of services, including emergency relief supplies, financial counselling to help support economic security, and a community nursing service to support overall health and emotional wellbeing.

Right next door to my electorate office is UnitingCare Wesley Bowden, who also do so much, especially for women and children in crisis in my community or in the south of Adelaide, with their Southern Adelaide office providing a range of different services. UnitingCare Wesley Bowden provides emergency respite care and the Child and Family Mental Health Program. I know that they provide particular support for children who really struggle to go to school during times of family upheaval, when they're in their moment of crisis, and they provide excellent economic advice and support and assistance as well.

Another wonderful organisation in my electorate is Foodbank SA, who provide food and emergency food relief to so many people in need but particularly to families who may be in crisis. It's the largest hunger relief organisation in South Australia, and I've been very proud to support Foodbank SA in the work it's done. I have seen firsthand their wonderful contribution. As I've noted, this bill provides unpaid leave for women in domestic violence situations, and I'm proud to support
the bill. (Time expired)