05 February 2018

Speech: Domestic and family violence

I rise to speak on this motion, and I want to start my contribution by saying, as the chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs—the member for Newcastle is the deputy chair—we handed down some very important recommendations on family violence law reform at the end of last year. These recommendations are incredibly important, incredibly far-reaching, and I’m very disappointed that none of that very significant work that we did as a committee, recognising the substantial work of the Turnbull government in the law reform measures that have been taken already, was recognised either in the member’s contribution or in the motion. So I do want to place on record my disappointment about that, and my disappointment that the member for Newcastle’s opportunity to promote and also strongly endorse these recommendations again today was missed. I think that is extremely regrettable.

Look, I do want to correct a number of matters that have been put forward by the member for Newcastle. Of course the Australian government recognises that domestic and family violence has far-reaching effects for women and for some men who are experiencing it, including disrupting their ability to work. We recognise the important role that employers can play for employees experiencing domestic and family violence. We encourage all employers to support their staff during such difficult times. But I want to make it very clear: contrary to Labor’s claims, the government’s workplace bargaining policy does not require Commonwealth Public Service agencies to remove leave provisions for employees affected by domestic or family violence. This is dealt with on a case-by-case basis as part of any EBA negotiations, and it’s of no help to victims of domestic violence to suggest this support will be diminished. These claims are inaccurate, they are dishonest and they create unnecessary fear, particularly amongst those who are currently in this very difficult and very traumatic situation. Agencies are strongly encouraged to use existing provisions to provide support for employees affected by family violence, and a number of Australian Public Service agreements contain specific references to domestic violence leave, which puts paid to the misrepresentations that are being forwarded in this motion.

The Fair Work Commission is currently hearing a case on the inclusion of domestic violence leave in modern awards. The government’s position is that it will consider the Fair Work Commission’s decision once that is made. There has been a preliminary decision made on the ACTU’s claim to have 10 days of paid family and domestic leave included in all modern awards. The Fair Work Commission decided not to grant the ACTU’s claim for paid leave. It formed the preliminary view that employees have access to unpaid domestic and family violence leave, and they should also be able to access personal or carer’s leave for the purpose of taking family and domestic violence leave. It’s important to point out that in the national employment standards of the Fair Work Act employees already have the right to request flexible working arrangements if they’re experiencing family violence or providing care or support to a member of their family or household who is experiencing family violence. The Fair Work Act includes general protections and up to 10 days of paid personal leave for employees or a family household member to recover from personal illness or injury, including as a result of domestic violence. And, frankly, these are some of the most generous provisions of any country in the world.

I would like to return to some of the really significant recommendations that we have made as a parliamentary committee, and I’m absolutely delighted to see that the new Attorney-General has already said that a key focus of his work in his role as Attorney-General is to tackle some of the terrible delays that we have seen in the Family Court system, particularly for those seeking justice as a result of being a victim of family violence. We’ve made very important recommendations to tackle these delays by simplifying procedures and abolishing the presumption of shared equal parental responsibility to ensure that family violence allegations are heard at the earliest possible time, which gives justice to victims and also to those who are falsely accused of family violence, as well as introducing measures that provide greater access to justice. I commend our report, and I do not agree with this motion.