25 October 2022

Second reading speech

I’m very proud to be here today in the Senate to debate the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2022. It’s one of the first acts by the Albanese Labor government, and it’s great to see the progress that this government is making in tackling the scourge in our society that is domestic violence. This piece of legislation demonstrates Labor’s commitment to act against family and domestic violence. In Australia, sadly, one in six women have experienced physical or sexual violence. For men this number is one in 16. As elected representatives we must do everything we can in this place to reduce domestic violence in our communities and to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to escape to a safe environment.

It is quite concerning to hear the contributions by some in this place that somehow leave is a burden on businesses, which should not suffer or feel the pain of the domestic violence that is inflicted on people who are trying to flee a violent environment—usually their home. It is quite disappointing that some senators have chosen to go down that path. It would be interesting to see if they also use the same line of argument with respect to sick leave—if someone gets sick, is that somehow not something that they should be entitled to? Is paid maternity leave another type of leave that should also not be given to workers in this country? What about long service leave, annual leave and all the other sorts of leave that the union movement and the workers of this country have fought so hard for? Yet what we find is that many senators, particularly those on the other side, are making that argument to explain why they should not be supporting this piece of legislation that supports predominantly women who are fleeing domestic violence back at home.

This piece of legislation before us today establishes universal paid leave for family and domestic violence. Some 11 million Australian workers, most of them women, will be able to access this leave. This includes casuals because casuals are also entitled to leave in this country, and the 25 per cent loading just doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to flee a domestic situation at home. But, somehow, those opposite will put the argument to the contrary. At the moment, workers have to choose between escaping a violent situation and maintaining their financial security. Thankfully, Labor is giving them another option. This is what this bill is fundamentally about. It’s about acknowledging the lack of access to paid leave, which will keep many women in dangerous situations longer, and it’s about understanding that we need to take action and we need to take every step that we can to remove this barrier.

The labour movement has been pushing for this for some time. In my time as a union official with the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, we joined countless other unions in the We Won’t Wait campaign. This campaign was about recognising the urgent crisis facing Australian women every week—every week a woman is killed by her partner, an ex-partner or a family member in Australia. In the face of this statistic, unions knew that we could not waste any more time in taking action. Unions had various successes in campaigning for paid domestic violence leave with individual employers or through our current awards system. What we are simply doing is affording that right to every single worker under the Fair Work Act. Every single worker in this country—whether they are under an award, under an EBA or under their own contractual arrangements with their employer—will receive this leave.

Now, with a change of government, we have the opportunity to make this a universal entitlement. I’m very pleased that, no matter their workplace, no matter where they live, no matter how they perform their duties at work and no matter if they work full time or casual, they will have a choice. They will have a choice, and they will know that there is security there—that, should they need safety and should they need security in their employment, they can put in a request for paid family and domestic violence leave.

I’m really glad to see that the Albanese Labor government is supporting casual workers. Casual workers are definitely not spared from family and domestic violence, as I mentioned earlier. In fact, women who are experiencing family and domestic violence are more likely to be employed in casual work, and I know that, having had experience in the retail sector. The vast majority of people who work in retail are women and people under the age of 25, but it’s the women that are the ones who are more likely to be exposed to domestic violence. I’m really pleased to say to the many workers that I have dealt with over the years that, finally, this government is putting forward the reforms that Labor have promised for many, many years.

If we accept the basic principle that we need to do everything we can to end domestic violence then we should surely also accept that we must do everything we can not just for some but for every single Australian. That is why this bill will enshrine paid family and domestic violence leave as part of the Fair Work Act so that all Australian workers can access this entitlement regardless of where they work. Escaping a violent relationship takes time and money, with some estimates suggesting it can cost up to $20,000 and take more than 140 hours. That is why this paid leave is so important. Without this leave, too many women can’t leave.

I am proud, again, to place on the record that the Albanese Labor government is treating this issue with the urgency that it deserves and requires. I congratulate everyone, particularly our minister Tony Burke and all those on the frontbench, for doing an outstanding job, as well as those in the union movement for advocating for this bill. I commend this bill to the Senate.