Domestic and Family Violence Adjournment

26 February 2013

We know that in this nation, sadly, too many Australians have been victims of domestic and family violence. Whether or not you have experienced it or whether you have loved someone who has, mostly everyone today can now recognise what a dreadful thing it is and how it can have lifelong impacts on victims, families and children.

It was not all that long ago when domestic and family violence was thought of as a private matter. So I am very pleased that, where previously society silently ignored domestic violence, these days we are increasingly willing to speak out against it, to stop acts of domestic violence and to support its victims.

Australia has come a very long way in this regard. It has not happened by some kind of accidental epiphany. People over generations have worked hard to get domestic violence recognised as a crime and to give people secure places to live. Indeed, we have worked hard in recognising the professional skills that it takes to address what can be very delicate and damaging family matters and I am very pleased when community service workers were awarded an increase via the SACS award, recognising that they undertake very difficult work.

So we have, indeed, come a long way in addressing what was for too long seen as a private matter. We have come a long way in addressing what was for too long seen as the right of a man to control their family by whatever means. We have done a lot in changing the law state by state; changing policing; changing attitudes to women; changing attitudes to men; having the courage to speak out; promoting and giving people the skills to have respectful relationships; and, importantly, making resources available, such as places like domestic violence refuges and counsellors, counsellors to help people change their behaviour and to keep families safe. But it is an ongoing process and it is terrific that, today, we have a national plan that brings together a lot of what we have now learnt over decades to address domestic and family violence

The kinds of outcomes that we are looking for are strategies where communities are safe and free from violence, where relationships are respectful, where Indigenous communities are strengthened, where the services meet the needs of women and their children who are experiencing violence, where justice responses are effective and where perpetrators stop their violence.

We know that stopping domestic violence is about more than saying no, it is about more than saying, 'I'm against it,' and it is about more than speaking out. It is about the very practical change agents that we employ every day and the delivery of the services attached to those agents. It is about attitudinal change but it is also about the practical steps that make it easier for victims to stop what is happening to them—and to help perpetrators to stop. It is all very well to say that we want to take a stand against domestic violence, but the question is how we do that. What do we do? Refuge workers know how. They can support people through the practical steps you need to take every day to support victims and their families and work with them so that they are no longer victims. There are also those who work with perpetrators to help them stop.

There are many steps to help prevent family and domestic violence, but these steps need to extend to the workplace. Today we realise that these steps can and should extend to the workplace. The Commonwealth recognises this, and that is why it has been pleased and proud to support the development of the resource called the 'Domestic Violence Kit—Keeping you and your job safe'. I am very pleased that both Minister Shorten, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and Minister Collins, Minister for the Status of Women, have actively supported the work done by the domestic violence clearing house at the University of New South Wales.

Also, unions have nationally moved to incorporate clauses in their enterprise agreements that provide support for employees who are victims of domestic violence. It does not naturally seem logical to say that domestic violence is a workplace issue, but it very, very clearly is. For example, additional paid leave or flexible work arrangements can help someone who might not have otherwise disclosed their situation to their employer and may have put their employment at risk by not showing up to work and saying, 'This is what is happening to me; I need some time off to go and sort this out.' What has happened to many women historically is that they end up losing their jobs because the shame and the fear of disclosure mean that they just do not say why they have not turned up at work, and this has really put many women's employment at risk.

I would really like to commend the maritime union and the Australian Services Union in Western Australia for being the first unions to work to put these clauses in their EBAs in my home state of Western Australia. They have taken real steps to support their employees, and I hope this is a lead that is followed. The Geraldton port was in fact the first place where this was included in the EBA. It is also time that this was recognised in the public service at both state and national levels in all employment contracts. This has been included in many public service contracts now around the country, and Western Australia needs to do this too. This would go a long way to recognising what a significant workplace issue this is. I would like to commend the work the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse has done in seeking to improve the capacity of unions, employers and employer organisations to support employees experiencing domestic or family violence and help them remain in work. The domestic violence clearing house has been a key change agent in these moves.

However, all of this will mean very little if we cannot empower victims of violence—both men and women—to use these clauses, and where these clauses do not exist to nevertheless take steps to protect themselves and their employment. I have seen firsthand the impact that skipped days at work can have because of domestic violence. It can take an already vulnerable family and make it more vulnerable because of the loss of employment and the loss of income, which then places housing at risk. It is a terrible, terrible cycle.

There is increasing recognition in Australia that domestic violence is a workplace issue. When people are victims of domestic violence it can lead to distraction at work and nonattendance, when there can be simple remedies to help someone retain their productivity at work. So I would really like to commend the advocacy of the domestic violence clearing house in putting forward that being a victim of domestic violence should be a protected attribute in our national anti-discrimination law. Employers and workers alike need to know that there are actions they can take to prevent the awful toll that domestic violence can take not only on those experiencing it but also on workplace productivity. This is not a murky private issue for the workplace to ignore. There are many practical supports and interventions that can assist in a responsive workplace and that can assist someone to remain and maintain themselves as a valuable employee who is able to continue to support their family.

Employers need to know that there is a reason that you are turning up late—and it is not because someone does not care about their job. It is about shame and fear; it is not that you do not value your employment and you do not want to do a good job. There are practical steps outlined in the domestic violence clearing house's handbook which is entitled 'Keeping you and your job safe'. There have been launches right around the country, with more to come.

In conclusion—because I have only got a short time—I want to highlight the international connection on this issue. The 'One billion women rising' campaign is now a global campaign against violence against women. One in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. Australia has come a long way on this issue, but we have a long way to go. It is also really important that we extend our voices and our support to women globally to stand up against this violence, in the knowledge that there is something practical that can be done to stop it.