- by Franc Stregone
- The Guardian
- Issue #2018
Photo: Australian Services Union NSW & ACT Branch
At the end of last month, working-class people across the country achieved a momentous victory when a bill tabled by Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke introduced ten days paid domestic and family violence leave. While the bill has not passed, it is expected to get crossbench support in the Senate.
In May, the Fair Work Commission issued a ruling to include paid family and domestic violence leave in awards for permanent employees but failed to extend that entitlement to casual workers. Burke’s bill covers casual and permanent workers.
It is unfathomable to think that it has taken this long for workers to get this basic condition, but one look at even our most recent political history highlights why it took a change of government to win this struggle.
COALITION’S ANTI-WOMEN PROGRAM
It is important to acknowledge that it is not only women but people of all genders who experience domestic violence. However, those who experience domestic violence are largely not cis-men. According to the latest figures published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019), since the age of fifteen:
- Seventeen per cent of women had experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a current or previous cohabiting partner;
- Twenty-three per cent of women have experienced emotional abuse from a current or previous partner;
- Fifty-seven per cent of women have experienced emotional abuse from a previous partner have also been assaulted or threatened with assault; and
- Eighteen per cent of women have experienced sexual violence.
With this information, you would think the near-decade of Coalition governments would develop policies to protect women from domestic and sexual violence. They did not.
In 2016, speaking on paid domestic violence leave, then-Minister for Women Michaelia Cash stated at an election campaign event in Victoria that paid domestic and family violence leave would be a “disincentive” to businesses in hiring women because it would mean they would have access to “an additional four weeks leave that” at the employers’ expense.
In 2019, then-Home Affairs Minister Petter Dutton stated that rape allegations were tools used by refugees to come into Australia: “Some people are trying it on […]. Let’s be serious about this. There are people who have claimed that they’ve been raped and came to Australia to seek an abortion because they couldn’t get an abortion on Nauru.”
Scott Morrison’s prime ministership only amplified this anti-women rhetoric. For example, in 2021, the Morrison Government agreed to all fifty-five recommendations of the landmark Respect@Work report. However, when introduced to parliament in August, the report did not deliver the legislative changes recommended by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. What’s more, after following the watered-down recommendations, the Morrison Government continued to hold its National Women’s Safety Summit, with Morrison delivering the opening keynote address!
These are only a few of a handful of examples of the misogynistic comments that non-men have had to endure during this near-decade of Coalition governments.
Taking the above into account, it is unsurprising that it took a federal election for the Coalition to develop plans to address paid family and domestic violence leave.
But their promises were shallow.
The Coalition only promised to implement forty-three of the fifty-five recommendations of the Respect@Work report. The Coalition did not:
- Change workplace laws to ban sexual harassment;
- Protect victims against legal bills for taking legal action against perpetrators; and
- Let unions, and other organisations, bring legal action against perpetrators on behalf of victims.
Furthermore, while both parties planned on introducing a new Family, Domestic and Family Violence Commission, Labor is tasking the new commission to act as a voice for victim-survivors, while the Coalition merely wants the commission to oversee its “national plan” and provide guidance to government – an effectively useless advisory board.
Additionally, the Morrison government wanted to work together with all stakeholders to come to a resolution on paid family and domestic violence leave. The Albanese government has introduced this bill with the view that this was a basic human right.
LEADERS SPEAK TO WIN
Speaking to the union’s history with the struggle, ACTU president Michele O’Neil stated that:
“For over a decade unions campaigned for 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave in the NES so that no worker would miss out. We were met with constant opposition by the former Coalition Government, but we never gave up. Today, while we celebrate the introduction of paid FDV leave into parliament, we also stop and remember all the lives lost too soon and the struggle that continues.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese emphasised the importance of acknowledging the struggle many women face any day, stating that:
“The fact is that not every sense of grief arises from a declared war but a conflict that takes place around us every single day […]. […] Every day this is occurring insidiously, quietly, relentlessly. It is a stain on our national soul that we have so much family and domestic violence. […] As a nation we can and must do better […] workplaces have a key role to play as a source of critical support for people experiencing family and domestic violence.”
Advocate groups, such as the National Women’s Safety Alliance, were optimistic about the new changes but stated more needed to be done, with Chief Executive Renee Hamilton stating that:
“This is a massive change. We need to get the settings right and we need it to apply to all women regardless of the situation, regardless of how long they have been at their workplace”
WHAT IS IN THE BILL?
The bill will introduce ten paid days of family and domestic leave. More than that, this policy will be enshrined in the National Employment Standards, which are a suite of entitlements that are standards for all workers. Crucially, the bill covers both permanent and casual employees. According to the ACTU, once passed, it will cover 8.44 million workers.
These statistics, however, do not tell the whole tale. With the gravitas of the situation considered, a failure to address family and domestic violence hurts Australia’s economy. According to The Cost of Violence against Women and their Children report released by the Department of Social Services in 2009:
“Without the Plan of Action interventions, production-related costs are estimated at $609 million in 2021-22. For every woman whose experience of violence is prevented as a result of the Plan of Action intervention in a particular year, $1,581 in production-related costs can be avoided. This equates to $61 million in reduced costs if levels of violence could be reduced by just 10 per cent by 2021-22.”
According to the report, such a plan requires a national Gender Pay Equity Inquiry that will investigate “the inter-relationship between violence against women, lack of economic independence and gender inequality.” With such a voice, our parliament can seek to make further interventions into minimising the harm and trauma that many deal with on a day-today basis.
With policies now in place to provide frameworks for family and domestic violence, we are leaving no one behind, and building a bigger and more inclusive economy.