Tackling Domestic Violence

I don't think that I'm alone amongst Australians in that my feelings about the national crisis that we face when we look at domestic violence rates in Australia. My feelings have moved from sorrow and despair to now sitting squarely in white hot anger.

If we have a look at what is happening in Australian society today, in 2018, we see that the statistics are stark and they are horrifying: more than one woman killed each and every week in 2018 in the Australia that we preside over. So I think we in the parliament need to ask ourselves: are we doing absolutely everything that we can be doing to stop this national disgrace? Sadly, I believe that the answer to that is no.

We come here today to debate a bill which, in effect, means that a woman who is trying to flee domestic violence will not be punished by losing her job if she needs to take five days of unpaid leave. Well, woo hoo, this is a step in the right direction, but it is a teeny-tiny step in the right direction. I believe that every parliament, that every member of parliament, every elected official, should be asking themselves: what more could we be doing to help prevent the tragedies that are taking place far too often? Sadly, I think that there will be many, many answers that come forward. Perhaps when the Prime Minister talks, as he does so often at the moment, about the Canberra bubble, we should ask ourselves: are we living in the Canberra bubble when we are not, as a parliament, standing up and debating and discussing solutions to this crisis each and every day, when we're not taking the action which all of the evidence and the experts say is required to take if we are going to support those brave and courageous women who are trying to flee the situations that they find themselves in? All of that evidence and all of those experts suggest that, when it comes to leave from the workplace, it needs to be paid leave and that five days is not adequate; it needs to be 10 days of paid leave.

I know that we've all heard statistics, and they stop having their full meaning when we throw them around all the time. But we know that, in Australia, at least 55 women have been murdered in 2018. In fact, we know that some 63 women have been killed by acts of violence, 55 in domestic violence situations. We know that intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk for Australian women aged 25 to 44. This is quite literally killing women far too often. I know that there has been progress made in recent years. There's been progress made in terms of awareness. There's been progress made in terms of taking this out of the shadows, no longer talking about this as a private issue, as a family issue, but recognising that this is a national crisis. But, whilst there has been progress made, we still see these statistics and we know that each and every one of these statistics represents a human tragedy—a woman's life lost and, in many cases, their children's lives forever altered. We know in too many of these cases that it is continuing a cycle, which we know can have profound effects later in life.

In the local area that I'm so lucky to represent, the electorate of Adelaide, The Advertiser ran an article on the weekend in which they listed the top 10 metropolitan postcodes for domestic violence related offences. Two of these, in metropolitan Adelaide, are postcodes that I have the privilege to represent in this House. Of course, what that means is that too many people whom I have been elected to represent in this House are finding themselves subjected to domestic and family violence. Postcode 5000, Adelaide City, and postcode 5084, Kilburn and Blair Athol, are among the top 10 metropolitan postcodes.

We also know that South Australia Police investigated more than 10,800 crimes linked to domestic violence last financial year. That's just South Australia Police—10,800 crimes. South Australia Police Chief Superintendent Doug Barr told The Advertiser that many people thought of domestic violence as assault, but the new data shows that it is so much more than that. Examples among the 10,000 crimes include brandishing a gun and threatening a partner or a child; endangering a family member by driving at them or forcing them into a car; releasing intimate images of a partner; spray painting offensive language on their fence; sending excessive harassing text messages; and breaking into ex-partners' homes and stealing items.

This has gone on far too long and we as a parliament must challenge ourselves: what more can we do? We know that this is an issue that needs to be tackled on a range of different levels. Primary prevention is so incredibly important if we are going to change attitudes and ensure that future generations don't see these horrifying levels of this crime. Our law enforcement and judicial system needs to be best equipped to appropriately deal with these issues. There are serious issues when it comes to accommodation, when it comes to refuge, when it comes to support for women and their families who are fleeing this situation. In fact, just last week I received an email on behalf of one of the local churches in my electorate. It says:

'Dear Kate, we write to you as the federal member for Adelaide to express our concern at the chronic shortage of crisis, social and affordable housing that is forcing women who want to flee a violent household to have nowhere to go. We've attached a photo of our congregation at the Parkside Baptist Church, reflecting on this issue at our services on 25 November. We were shocked to discover that domestic violence is the leading contributor to homelessness in Australia. Housing experts anticipate that if we are to be a country where every person can enjoy safe and secure housing, we will need an additional 500,000 social and affordable homes by 2026. Yet present trends show that social housing is declining as a proportion of housing stock. A large number of crisis accommodation services report that we do not have sufficient resources to accommodate all those who need it and, as a result, regularly turn people away. Please make this a priority issue and keep it as a priority issue so every woman, child and man fleeing violence has a safe and secure place to go. Thank you for your time. Frances Hardy, on behalf of Parkside Baptist Church.'

Thank you, Frances and your congregation for continuing to speak out and keeping this issue on the agenda. For my part, I will represent your concerns and I will fight for more accommodation, something that I'm pleased Labor has released our policy for. We know how important safe shelter is for women and children in particular in these situations.

That brings us to the bill that we're debating here today. Of course, accommodation and shelter are required if and when a woman makes a decision to leave the dangerous circumstances that she finds herself in.

My concern about this bill here today is that we know that two out of three women who are experiencing domestic violence are in the workforce. That means that for many of them, when they are in controlling, abusive relationships at home, that time in the workforce is actually the only safe time that they have outside of the house. If these women are contemplating leaving this situation—and we can only imagine how hard that decision is—the statistics make it clear that fleeing an abusive domestic violence situation is when they are at their most vulnerable. It is the most dangerous time. So it is a hard decision. Anyone who says, 'Why don't they just leave?' needs to have a look at the huge range of issues that need to be considered and just how difficult this can be. If someone's contemplating leaving, there's a lot to do: finding accommodation, in many cases getting apprehended violence orders or restraining orders, in many cases making court appearances and in many cases speaking with the local law enforcement. All of these things can be incredibly time consuming. So of course, if people are going to contemplate undertaking all of this, we should not add the disincentive of them losing their ongoing pay as a result of that. If we do not have paid domestic violence leave, we are leaving these women in a situation where they have to decide whether they are going to forgo some of their salary, which they know they will be absolutely relying upon if they choose to go it alone, or whether, if they take more leave than they have, they are going to lose their jobs and start what should be a phase of rebuilding their lives in unemployment, where we know that poverty is a very real concern. That is what this parliament should be reflecting upon. Because we are not addressing those concerns in this bill here today. In this bill here today, all we're saying is that for five days you can leave without pay and you won't get sacked as a result of that. That is too little action, and I call upon this parliament to do more.

I know that, as I said, there has been progress. That progress was highlighted just last week when ANROWS released the summary of the NCAS, the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey. I was incredibly proud when one of our own South Australians, Arman Abrahimzadeh, spoke at the launch of this. Arman told his story as he has powerfully done previously—the story about how his father murdered his mother, about the household that he grew up in and about how he needs to see this cycle change. What we learned from this survey is that there has been some progress in some areas. We know that most Australians support gender equality and that Australians are more likely to support gender equality in 2017 than in previous surveys. We know that Australians are less likely to hold attitudes supportive of violence against women in 2017 than they were previously. But there are also some concerning results. There continues to be a decline in the number of Australians who understand that men are more likely than women to perpetrate domestic violence. A concerning proportion of Australians believe that gender inequality is exaggerated or no longer a problem. We know that, among attitudes condoning violence against women, the highest level of agreement was with the idea that women used claims of violence to gain tactical advantage in their relationships with men. We know that one in five Australians today would not be bothered if a male friend told a sexist joke about women. I'd like to thank the amazing team at ANROWS and, indeed, all of the amazing people who have been working to change attitudes, to bring about change and to provide support. You do an extraordinary job.

I stand here and say: of course we'll support this teeny-tiny step that is being taken by the government, but each and every member of parliament owes it to our community to reflect upon what more we can be doing. I'm incredibly proud that, further than this, Bill Shorten and Labor have announced that we will introduce 10 days of paid leave.

We know that this is what the evidence suggests. We know that this is what other jurisdictions are doing. New Zealand has already legislated guaranteeing 10 days of paid leave. Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT all offer 10 days of paid leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 and Victoria 20.

There is more that we can do. I urge this parliament to do more when it comes to supporting women who are trying to leave and not seeing them crippled financially by unpaid leave, but also when it comes to accommodation, when it comes to shelter, when it comes to support, when it comes to primary prevention, when it comes to law enforcement and when it comes to our judicial system. It should be a priority for this parliament, for every state parliament and indeed for every local government. Australia cannot continue to see more than one woman killed by someone she loved or once loved and not treat it as a national emergency. I urge this government to go further than they have with this bill, and I stand proudly with my colleagues in saying that if Labor is lucky enough to be elected to government we will do more.