Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (12:06): I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave) Bill. Family, domestic and sexual violence is a hidden scourge in our modern society. The statistics are horrifying. In the last parliament I was privileged but challenged to sit on the inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence. It was given to me to refer to it today in preparation for these few words. It’s worth noting that one in six or 17 per cent of women and 6.1 per cent of men have experienced physical and sexual violence from a current or previous cohabitating partner. There are number of other statistics. Five point one per cent of people have experienced violence from a current or previous boyfriend et cetera. Those figures are horrifying. Most of us are familiar with the fact that roughly, on average, one woman a week loses her life to domestic violence in Australia. We are all challenged by those types of statistics. I’ll come back to that report a bit later on in this speech, if I have time to do so.
Leave for domestic violence is inherently a good thing. It was decreed by the Fair Work Commission back in 2018, from memory, that five days a week should become a concern. The government is now putting forward that that should be extended to 10 days a week. I’m not opposing that in principle. I do, though, raise some concerns about who is responsible for this, and I also raised these matters in my address-in-reply speech just a few weeks ago. It seems improper to me that an employer, who has absolutely no control over the circumstances in which a person lives, is somehow held financially responsible for the outcome. Under former governments, we’ve legislated to ensure that paid parenting leave or maternity leave, whatever you want to call it, is not primarily the financial responsibility of the employer; it is primarily the responsibility of the taxpayer. I would say the rule of thumb here is that, if it is in the public interest and it is outside the control of the employer, it stands to reason that it should be the public’s bill.
People will say, ‘Well, how many people do you expect to take up this domestic violence leave?’ I accept that argument, except that it can have a disproportionate impact on a small employer. Let’s imagine a business that employs a dozen people. I know family and domestic violence is not a one-gender issue, but predominantly these offences are committed against females. Let’s say this one employer has a mainly female workforce because of the nature of its business, and it happens to have, sadly, a couple of employees on their books who are suffering from family and domestic violence. It starts to become an impediment to their payroll.
More concerning to me is that this may well become a disincentive to employ females in the first place. Even more concerning to me is that the employer may reach to a sort of stereotyping: ‘This person here looks to me like they are high risk.’ We all know that family and domestic violence knows no bounds. It has no class structures. But I’m not sure that’s clear in the public mind. When I say ‘we all know’, I mean those of us who actually deal with these inquiries and issues on a regular basis. But I wouldn’t mind betting that, if I put a number of people in a line-up, if you like, and allowed people to select them on the basis of which ones they think would be more likely to be victims of domestic violence, they would come up with a view with a fair amount of conformity. So that’s a concern to me about the long-term prospects of employment for women.
There is also the fact that, while of course these issues should remain private, it would be almost impossible to keep them so in a small workplace. People are not stupid. It may well then also become something that the employee will cart around with them in future when they’re looking for other forms of employment. I think the possibility of keeping that separate would be enhanced by having a government system, as in the paid parental leave system, where it is the responsibility of the government and not the responsibility of the employer. So on two levels—the practicalities and possible outcomes that I’ve just discussed and the system of fairness and sensibilities—I think this should be the responsibly of the taxpayer.
One of the other questions that this brings up to me, of course, is the government’s move to include casual employees. It was not the recommendation of the Fair Work Commission, and I think it’s an adventurous step, for many of the reasons that I’ve just been coasting over. One of those is what impact this has on an employer’s decision to employ. Even more concerningly, standing alongside the government’s intention to include casual employees is their intention to load up the full 10 days leave from day one of employment. Suppose that, as an employer, I employ an individual and they work one day, and they have a domestic violence situation, and now I’m responsible for 10 days. They may take their 10 days. They may work another two days for me over the next 12 months, or they may never come back, but as the employer I am responsible for those 10 days. Once again, this is something that, if it’s going to be the responsibility of anyone, clearly should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.
Secondly, I think it is a dangerous precedent that it does not accrue. The suggestion from the Fair Work Commission inquiry was that it accrue to a maximum of 10 days. We know the government and their allies the unions are very keen to get rid of casual employment or decrease it in the workplace, and I just ask the question: is that part of this push to get rid of casual employees? I just don’t think it’s right. It just doesn’t stack up. It does not make sense that somebody has that responsibility after employing somebody for one day.
Maybe when the legislation is passed, as I’m sure it will be in the Senate, and they sit down and the regulations and details of these schemes are figured out, that will be covered off. I don’t know what the government’s intention is. I think that in itself is a concern—that legislation is brought into this place and we’re asked to vote on it without actually knowing what it means in practical terms. So it would be helpful to me if the minister made a statement to say, ‘If you’re a casual employee, you actually have to have worked 15 days,’ or something like that, ‘before you would qualify.’ It is a corruption—I don’t mean ‘corrupt’—of a system that should be there to support people, and, I think, really unfairly targets the employer, which then, of course, leads to these outcomes where the employer may have great reluctance to employ. Those are my main concerns with the legislation as it stands.
I would like to come back to the report of the inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence. In 2020—so in the same parliament—I also sat on the committee for its inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography. The report was called Protecting the age of innocence. I can tell you that neither of these inquiries were comfortable or fun to sit on. A lot of times, in parliament, one of the equalising factors, if you like, is not just that you get to meet great people—and we did get to meet great people—but you get to encounter great experience. In both of those inquiries, we got to encounter perhaps the worst of mankind, in many ways. In the inquiry looking at gambling but also access to online pornography, we had people come before us who were graphically telling us at what age children—10 and eight—were accessing graphic, violent online pornography and live sex, featuring, regularly, the degradation of women. If we could stop it with the stroke of a pen, we should—quite as simple as that.
I don’t think we ask often enough what the underlying drivers are in our society—why people actually are what they are. Family, domestic and sexual violence is getting reported more often. The question is: is it getting reported more often because people are feeling more at ease with reporting the situation, or is it becoming more prevalent? In my view it’s probably both, and, certainly, I swing towards the level of it becoming more prevalent. Maybe we’re just becoming more aware of it. But I think it is becoming more prevalent, and that greatly concerns me. Why is it becoming more prevalent? I’ve touched on the online pornography, but you’ve only got to switch on your television after about eight o’clock at night and you can see things that I reckon kids shouldn’t be watching.
In this inquiry, we were told that boys, young men, were forming their attitudes about what a modern relationship—an intimate relationship—should look like, and expecting that they would indulge in dominant behaviour, perhaps even violence, and that that is what women would like. More disturbingly, we heard that young females actually thought this was normalised activity and they were expected to conform to it. That’s appalling. We can say that we can switch off the pornography, but I’m pretty bloody confident—excuse me; I’m very confident—that that would not fix the problem. If you look at the level of violence and the depiction of relationships just in modern movies and modern television programs, compared to what we saw when I was growing up, in the sixties—when we could get television—it’s worlds apart. It’s hardly a surprise that young people are developing attitudes that are unacceptable. We know they’re unacceptable, but young people don’t know they’re unacceptable. I’m not a wowser, I’m not a censor, but I think we’ve actually got to start talking about this issue in a realistic manner and ask: where do we draw the line? We’ve drawn the line at age 18 for certain types of material, but, of course, the bar is set pretty high for that material.
Secondly, while I know most parents try to do the right thing, gee, there are a lot out there that wouldn’t know how to read PG and M and MA ratings and all those things and actually adhere to them. Often, when the oldest child qualifies to watch something, they can all watch it now. That’s not really good enough, I don’t think. It doesn’t make me feel particularly happy to have to stand up and speak about this, but, given the bill we’re talking about, and given the recommendations that are made in the bill, and given that we are now moving towards greater leave from work for people who are victims of family, sexual and domestic violence, I think these are the issues we should be talking about. I don’t know the answers, but I’m pretty confident I know what some of the problems are, and I reckon we need to get serious about them.