'Paid family and domestic violence leave' is the wrong name

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This speech was delivered on 26/10/22

If you need help, you should be able to get help.

That is a very basic principle, and it's one this bill seeks to sustain. I support this ambition. Many people have campaigned for a long time to get this bill to where it is today, and that is both commendable and impressive. You should be congratulated for the hard work to make today possible. But there are problems with this bill and there are problems that need fixing. They are fixable, but they are not being fixed.

The biggest problem with this bill is the name of the entitlement it creates. It's called 'paid family and domestic violence leave'. You might think, if that's what you're going through, call it as such. But there are plenty of people who are going through what you or I would recognise as family and domestic violence, and not all of them know it because, if you love the person who's abusing you, you make excuses for it. You don't think of them as an abuser, because how could they be? How could someone who loves you do that to you?

It's why you don't self-identify as having experienced domestic violence—because your partner loves you and nobody who loves you would do that to you.

So you don't think of yourself as suffering from domestic violence. You had a blue. He lost his temper. You pushed him too hard. You make excuses. You minimise it. And all of that is understandable. I don't want to pass judgement on you for doing that. This bill would say: if that's where you're at, you don't get help, because the name of the leave is 'paid family and domestic violence leave', and you haven't experienced domestic violence, so it's not for you. In fact, in order to get it—if you need it—you have to come forward and say not only that what you experienced is domestic violence but that, by extension, the person who did it to you is a perpetrator of domestic violence. That's why the name matters. The only type of person who's eligible for paid family and domestic violence leave is the type of person who's experiencing domestic violence. If you don't think that's you, you rule yourself out.

This could be fixed. I've got amendments that would fix it. Calling this 'emergency leave' would not require you to self-identify as having experienced domestic violence. You'd only need it to be an emergency—an unforeseen emergency at home—that would prevent you from coming to work that day. Nobody experiencing domestic violence would miss out. Nobody experiencing domestic violence would be worse off. This would be a change that would serve only to increase the chance that people who need help get help. That's the principle this bill is supported to advance. This makes it more universal, and that's a good thing. It should be supported, so I foreshadow that my amendment would do just that.

But there are benefits beyond simply whether a person self-identifies as being a victim of domestic violence. If you're sick at work and you want to take sick leave, you've got to tell someone at work you're sick. If you're experiencing domestic violence at home and you want to take domestic violence leave, you've got to tell someone at work you're experiencing domestic violence. Some people aren't going to see that as a barrier. Often they're in big cities, working in big companies with well-defined rules around confidentiality. They wouldn't know their HR manager from a bar of soap. Some people in small towns and small businesses aren't in the same boat. Not everybody wants their whole workplace to know what has happened to them. If your boss knows your partner, then telling your boss about what's going on at home is a particularly big deal because you're not just saying what you're going through but you are, de facto, naming who's putting you through it. That is a big step for someone to decide to take.

You have no right to say to a person that they should have to meet a standard we impose on them before they're entitled to safety and protection—absolutely none. You should be entitled to privacy. You should be entitled to safety. No lawmaker should make you choose between them. That's us. We shouldn't be doing what we're doing. When you ask for domestic violence leave, even in asking the question, you're explaining why you need it, and it's absolutely none of your employer's business why you need safety in that moment. It's an emergency; get out of the way. When you ask for emergency leave, on the other hand, you're saying you're experiencing an emergency, one that prevents you from attending your work for a period of time. Your boss might ask for evidence, but all you need is evidence you're experiencing an emergency. That would be an improvement, but it wouldn't take long for businesses to realise that anybody who's requesting emergency leave is requesting what used to be called domestic violence leave. It's a rose by any other name.

So the second bit of what I'm proposing is to combine domestic violence leave with compassionate leave. That's the leave you take when there has been a death in the family. Combining the two would mean you'd be eligible so long as there's a family emergency. The grounds for eligibility would be the same: if you're eligible for what's currently called 'compassionate leave', you're eligible for emergency leave. If you're eligible for what's proposed to be called 'paid domestic violence leave', you're eligible for emergency leave. There's no change there. This is a change that makes a good thing available to more people. It does not cost a dollar more to implement. It does not restrict access to a single person. It expands access and makes it easier to access. It is a good thing.

Yet I understand that this amendment will not be supported. For the life of me, I do not understand why. Don't get me wrong; I've heard the arguments. They make no sense. I've heard that this is complex. It's not exactly complex. Changing the name of an entitlement is about the easiest change you can make when you're dealing with workplace laws. You just change what you call something. We changed Newstart to JobSeeker, and we all just moved on. We change the names of public service departments, and nobody blinks. Those changes don't do anything. This change does something. Isn't that worth doing? If it's worth the effort to rebadge a building, isn't it worth the effort to save more lives?

Maybe the complexity is about the implementation, rather than the name itself. Maybe it's about how it operates. But this simply combines two existing entitlements; if anything, it makes them simpler to administer: employers have fewer entitlements to take care of. This doesn't change eligibility for those two entitlements, it just makes them simpler. That's the opposite of complexity.

I have heard from the Greens how important it is to bring domestic violence out of the shadows and into the spotlight so that we can reduce the stigma attached to it. I think we should too; I think we should reduce the stigma. I think we should make it as ordinary to claim as any other entitlement. But whose responsibility is it to do that? That's where I disagree with the Greens, because I do not believe that the responsibility for dealing with the stigma around domestic and family violence should fall on the people experiencing the violence in real time while they're trying to keep themselves alive. They should not be made to serve as examples for others, they should be protected. That is the overwhelming obligation we have to them and that is what we should be focused on.

We should make it the job of survivors to survive, not to be ambassadors. A problem that's baked into the design of this bill is making this a workplace entitlement made available through the employer and not through the government. If this were delivered through the government it would help more people. Confidentiality would be guaranteed, privacy would be protected and it would extend not just to people who are employed but go to people who aren't in work as well. It would not push costs for administering this onto businesses; by making this the responsibility of businesses you're making support for domestic violence leave conditional on market forces.

Think about this: in a recession, people lose jobs, businesses go bankrupt and families struggle financially. In a recession, domestic violence increases. That was the finding of the National Library of Medicine's 10-year review of the evidence coming out of the United States. It found that unemployment and economic hardship at the household level are positively related to abusive behaviour. So when people lose their jobs, when they're struggling to make ends meet and when domestic violence rates climb, that's when we cut them off from domestic violence leave—that's the situation we're about to create. If this were run by the government you would be protected, even when you lose your job—in good times and in bad you'd be protected.

I understand that I have support for one amendment, which addresses an issue where survivors could be outed by their employer in situations where they work with their abuser. The amendment, which I'll foreshadow now, makes it clear that employers can't use the information provided by an employee in the course of seeking family and domestic violence leave to take action against another employee—not without consent. Your privacy should be yours, and it's not up to others to give it away on your behalf. It's a fix that goes a little bit of the way to protecting privacy, but we could have gone much further.

Ultimately, I'm disappointed that this bill will proceed in the way it's currently written. That's not because I think it's a bad bill, it's just a missed opportunity to turn it into a great bill. Everything that's good about it makes it all the more painful to see it get through in a form that limits how valuable it can be. Paid family and domestic violence leave will save lives, but doing it in a way that asks people to choose between their privacy and their safety means we're going to save fewer lives. More people will suffer—people we could have helped. To you, I'm sorry, but we'll keep fighting.