Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Speech at Domestic Violence is a Workplace Issue forum – University of New South Wales

Location: University of New South Wales

****Check against delivery****

Thanks for inviting me to speak with you today.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I also acknowledge:

  • Paul Pearce MP, State Member for Coogee;
  • Neil Morris, University of New South Wales;
  • Ged Kearney, Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation;
  • Liz Broderick, Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner;
  • Steve Turner, Assistant Branch Secretary of the Public Service Association of New South Wales; and
  • Maria Cirillo, Public Service Association of New South Wales.

There can be no doubt that over the past forty or so years, there has been significant progress for women in:

  • Pay;
  • Labour force participation;
  • The availability of flexible and family friendly working conditions;
  • Access to quality, affordable child care;
  • Legal and financial rights following divorce and separation;
  • Women’s education;
  • Support available to survivors and victims of violence;
  • Availability of quality health care; and
  • Human rights.

In politics; women now make up 30 per cent of all of Australian Parliamentarians.

In the public service; women comprise nearly 58 per cent of the total 162,000 employees.

In 2009 there were three times as many women in the ranks of the Senior Executive Service than there were in 1995.

In the judiciary; three out of our seven High Court Justices are women.

Many women have achieved high office, good pay and significant influence.

But I don’t think we can say yet that equality has been won.

Not when so many women are stretched between paid work and caring obligations, unable to perform all of their roles as well as they want.

Not when women earn 83 cents for every dollar men earn.

Not when the average superannuation payout to a women is projected to be $150,000, barely half of the average payout to a man in 2010-11.

And certainly not when the biggest risk factor for becoming a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault is being a woman.

One in three Australian women will, in their lifetime, report being a victim of physical violence and almost one in five will report being a victim of sexual violence.

The cost of violence against women is enormous.

Recent research shows that violence against women costs the nation $13.6 billion each year and that figure is expected to increase by two billion dollars over the next decade if we do not put a stop to violence or at least reduce its incidence.

The pain and suffering experienced by victims and their families is immeasurable.

The impact of domestic violence on their employment has clear adverse consequences for their economic security and independence.

Domestic violence reaches further into the workplace also because of injuries, absenteeism and lower performance and productivity as victims struggle to put on a brave face at work.

Victims of domestic violence are often employed in lower skilled and lower paid jobs, have disrupted work histories and less job stability.

There are no simple answers, as a woman quoted in a paper prepared for the Clearinghouse said:

“When you are employed, especially if you have children, routine is everything. If I went to a refuge, I would lose my routine and have to give up my job, and I didn’t want to give up my job”.

While there is a long way to go – things are changing.

At the enterprise level, negotiations such as the CPSU is proposing here at the University of New South Wales, would allow employers and employees to determine the most supportive and flexible provisions to protect employees experiencing domestic violence while supporting them to stay at work.

This is a really exciting proposal – and if approved, will be the first of its kind in Australia.

Congratulations to the CPSU and the other general staff unions for leading such an innovative campaign.

And congratulations to the University for engaging in the negotiations.

The Fair Work Act also includes measures to assist employees who may be experiencing violence, although we know most women don’t use these provisions.

These include statutory minimum entitlements to personal and carers’ leave, access to flexible working arrangements and a range of general protections.

Under the Act it is unlawful for an employer to dismiss someone for temporary absence from work due to injury or illness where they have provided a medical certificate.

The Act also requires that all awards and certified agreements include a model flexibility clause that allows employers and individuals to make individual arrangements that suit the specific needs of employees.

Women should not have to suffer the consequences of losing their connection with the workplace – either because they have been a victim of violence or because they have chosen to take action to stop it.

By remaining connected to the workplace – a woman has a much better chance of retaining her independence after a perpetrator has been removed from the family home.

Beyond the workplace itself – the Australian Government has demonstrated a strong commitment to helping to reduce the incidence of violence against women as well as its appalling consequences.

Together with the States and Territories, we are in the final stages of developing the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

The National Plan will coordinate a national violence prevention agenda across all States and Territories and across both the public and private sectors.

Importantly, it will sustain continued communication and education campaigns to redress prevailing myths and misconceptions about violence against women.

We intend it to have a substantial long term effect on reducing the incidence and impact of this besetting problem.

The Australian Government has already invested $42 million for this purpose.

This year I expect to launch a new national domestic violence and sexual assault telephone and online crisis service.

Existing telephone services have helped many people, but the Government is working to improve and expand the reach of telephone counselling, and to add on-line counselling.

We also have research underway by the Clearinghouse that will provide us with options for promoting women’s safety through economic security.

We know from the National Council on Violence against Women and their Children Time for Action report that economic security is essential for leaving an abusive relationship.

The National Council found that:

“Lack of financial independence was a major factor influencing a woman’s decision to remain with a violent partner. In addition to the obvious financial benefits of sustained employment for survivors of sexual assault, and domestic and family violence, employment also provides social connectedness, escape from isolation, improved self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth.”

As one woman highlighted to the National Council,

“It was a struggle to hold down my job. He wouldn’t stay away; he would come and cause a ruckus so I would be sacked. He phoned my boss and told lies about me. Luckily, my boss knew about the violence and he didn’t like my husband so I didn’t get sacked, but in the end I just had to give up work, it was all too much.”

While it is heartening that the vast majority of the Australian community now recognise domestic violence as a crime, it remains disturbing to find that in some vital areas attitudes among young men are actually going backwards.

The Prime Minister has called on his fellow Australian males to face head-on their role in perpetuating violence against women and highlighted the need to change attitudes.

As he said, on their own, all the laws in the land cannot stop violence against women. As a nation, if we are serious about trying to prevent violence against women we also need to promote relationships which are respectful.

Especially, we need to get young people to understand the significant negative consequences of disrespectful behaviour.

That is why the Government is investing $9.1 million in respectful relationships education to give young men and women the communication skills they need to establish good friendships and relationships that are based on equality and respect.

These programs have already been rolled out in 56 sites around the country – in schools, sporting clubs and community halls – and a further ten projects are in the pipeline.

And last week I announced that JWT will be the lead agency for our $17 million youth-focused respectful relationships social marketing campaign.

Good luck to all of those involved in the campaign.