Over the past decade, there has been a welcome increase in awareness of the scourge of domestic violence in this country.
It’s a good thing that so many Australians – women and men – do not hesitate to show their support for action on domestic violence, which takes the life of at least one Australian woman every week.
But, as British singer and songwriter Bill Bragg once sang, “wearing badges is not enough in days like these’’.
Our whole society must respond to the domestic violence crisis.
But Government must lead.
Legislation before the Australian Parliament provides us with a real opportunity to make a difference.
The Morrison Government has proposed an amendment to the Fair Work legislation that would give all Australian women access to up to five days a year of unpaid domestic violence leave.
While that is a welcome development, it doesn’t go far enough.
What is needed is 10 days of paid domestic violence leave – a position consistent with statements of many victims, frontline workers, businesses, unions and organisations that deal daily with domestic violence.
The key reason is that provision of paid domestic violence leave would make it easier for women to escape abusive situations.
While its opponents claim paid leave would impose an unfair burden on employers, the truth is that domestic violence already costs employers through absenteeism and staff turnover, as well as decreased performance and productivity.
While it is not possible to quantify such costs, the sheer size of the problem points to them being significant.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about two thirds of women who experience domestic violence are members of the workforce.
That is more than 800, 000 women – or around one in six female workers.
If you work in a large office, we are talking about some of the colleagues you work with every day.
Some of Australia’s most successful and profitable businesses, such as Qantas, Ikea, NAB, Westpac, Woolworths and Telstra, already pay domestic violence leave.
Paid leave already exists in more than 1000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act between January, 2016, and June, 2017, provide for 10 or more days of paid domestic and family violence leave.
And both Queensland and Western Australia offer 10 days paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 and Victoria and the ACT, 20.
In a report into the economic aspects of domestic violence leave by the Australia Institute, Dr Jim Stanford wrote that the cost of providing every worker access to 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave would be less than one hundredth of a percent of last year’s increase in average weekly wages.
That is a cost to employers of just five cents per worker per day.
However, when it comes to domestic violence, the real issue is not about money. It is about lives.
One woman in Australia is murdered each week by a violent partner.
One in four Australian women experiences violence from a partner.
Half of the victims have children in their care.
Domestic violence destroys individuals, families and communities.
This is a major, community-wide crisis that requires a community-wide response involving government, civil society and the business sector.
In his report for the Australia Institute, Dr Stanford confirmed what domestic violence counsellors have been saying for decades – that economic insecurity is one of the most significant obstacles confronting women in their decision to leave a violent relationship.
When women’s lives are thrown into crisis by domestic violence, they need time to get away from their abusive partners, establish homes, settle their children, see to their personal security and potentially, to attend court hearings.
As a community, we need to make it easier for women to extract themselves and their children from dangerous situations.
The cost of inaction is too high.
Paid domestic violence leave will make it easier for women to leave violence. It will make it easier to keep children safe. It will make our workforce healthier and safer and it will save lives.
It’s 2018. There are no more excuses.