Bill's Speeches

WHITE RIBBON DAY PARLIAMENTARY BREAKFAST - PARLIAMENT HOUSE - TUESDAY, 5 DECEMBER 2017

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Good morning everybody.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I pay my respects to their elders past and present. And alongside those familiar words of respect, let us add a pledge to tackle the shockingly high rates of family violence amongst our First Australians.

I congratulate the Prime Minister for his words, and it great to be here with the Leader of the Greens, who are doing so much in this area as well. And I want to acknowledge all of my parliamentary colleagues who are here.

The size of this gathering shows the seriousness, the prominence of this event.

The profile of White Ribbon shows the seriousness of how far Australia has come in the priority that we give family violence. 

And I say to the journalists here, you're entitled to take a measure of the credit.

You’ve done a lot to put the courage of remarkable women like Rosie Batty up in lights, to make sure the words of survivors prod at the conscience of parliament and society.

I think we can all agree that by and large, Australia no longer turns a blind eye to family violence.

And I take some heart from some of the numbers that the Prime Minister was reading out.

We no longer take the attitude that it’s ‘just a domestic’, as if the right to be safe from violence stops at the door of the family home.

Most of us no longer pull down the blinds and turn-up the TV to block out the noise from the neighbours.

And when it comes to the parliament, I care to believe that here, too, we’ve learned the right things to say at these occasions: the appropriate sentiments, the words of respect and the promise of change.

And yet, despite the improvement in our awareness and understanding, despite the changes we’ve made in how we talk about family violence and how much we talk about it, the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

It’s good we put on a ribbon one day a year – but I am concerned that the gap between our rhetoric and the national reality is getting wider.

If you look at the ABS release, the findings from the 2016 Personal Safety Survey – it was the first consolidated ABS data released on violence against women since the 2012 Census.

It recorded a 13 per cent increase in partner violence against women. Last year alone, 211,700 Australian women experienced violence at the hands of at current or former partner. 

Let me put such a large number in numbers which are perhaps more manageable - if you divide that number by the number of days in the year, it means that from when we woke up this morning to tomorrow morning when we wake up, 578 assaults and attacks will be recorded.

Or, let's even put it in a more direct way: in the one hour of this function, 24 assaults, 24 acts of violence will be recorded.

Or, even let's just put it perhaps in a more mundane way, although it is not actually mundane, there are children waking up this morning who will be having breakfast in unfamiliar temporary accommodation, who will be enrolling in schools that weren't the schools they go to but they’re no longer able to live in the house they used to live in.

I am very sure that last night thousands of Australian kids will have been at home and they'll be wondering: is dad in a good mood tonight? Is there going to be tension? Are the voices going to get raised? Will my headphones block out the noise? Will mum be okay?

The numbers aren't going in the direction which I believe the goodwill in this room would wish it to be.

Family violence is swimming against the tide. What I mean by the tide is that the overall number of homicides in Australia is decreasing – but the number of women and children killed by angry partners and angry former partners has increased since 2010.

Around 400 women and children have been murdered by a partner or former partner in that time.

Brilliant women, loving women, stolen away. They demand more than business-as-usual and they deserve more than platitudes-as-usual.

It is a challenge and I agree with the Prime Minister, there is a challenge to Australian men, and there is a challenge to Australian men parliamentarians.

We need to bring the full weight of the Parliament and the full weight of our resources.

That means real policy, with concrete objectives.

It means reforming the courts, not to keep some of the angry men’s groups happy, not to keep feather-bedding hundreds of thousands of people not paying child support. That is not reforming the family court system.

It means that we have to make sure that women - and it is principally women, although I acknowledge periodically it can be men, but it's women in the vast bulk of cases - are not re-injured in the legal system.

We need to update our laws to keep pace with technology - dealing with revenge porn and the hacking and new tools that are being used by violent hands.

And I wanted to go to that third letter, that we heard in introductions - STOP - and the letter O was offer support.

And I think, what does offer support actually mean?

So I think it needs to be improving workplace support for survivors of family violence.

I've been coming to these White Ribbon breakfasts since I've been in Parliament, and five years now as Leader of the Opposition - and they're lovely functions. But they always leave me hungry for more. What are we actually doing?

So today, I'm pleased to announce that a new Labor Government would legislate for 10 days’ family violence leave in the National Employment Standards.

And I challenge all our men in parliament to take up that challenge.

Because we recognise that if you’re trying to extricate yourself from a violent relationship, that’s your whole world.

It was purely coincidental, but I was talking to a shop assistant when I was doing the shopping on Sunday, nice lady. She was having some trouble at work.

The trouble she was having is that whilst she left an abusive relationship some years ago and she's raised her two sons on her own and she sent them through to pay for the private school fees, done everything, done the extra shifts, she is an excellent mother.

The trouble was that police had to go to her recently and say: “We are concerned for your safety, you need to go away”.

And then she went to her employer and asked for some leave: "No."

So this argument that we don't need to create a safety net because we can just rely on the goodwill of human nature is not real. It does happen many times, to be fair. But sometimes it does not.

So I rang, I'll call her Jo, I rang her this morning and said we're going to talk about this today.

And she said: “I'm a good employee, but I need to seek legal advice, I need to access the counselling, the police said I cannot be in my regular area for the moment.”

She shouldn't have to face losing shifts at work as well.

Now I must say that there's 100 employers plus, already onto this:

  • QANTAS
  • Probuild and Lendlease
  • The YMCA

CUB, I understand have just joined their ranks – and I congratulate them for that.

The mighty trade union movement have done a power of work to negotiate family violence leave and agreements for cover over 2 million employees.

And there are many small and medium businesses who don’t get publicity but steadfastly support staff members who are doing it tough.

But as we conclude this morning, please I ask, let's not have a long jeremiad about economic costs, how this proposal will lead to a whole lot of phantom claims. 

I've never met a victim of domestic violence who goes through the process of domestic violence and family violence just to get the leave.

This policy will:

  • boost productivity
  • it will improve retention
  • and decrease absenteeism

So before we talk about the ‘cost’ – let’s talk about the value.

And as we gratefully head to Christmas this year, we know that at Christmas it's a much tougher time for families and family violence, and it puts more pressure on.

I think there is value, not only to the survivors, but to those who will experience this in the future as we know they will this Christmas. There is value in the Parliament of Australia expressing solidarity.

Simple powerful statements, practical changes which make a difference.

The message, as Mr Turnbull said, is that you are not alone, you are not on your own.

I congratulate White Ribbon, I congratulate them on White Ribbon Day, and I say to the survivors, every day - we stand with you.

Thank you very much.


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