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02 Aug 2019

BY DR JILL TOMLINSON, AMA FEDERAL COUNCILLOR    

At the 2019 AMA National Conference, delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion for our AMA to advocate for all employees to have access to a minimum of 10 days of paid domestic violence leave each year.

Family and Domestic Violence is a major public health issue. In 2016, the AMA released its Family and Domestic Violence – 2016 position statement, which notes: “The statistics on the deaths and serious injuries resulting from family and domestic violence have been called a national epidemic, and one of Australia’s biggest social, legal and health problems.” 

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence reported that intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to the preventable death, disability and illness burden in women aged 15 to 45.

Despite $840 million having been expended on combating domestic violence since 2013, the sector remains underfunded and resources are overstretched, frequently with short-term funding. As in health, there is insufficient spending on prevention. In March, the Morrison Government announced a welcome $328 million investment in the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, mostly for safe houses and frontline services.

However, the plan to provide $10 million for services including counselling and dispute resolution to individuals or couples raised significant concern among family violence experts. There is no evidence to suggest that victims of family violence benefit from attending counselling sessions with perpetrators – indeed, this non-evidence based approach is contraindicated for victim safety. It also perpetuates the myth that the victim is somehow to blame for the abuse. It is further troubling that the organisations invited and eligible to receive these grants are largely faith-based services, and they are not required to have knowledge of or experience in delivering specialist family violence services. On July 29, the Senate passed a motion criticising the Government’s plan, and calling on the Government to: “Ensure [survivors are] not forced to undergo counselling with perpetrators.”

After a victim of family violence is murdered by her partner, people often ask “why didn’t she leave?”. Many factors trap women in abusive relationships, but economic insecurity is one of the most significant obstacles confronting victims of family violence who are seeking to leave a violent relationship. That’s why Dr Carolyn Neil and I proposed the motion in support of paid domestic violence leave for all workers at National Conference.

The Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute paper Economic Aspects of Paid Domestic Violence Leave Provisions, written by Jim Stafford, details the economic barriers women face in leaving a violent relationship. Victims need time and money to physically get away, to establish a safe place to live, to find somewhere safe to move with their children, to establish a safety plan for their personal security, and potentially to attend court hearings. Victims are at greatest risk of homicide at the point of separation and they need resources and time to mitigate this risk and to remove themselves and their children from abuse.

As Stafford’s paper points out, providing 10 days of paid domestic violence leave to every Australian worker each year is estimated to cost the equivalent of just five cents per worker per day.

Domestic violence already costs Australian workplaces through absenteeism, staff turnover, decreased staff performance and productivity. Domestic violence also costs the community and health system due to the burden of physical and mental illness and disability that it creates. One in four Australian women experience family violence and half of the victims have children in their care. One Australian woman is murdered a week by her current or former partner. How many more must die?

Domestic violence leave is already available to employees at private companies including Qantas, NAB, Westpac, Telstra, IKEA, and Woolworths. Ten days of paid domestic violence leave exists in over 1000 enterprise agreements approved under the Fair Work Act in the last two years. Queensland and Western Australia offer 10 days of paid domestic violence leave to public sector employees, while South Australia offers 15 days, and in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory 20 days of paid leave is available. Internationally paid domestic violence leave is available to employees in New Zealand, the Philippines and parts of Canada.

If we wish to tackle the national epidemic of family violence and address one of Australia’s biggest health problems we need to help women leave abusive situations by making 10 days of paid domestic violence leave the minimum available to all employees annually. This can be achieved through changes to the National Employment Standards and to enterprise agreements.

It was heartening to see National Conference delegates vote overwhelmingly in support of the motion to provide 10 days of paid domestic violence leave to all Australian employees annually – a practical measure that will help victims of family violence to leave abusive relationships.

If we are to save lives and prevent physical and mental illness and disability from family violence then we need fully-funded, evidence-based interventions delivered by skilled, experienced practitioners. Perpetrator interventions must also meet the National Outcome Standards for Perpetrator Interventions that were developed under the National Plan to ensure perpetrators are held to account through effective interventions that stop their violence. Anything less is unacceptable. Lives depend on it.

 


Published: 02 Aug 2019