Women in the Workplace

I acknowledge the presence in the gallery of former Deputy Premier John Watkins. I also acknowledge the presence of former Premier of Victoria John Cain and I particularly welcome him to this place as the former Minister Responsible for Womens Affairs and his leadership in Victoria in this areas. The Federal Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, recently commented that domestic violence leave provisions for female workers would be a barrier to women getting jobs. The Minister was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 May as saying:

I think you have to be very careful as a policymaker in saying to businesses, an employee can now take an additional four weeks' leave that you pay for. Do you want to put in a perverse disincentive that "I just won't employ women"?

This has an impact throughout the State of New South Wales, particularly in the electorate of Maitland and other electorates that have experienced an increase in domestic violence of some 33 per cent in the past 12 months. The Minister's comments are a dinosaur attempt to roll back the perception of women in the workplace to the bad old days when employers made assumptions about whether young women would be worth employing before they went off to have a baby. They hark back to workplace attitudes to women from the 1960s, which should remain only in television shows like Mad Men.

As someone who owned and operated a business for 17 years in Maitland, I know that women with families who are employed in a supportive working environment make loyal, long-term employees and give back to their employers through increased productivity. The women I employed would talk to me about their plans to have children. By removing the worry from my female employees of having to hide their plans to expand their families in order to protect their employment, as the employer I was able to put in place appropriate plans to support them, their families and my business. But other family events are not so easily planned for.

For example, older workers have carer responsibilities for elderly parents, or may themselves have long‑term illnesses that require long periods of time to recover from and come on unexpectedly. These come with little warning and cause more disruption to businesses as they cannot be planned for. Using Ms Cash's comments as a guide, perhaps businesses should stop employing people over 50 because they may have to use carer's leave or sick leave to look after parents or their own health. It is outrageous that we will continue to stereotype people in the workplace. In the case of domestic violence, health and social needs are often exacerbated by shame and low self‑esteem. One of the most important benefits that discussion about domestic violence leave has raised has been the need for businesses and organisations to understand there are likely to be victims and perpetrators within their organisations. They can now have meaningful discussion about how best to support employees, and by extension even customers, experiencing domestic violence.

As shadow Minister for Small Business, I have found small businesses in this State to be supportive on a full range of family issues and not harking back to dinosaur attitudes that it is better not to employ women because they might have babies or be bashed and take time off work. Many small businesses are owned by families who understand the pressures that inflexible working arrangements can place on family members. In recent years, businesses have turned their attention to assisting women escaping domestic violence on a community level, and one business in my electorate has donated $25,000 over five years to a domestic violence service to assist in this important work. It makes sense that business owners who show such compassion in the community would want to provide these supports for their employees.

In most cases, women who experience domestic violence will have already used up personal and sick leave. Domestic violence leave allows for extra time off for medical and counselling appointments, to see police, to get legal advice and attend court, and to find new housing, child care and schooling for children. This leave is designed to support women and help them keep their jobs—a good thing for them and the economy, as domestic violence costs New South Wales $4.5 billion a year. Labor took a policy to the election of expanding domestic violence leave for New South Wales public sector employees from five to 10 days per year, non-accumulative, and allowing five extra days of leave a year for a person supporting someone experiencing domestic violence. We all have a role to play in prevention of domestic violence and in the apprehension of offenders, but it is clear to see that the Liberal ideology does not extend to supporting victims. I condemn minister Cash for her statement

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