Equal Opportunity (Domestic Violence) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

This is a bill that adds domestic violence as a ground for discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, which can be considered by the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity should a complaint be made.

In South Australia, discrimination is against the law when it is based on a particular personal characteristic or ground specified in the act, including age, association with a child, caring responsibilities, disability, gender identity, intersex relationships, marital status, pregnancy, race, religious dress, sex, sexual orientation, spouse or partner's identity, and happens in an area of public life and causes loss or humiliation.

The opposition, in presenting the bill for our consideration, has stated that the nexus of this bill is the fact that the Equal Opportunity Act already provides protection in a range of areas; however, it does not currently provide protection for people exercising domestic or family violence. The act as it currently stands does not have the carve-outs of any specific victim of crime. By way of background for the parliament, the now Labor opposition flagged this bill previously and progressed some work on it back in 2015 and 2017. Needless to say, no reform occurred, with concerns no doubt being raised by the then attorney-general in carving out specific groups of the community.

Domestic violence is unquestionably a scourge on our society. I have claimed for decades that rape, for example, is not a sexual offence: it is an act of violence. I maintain that position, that violence, whether in a domestic setting or not, whether a victim is a member of the family or not, is unacceptable. Violence being perpetrated by a person who is in an intimate relationship with somebody is no exception. It is a crime and, from my perspective—and I think I share it with members on both sides of the house—should remain a crime. It should not be diminished as anything less than a very serious crime.

This government has already taken swift action in terms of domestic violence reform since forming government. The new strangulation law, which I reported on in the parliament yesterday, has had many cases of prosecution in the less than a month it has been operating. There have been 37  charges in 26 days. There is a tougher stance on intervention breaches, the implementation of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and the DV round tables, to name a few.

Just this morning, I have come from the launch of the Voices of Change pilot here in South Australia, a combined initiative of Women's Safety Services SA and the commonwealth. They are piloting this in New South Wales and Western Australia as we speak. I met a number of women of varying ages who have been trained and given special support to be able to speak up about their circumstances. They are better able to aid our media and any of us in a leadership position to hear their story. They are able to articulate it in a safe manner and do so in the clear knowledge that they are motivated to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters will largely not be exposed to this behaviour and how they can best deal with it in the future. I thank them for that.

I acknowledge Lauren Novak's attendance there this morning. She has been a powerful advocate as a member of the media. I wish some others, including male journalists, would take this up. I do not doubt for one moment that they are familiar with it. They live in families and communities. They understand that this is something that their friends or family are also exposed to. It is time that we have initiatives that will make a practical difference to ensure that we minimise this scourge on our community.

Work between the Office for Women and the Attorney-General's office is also occurring to educate our business community in the workplace, those who might be alert to and be able to identify a work colleague who may be the victim of domestic violence. They might also be able to identify a colleague in their workplace, their community or their friendship group who is perpetrating abuse or financial deprivation of others, and I think the White Ribbon program has been a powerful advocate for this. This is the type of work that is very important for us to bring to the fore.

In talking to and helping to educate the business community, it is also important to appreciate the significant impact on their employees and the workforce as a whole. It is not just the victim: it is other people in the workforce who may become knowledgeable about what has occurred, their responsibility to act, etc.

This is important work, and I commend the Hon. Michelle Lensink in another place, and indeed others who have advocated for change in this area to ensure that these initiatives are brought to the fore. The government stands firm that we must work with our business community to understand where any current impediments lie, how we can assist them with acknowledging and understanding domestic and family violence in its many forms and how they can assist vulnerable people.

The Office for Women acknowledges the importance of women's economic participation. They are currently developing a new key strategy, the employment and leadership strategy. The office will work closely with small and medium businesses in South Australia to support their role in women's participation and assist them to incorporate policies to support all employees affected by domestic violence in the workplace. Genuine change will only occur if businesses really understand their role in preventing and responding to domestic and family violence.

It is fair to say that leave—paid or otherwise—for a victim has been the subject of discussion and implementation in the public and private sectors. These are initiatives that are important to advance. At this point, the members of the government and I take the view, as part of the Liberal Party's position on this, that a lot of work is to be done. The work that was done as to the potential for abuse and discrimination in this area was raised by the member, who is the mover of this, who I think for a short time sat on the 2016 inquiry of the Social Development Committee. I read that report, then I had a brief viewing of it again the other day. They touched on it, but we do need some data to deal with it.

As I said, the report suggested the option to consider amending the Equal Opportunity Act. I stand here in this parliament as the legacy of someone who started equal opportunity in this state, the Hon. David Tonkin, who was brought up by a single mother. When he was in opposition, he introduced equal opportunity legislation for the first time in Australia. To the credit of Don Dunstan, when he came into office he perpetuated that into legislation, and I am the beneficiary of some of his advice and counsel.

I applaud all the initiatives that are raised by the opposition, in particular that of the mover of this bill. I know that she has a personal commitment to try to expose weaknesses in our laws and to do all she can to protect women and children in these circumstances. We have had a look at the bill. It is not in a form that I think is going to provide protection. I think there is a weakness in the provision as to those who are to be excluded, particularly the attempt that is made to exclude perpetrators from being able to get access to this. For example, if they were claiming discrimination in the workplace because they were identified as a recipient of an intervention order, an employer might say, 'We do not want you here anymore. You are obviously somebody who is not consistent with what we want in the workplace because you beat up your wife.'

These are the sorts of things we have to work through and look at carefully. But if we are going to deal with victims of crime, is it just going to be dealing largely with women in the workplace or is it going to be all victims of crime? Do victims of crime include a young person who does not get a shift anymore at the local McDonald's because she has been a victim in that circumstance by virtue of being exposed to family violence in her family household? These are examples we have to look at. I do not question the merit, the passion and the personal commitment of the mover. I think the bill in its current form is ill-advised. We have a lot of work to do in this area. I indicate that the government will be opposing the bill.