Women gather to acknowledge long-sought bill for paid domestic violence leave, supported by Anthony Albanese

Huddled on the lawns of Parliament House in the frosty Canberra air, women’s safety advocates gathered for a vigil to remember women who have been killed in acts of family and domestic violence and those still trapped within their own homes.

They were also there to mark the prospect of gaining a new legal right that could support women to flee violent relationships, which has been over a decade in the making. 

The federal government has introduced legislation to parliament that would give around 11 million workers — including casuals — access to 10 days paid domestic violence leave.

Addressing the crowd, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michelle O’Neil said the new entitlement would remove the “wicked choice” that confronts many women of either going to work or trying to escape.

“Today is about winning a new right,” she said. 

“It isn’t something that began yesterday, this is a decade of struggle, a decade of campaigning workplace by workplace.”

A woman wearing a heavy coat stands at a lectern speaking to a crowd outside Parliament House.
Michelle O’Neil says a bill to enshrine paid domestic violence leave into law was the culmination of a decade of effort.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

The mood amongst the group was greatly different to that witnessed in the same spot a year before, when thousands of mostly women marched at Capital Hill demanding justice and equality.

There was an obvious addition to those in attendance — the Prime Minister. 

Anthony Albanese addressed the vigil and paid tribute to the women and union movements who have campaigned strongly for the change over many years. 

“With this measure today, we will take a small step of progress, we hope that it goes through the parliament with the support of the entire parliament,” he said. 

“One of the things that I know is that change doesn’t occur just from the top, from people sitting around a caucus room, or people who have the honour of being parliamentarians.

“It does occur so often from the bottom up, from that sense of urgency that comes from people saying ‘enough is enough’.”

Several women stand wearing purple on a cold day on the lawns of Parliament House.
A crowd gathered on the lawns of parliament to remember women who have lost their lives to violence and those still trapped within their own homes.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Mr Albanese described domestic and family violence as a “stain on our national soul” and vowed that his government “will do better”.

He compared the event to a last post ceremony earlier in the week at the Australian War Memorial, and likened the pain and trauma caused by violence within the home to that sustained in war. 

“The fact is, that not every sense of grief arises from a declared war, but from a conflict that takes place around us every single day,” he said. 

“Every day this is occurring, insidiously, quietly, relentlessly occurring.

“Every death here is so avoidable, so avoidable, every death here is a tragedy.”

If passed by the parliament, the changes will come into effect at large organisations in February next year, while smaller businesses will have an additional six months to prepare.

Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash has indicated that the opposition is “inclined” to support the change, but said she prefers the model put forward by the Fair Work Commission. 

Earlier this year, the FWC ruled in favour of varying the awards covering around 2.3 million workers to include 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave, but rejected the ACTU’s push to extend the entitlement to casual workers. 

The government’s proposed legislation will enshrine the paid leave as a minimum employment standard for an additional 8.4 million workers. 

While tabling the bill in the House of Representatives, Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke said women who have experienced domestic violence usually have a more disrupted work history and are more likely to be employed in casual work. 

“Family and domestic violence doesn’t pick and choose based on whether you are a permanent or casual worker,” he said. 

“Family and domestic violence devastates the lives and livelihoods of those who directly experience it and its damaging impacts reverberate throughout our communities, workplaces and national economy.”

He said the change would make leaving a violent relationship a little bit easier and support women to attend court, make appointments and re-enrol their children in a new school. 

“Getting out will still be hard, but it will be less likely that getting out makes you unemployed or poor,” he said. 

“This bill sends a clear message that family and domestic violence is not just a criminal justice or social issue, but a workplace and economic issue.”