21 March 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in favour of the Equal Opportunity (Domestic Abuse) Amendment Bill 2022. The Greens believe that everybody deserves to be safe, respected and free from discrimination. The Equal Opportunity (Domestic Abuse) Amendment Bill of 2022 provides protection for people who have experienced domestic violence by ensuring they are not discriminated against in workplaces or in seeking support, accommodation or services.
Domestic and family violence affects many people in our community. The statistics on domestic abuse are sobering. One in eight Australians have experienced abuse before the age of 15. One in six women and one in 16 men have experienced partner violence since the age of 15. Again, I highlight the statistics: one in six women have experienced partner violence since the age of 15.
People with a disability are more likely to experience physical and/or sexual violence, and First Nations people are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised than non-Indigenous people. Approximately 13 per cent of adults experience abuse during their childhood. These are alarming statistics. People who have experienced domestic abuse can further face disadvantage as a result, contributing to long-term health impacts, both physical and mental. Additionally, domestic and family violence is a leading cause of homelessness.
All these statistics paint a grim picture. Discrimination suffered by domestic abuse survivors adds another layer of disadvantage. This bill will ensure that people who have experienced domestic violence are able to apply for properties, jobs or bank accounts without fear of discrimination. The Greens believe that nobody should be discriminated against because they have experienced or witnessed domestic violence.
While we welcome the intent of the bill and we are supportive of the legislation, I do want to highlight some of the concerns that have been raised by organisations, such as the Law Society, regarding the definition of 'services'. A clear definition of 'services' in the Equal Opportunity Act would reduce any ambiguity. We note that case law has provided some clarification in terms of the meaning of 'services', but further clarity would ensure that agencies that are intended to be captured by these laws are indeed included.
I refer you to the Law Society's submission to the Attorney-General where they query whether or not law enforcement authorities are captured under the government's definition of 'services'. Their submission states:
It is highly desirable that such agencies are not exempt from anti-discrimination provisions. If there are grounds that would justify them not being included, they should be clearly outlined.
Clarity around which services are intended to be incorporated into the bill is beneficial in terms of ensuring that agencies are sure of what responsibilities they have and how they can best train their staff to develop their internal procedures and policies.
As a result of those issues that have been raised by the Law Society, at the committee stage we will ask some questions of the government about the capacity of the Equal Opportunity Commission. Already underfunded, the Equal Opportunity Commission has only 5.2 full-time equivalent staff to carry out the functions required by the act. In their 2021-22 annual report, the EOC stated:
Through independent review it became clear that, for some time, the Commission has been structurally underfunded and that we have also been operating beyond our annual funding sources. This meant that we were no longer able to maintain the staffing levels that would enable us to undertake our statutory functions properly.
The Greens call on the Malinauskas government to increase funding to the Equal Opportunity Commission not just so they can carry out their existing functions effectively but also so they are better able to implement the new provisions in the bill, including ensuring that they have sufficient resources to deliver an awareness-raising campaign about these important changes.
The Greens support removing discrimination faced by domestic violence survivors and to do that we want to ensure that the Equal Opportunity Commission gets the support and the funds that they need. In closing, we are supportive of the bill. We will be asking questions in the committee stage regarding the implementation. With that, I commend the bill to this chamber.