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Family violence: at what cost?

On average, at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia, and one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15. . These are dreadful statistics, that cost the economy more than $3.4 billion every year.

Family violence has been, in many respects, a hidden part of Australian life, including in the agriculture sector. Recent focus on the issue means it is one that is finally coming out of the shadows.

Since 2010, Australian governments across the country have been working on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. The National Plan aims to increase Australia’s productivity by reducing the incidence of family violence. This is important work, and one that all of us in rural and regional Australia should get behind. Not just for the benefit of those whose life behind closed doors is characterised by fear, but also because of the value we place on providing a safe environment for all Australians to live productive lives.

Family violence is a social issue that as a community, we all share responsibility for addressing. Last year, the Australian Council of Trade Unions took things a step further, seeking a new paid leave entitlement of 10 days per year with an additional 2 days leave ‘per occasion’ for those experiencing family or domestic violence. The claim rests on the notion that those affected by violence bear too heavy a burden in terms of the cost it imposes on their lives – and that therefore, employers should carry their share of this load.

Employers already wear around 6% of the costs of family and domestic violence, through time lost and other workplace disruption. And there is no evidence that increasing costs for employers will increase productivity. A paid leave entitlement may help those affected by violence, although research suggests that those experiencing violence are reluctant to tell others about their situation, or to ask for help at work for what is an intensely private issue.

For this reason, governments are taking the issue seriously all around Australia, and focusing on ways to provide support for those trapped in the cycle of abuse. A range of initiatives under the National Plan have been rolled out, including a national telephone and online counselling service, crisis accommodation, education and prevention initiatives. The White Ribbon Workplaces Program encourages employers to seek accreditation through awareness raising, early intervention and prevention programs specifically for workplace settings, while Our WATCH and The Line work to raise awareness through social marketing.

These are some of the initiatives, and there are more to come. Victoria has put reform of the National Employment Standards on the COAG agenda in a bid to achieve consensus on paid leave entitlements on a national scale. This process is one that must be allowed to run its course. After all, what is being proposed is the transfer of social costs from the public to the private purse. It is an important question of social policy, and all governments should have their say.

Sarah McKinnon is the NFF's General Manager for Workplace Relations & Legal Affairs

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