Australian Services Union NSW / ACT Social and Community Services Council Speech 2022

Dept of Social Services

Thank you Narelle for the welcome and what a fantastic video.

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which we are meeting, today: your delegation on the land of the Gadigal people, and I am dialling in from the lands of the Kaurna People. I pay my respects to all elders – past, present and future. We are grateful for your enduring custodianship of these lands that always were and always will be Aboriginal.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today. Knowing that this delegation is the first you have been able to manage since before the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m disappointed I have not been able to be with this group in person as I originally planned. Urgent and unexpected family matters have kept me in South Australia today.

Thank you for allowing me to speak to this important delegation remotely, and talk with you about the work of the Albanese government that is already underway in the community services sector.

I am grateful to everyone here today at the Annual ASU Senior Delegation, because it was the ASU and grass roots union members that doggedly pursued the right for family and domestic violence leave through the “We Won’t Wait” campaign.

Family and Domestic Violence

It was one of the first Acts of the Albanese Government to introduce legislation for ten days of family and domestic violence leave.

Being in the chamber when that legislation was introduced, and for the event on the front lawn of Parliament last week, was a reminder to us all how important Federal Labor Governments are.

And this video reinforces the power of the Labour movement to affect significant changes to the accepted community standards in this country.

Each of you own a share of this Family and Domestic Violence Leave legislation and I congratulate you.

A key priority of the Albanese Government is to end violence against women and children in Australia.

Many of you, through your work and union involvement, are key to helping us achieve this.

One woman dies in Australia every ten days at the hands of her former or current partner.

In Australia, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men have experienced intimate partner violence.

This is unacceptable.

Not very long ago it was a common community assumption that domestic violence was something that occurs in the privacy, the isolation, of one’s home.

In reality these experiences result in a victim-survivor requiring time away from work for a variety of reasons, such as seeking treatment for injury, seeking safe accommodation outside the family home, attending police or court services, attending counselling or medical appointments and caring for children.

Australians experiencing violence should not be disadvantaged for seeking safety and the support they require following these incidents.

No individual should have to choose between keeping a job and leaving an abusive relationship.

You all know this, and this why you campaigned for 10 days paid domestic violence leave.

You did the rallies. The petitions. The lobbying. You did the grassroots campaigning.

And you got it written into the ALP’s national platform.

All of this takes work. The work you did helped change the government.

But the partnership between the industrial and political wing of the Labor movement has delivered change.

On 28 July 2022, we introduced the legislation to make paid domestic and family leave a right.

The union movement in partnership with Labor governments has been a key driving force behind many of the progressive reforms that are at the foundation of our social security and safety net system – including Medicare, universal superannuation and the minimum wage.

Family and domestic violence leave is the latest chapter in the long book of progressive achievement for the movement.

Personal experience in the SDA

For me the introduction of domestic and family violence leave is also personal, as I know it will be for many of you.

I will never forget the moment when the intersection between workplaces and domestic violence became clear to me.

It was 11.15am on a Wednesday in November 2004 when 61-year-old Carole Schaer was shot dead as she worked in the handbag and shoe section of the Myer department store in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall.

At the time, I was an organiser for the SDA and found myself centrally involved in the union’s response to this horrific incident.

I still remember Carole’s funeral and the impact on her family and friends but also on her colleagues and employers as well.

Carole’s tragic death brought home for me that domestic and family violence doesn’t just happen in the home.

It ripples through all areas of our lives – including Carole’s workplace.

There is a very important role unions, employers and workplaces have in ending this scourge of violence against women and children.

Workplaces can play an important role in supporting and protecting women experiencing violence and can provide the necessary stability in one area of their life that may enable them to leave a violent relationship.

Getting access to ten days of paid family violence leave including casuals will also help.

Thank you to all of you and your members who have fought for this.

The National Plan

I wanted to make sure that my message to you was that our commitment to the safety of women and children doesn’t stop there.

The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2032 will support a renewed national approach to ending violence against women and children.

I have committed, along with my state and territory colleagues, to releasing this Plan by October.

And working on the frontline in Social and Community Services, many of you and your members will play a key role in helping us to deliver the National Plan.

I know that many people have already been generous with their time and expertise to inform the development of the National Plan, including feedback provided by the ASU.

We have also committed $157 million to generate 500 new jobs for new frontline and community sector workers in the areas of family violence and community safety.

There will be focus on meeting service gaps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in rural and regional communities.

The values of the movement

The Labor movement has always assumed a duty to shift the dial for the most vulnerable members of our community, to respond collectively and united with others, to help those doing it tough and fight for a better future for the current and next generation.

The Albanese Labor Government is committed to the principles of leaving no one behind, and of fairness, and you all share those same values.

These values drove me to join the SDA as a 19-year old working a toy store, drove me to become a clinical psychologist and indeed into politics.

Because, it may sound idealistic, but I believe politics is a helping profession too.

What drives me is helping Australians, particularly those who are our most vulnerable and disadvantaged, live their lives with the dignity and equality we all deserve.

You each know how important your role is, both as delegates and as workers in essential frontline community services.

All of you in the room today have taken extra steps in your own life to help.

You have chosen to work in the community sector and stand on the frontline to help those vulnerable members of our community. You have also chosen to stand up a delegate and represent your colleagues to protect your rights in your workplaces.

This can be a heavy burden. Thank you for carrying it.

I acknowledge the hard work you and your members do helping people as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Of course for many of you and your services you would have had to be innovative on how you delivered services, work on new ways to develop relationships and support clients through the pandemic.

This would not have been easy but the nation is grateful and we are committed to ensuring this gratitude is not empty.

Supporting the community sector

During the election campaign, we committed to supporting a stronger, more diverse and more independent community sector.

These commitments are a hallmark of Labor and ones we delivered as a priority during our previous term in government. The previous Gillard Government supported the equal remuneration order fought hard for by the ASU and then introduced the Social and Community Services wage supplement to deliver community workers better pay.

It was a step in the right direction and we knew then as we know now that there is more work to do.

Under the Coalition government, we championed for better working conditions but watched as wages and conditions stagnated for nearly a decade.

When it comes to the Community Sector, the previous Coalition Government repeatedly tried to devalue and silence community sector voices.

We will be different.

We have already made a number of commitments to support and boost the community and not for profit sector and I have asked my Department to look at how these commitments can be delivered.

I am keen to see if we can trial a new longer contract term for grants ceasing in 2022 to 2023 financial year, to see if organisations will be able to better plan for the future and provide greater certainty to their staff and the people they serve through this measure.

At the centre of our approach will be supporting our community sector and not-for-profit organisations, those organisations that support our most vulnerable people, as respected partners of this government. Labor will give the sector the voice and respect it deserves.

This is the commitment of the Albanese Government.

In my capacity, I will work with the ASU and other unions to ensure the community sector can thrive.

An important element of this is proper indexation of grant funding.

The Government is listening to service delivery providers – including those that ASU represents – and understands the impact of the recent national minimum wage increase, superannuation guarantee increases and inflationary pressures.

My Department is working across government and with the sector to understand the flow on effects to the community sector, which are likely to be higher given the ratio of wage costs to support services delivery.

I look forward to sharing the next steps with you as soon as I am able to do so.

Disability employment

I want to turn now to another important area of responsibility in my portfolio – and that is supporting people who live and work with disability.

Many of you here today yourselves either work in or represent members who work in the care and support sector.

Like you, I am committed to making the lives of Australians with disability better.

I’m focused on seeing more people living with disability – and who want to work – getting the support to do so.

Almost 1 in 10 people aged 15-24 years old experience life with disability.

We know that almost a quarter of working-aged people with disability who are not in the labour force have ambitions to work.

At a time of acute skills shortages, this is a huge, untapped resource for our labour force and our economy.

Unfortunately, 93 per cent of unemployed people aged 15-64 with disability face barriers to finding employment.

I know, through my experience as a local member and as a clinical psychologist, the difficulties people with disability face in gaining employment. I have also listened and learned how detrimental unemployment can be for physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

The Disability Employment Roundtable, which I will convene later this month, will be a foundational part of our plan to improve employment outcomes for people with disability.

Hiring someone with disability is not a secondary option or charitable act. If that misconception exists, we need to change it and fast.

People with disability bring diverse skills and experiences – and make significant contributions to the workplace.

We need to connect people living with a disability and willing to work with businesses and organisations that need workers.

If there are existing barriers holding business back from hiring them, let’s identify them, talk about them and dismantle them.

This will be one of our key platforms in the government’s Jobs and Skills Summit in September.

The Summit will bring together Australians, including unions, employers, community members and governments, to address our shared economic challenges.

Our goal is to build a bigger, better-trained and more productive workforce; boost incomes and living standards; and create more opportunities for more Australians to get ahead and to reach their ambitions.

The themes and outcomes of the Summit will inform the Employment White Paper, which will help shape the future of our labour market.

This includes expanding employment opportunities for all Australians including our most disadvantaged, addressing skills shortages and getting our skills mix right over the long term and ensuring women have equal opportunities and equal pay.

Conclusion

There is a lot to do – and I won’t waste a day.

We’ve had our first sitting of the new Parliament where we’ve tackled a number of issues such as introducing the legislation for 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave.

We will work towards the Jobs and Skills Summit in September, and then the Albanese Government will deliver our first Budget in October which will focus on delivering our election commitments.

I look forward to working in collaboration with the ASU, and you all, as we work to address many of the challenges and opportunities that we face.

Together we will create a better Australia – one where no one is left behind.

Thank you again for having me here today. I am happy to take a few questions.

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