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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4393

Ms KING (11:41 AM) —I rise to support the Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and Paid Parental Leave (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010. I am absolutely delighted to speak after the Leader of the Opposition and, as one of the women in this parliament, I welcome his extraordinary road to Damascus conversion on this issue. I do find it, I must admit, unbelievable. This is coming from the man who is on the record as saying there would be a paid parental leave over his dead body. This is also from the man who seems to think that it is only women who iron the shirts in households. I seem to think this road to Damascus conversion really is not quite the gospel truth. I certainly welcome his contribution, though, to the Paid Parental Leave scheme debate.

The introduction of this legislation on 12 May represents one of the most significant achievements of the Rudd government. I was delighted to be in the chamber when the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs introduced the scheme because it is truly a historic moment for Australian parents. I am delighted to speak in support of this legislation today. I see this reform as one of the most historic in our nation’s history. As a result of our reform, mum and dads across the country and my own electorate of Ballarat will now have access to up to 18 weeks paid parental leave. This is big news for Australian families. The bill reflects the hard work of many people over a long period of time. I note particularly the Leader of the Opposition saying this has been too long in coming. Yes, it has. I do find it interesting that obviously this was something that they were going to do in their 13th year. It was on the never-never, unfortunately, and their own paid parental leave scheme is also just that, on the never-never. This bill certainly reflects the Rudd government’s commitment to Australian families. It is a historic moment for those families who have contacted me since I was elected in 2001 asking why Australia does not have a paid parental leave scheme.

Babies require devoted support from their parents, and this is no more apparent than during those first few weeks of life. The bill provides parents with peace of mind, the knowledge that they can look after their child with significant financial support through a paid parental leave scheme. Not only does this allow parents financial support but also it allows parents to spend time with their new baby during those early months when it is most needed. It also allows those parents to get time to get to know their baby and to get used to the significant adjustment that is required when you have a new baby in your household. Having a baby and working out not only how best to care for them but also how your life is now to be organised differently does take some getting used to. Those precious first months with a new baby are critical and they are not months that are repeated. They are critical not only for a baby’s development but also for the long-term attachment that they will have with their parents.

With this legislation we have introduced a significant reform for families, for today and into the future. With this legislation we hope to provide parents with a better chance to balance paid work and supporting their children. This is not only good news for families; it is also good news for industry, particularly for staff retention. Industry has been faced with a brain drain, often losing skilled workers. I hope this legislation will go a long way to ensuring that parents are able to retain their strong connection with the workforce and that industry will be able to keep skilled workers engaged. This is good news for the estimated 148,000 people across the country who are estimated to be eligible.

This Paid Parental Leave scheme—unlike the Leader of the Opposition’s scheme, a bit of a thought bubble in a book—has been developed with a great deal of consultation over a considerable period of time. We made a commitment back at the last election in 2007 to assist parents balance their work with family life. Lots of work was done in opposition researching paid parental leave schemes. Upon coming to government we then acted quickly. We called on the Productivity Commission to look into what support was needed for parents and their children. The Productivity Commission looked at the benefits of a paid maternity, paternity and parental leave scheme, the funding models to provide support to parents and the impact of such a scheme.

The Productivity Commission produced a 584-page report, which concluded that Australia desperately needed a paid parental leave scheme. The determination was concluded following lengthy consultation. In total, 416 public submissions were received by the Productivity Commission. Many of these submissions supported the commission’s research and analysis that Australia needs a paid parental leave scheme.

Following the government’s receipt of the Productivity Commission’s report, we announced our intention in last year’s budget to commit over $250 million a year to a paid parental leave scheme. When I spoke in parliament in support of the 2009-10 budget, I outlined my strong commitment to this Paid Parental Leave scheme. My position has not changed in the last year—unlike members opposite.

The Rudd government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme will assist women to stay connected with the workforce and their careers while they have children. In ensuring that we maximise our productivity and work effectively to tackle an ageing population, we need measures such as this to maintain our skills and our workforce. By keeping women connected to the workforce, we are helping them to continue with their careers long after having children. This is good news for business as it will save in staff training and skills loss. It is good news for women who will see an increase in life-long earnings.

Since I last spoke on the 2009-10 budget, the government have continued to consult on the Paid Parental Leave scheme. We have had consultations on this issue since being elected. A further 32 consultations were undertaken following the 2009-10 budget, which made the announcement that Australia would have a paid parental leave scheme. We wanted to ensure we got the design of this scheme correct for parents and, very importantly, correct for industry. So for the first time, from 1 July 2011 many parents will have access to parental leave. We are implementing a work test, an income test and residency requirements to determine eligibility under this scheme.

Eligible parents will now have access to 18 weeks parental leave and at the current rate of the national minimum wage this results in $543.78 per week before tax for 18 weeks. We will continue to support parents whether they are in paid work or at home. Parents who are not eligible under our Paid Parental Leave scheme will still have access to the baby bonus and to the family tax benefit. To be eligible for the scheme, parents need to be in paid work and have worked continuously for at least 10 of the 13 weeks prior to the expected birth or adoption date, have undertaken a minimum of 330 hours of paid work in the 10-month period prior and earn less than $150,000 annually.

Following the implementation of our scheme, we have undertaken to conduct a review after its first two years. As part of this review, we will consider those Productivity Commission recommendations that were not taken up amongst other things. Our scheme is fully funded and does not create an unnecessary burden on business. I am in good company in supporting this legislation. Not only have we broad support through our consultation process but we have support from industry. The CEO of Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, has called the Rudd government’s scheme a ‘sensible approach’. She said:

A taxpayer funded scheme providing payments to working mothers of 18 weeks of leave at the minimum wage, is consistent with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission and is largely consistent with Australian Industry Group’s proposals.

The introduction of an appropriately designed paid parental leave scheme will provide many benefits to the community, not least of which is increased participation by women in the workforce. Increased participation is vital to address Australia’s ageing population and growing skill shortages as the economy continues to recover.

Australian Industry Group has also said:

Superannuation obligations around paid maternity leave had been an issue of concern for employers and it’s good that the Government has indicated that employers will not be required to pay superannuation on the Paid Parental Leave entitlements.

This is a positive response from one of the major industry bodies in Australia. But who else supports our scheme? The Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia former CEO Jaye Radisich has said:

What this scheme means is that life is going to be easier for a lot of people. We can do nothing but support that.

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said:

That’s got to be good for Mums, it’s got to be good for babies and ultimately, it’s got to be good for our country.

ACTU President Sharon Burrow has said:

This is a magical moment. To see a piece of legislation with paid parental leave on the front of the cover is a 30-year, long-awaited moment of justice for working women. And we’ve got a message to Tony Abbott. Don’t you dare; don’t you dare oppose this legislation.

It is also important to note the hard work of Sharon, along with the trade union movement, in running a very strong campaign for paid parental leave over a long period. The New South Wales Commissioner for Children and Young People, Gillian Calvert, has said:

Research shows the continuous interaction between baby and parent in the baby’s first 12 months of life shapes the brain wiring—affecting how a child regulates emotions, communicates, solves problems, thinks logically and reacts to the world.

Senator Xenophon has said:

When you consider the social benefit in giving mums paid maternity leave, I think it’s a good thing to do right now, irrespective of the fact that things are relatively tough.

Even the member for Indi has also spoken about the need for a paid parental leave scheme, including how urgent it is, and she stated in parliament that:

The Labor Party cannot come up with any funding for a paid parental leave scheme about which it has built such high expectations.

Well, member for Indi, here we are, debating legislation for a fully-funded paid maternity leave scheme. She also said:

They have included paid parental leave in this year’s budget even though they are delaying it.

Again, here we are, putting this scheme in place. If the member for Indi is so concerned about the rollout of a paid parental scheme then she may wish to work with her parliamentary colleagues to ensure they do not block this bill. She may wish to remind the Leader of the Opposition that his alternative has not had adequate consultation with stakeholders and has not been well received by the community or by business—

Ms Plibersek interjecting

Ms KING —Or any consultation. I was being generous there, member for Sydney. The Leader of the Opposition’s plan for the paid parental leave scheme that he is so committed to and that is so important got only one line in his budget-in-reply speech. I think most of the business community have come out and said fairly roundly that the tax that he proposes to impose on business is not something that they support at all. It is interesting that he cannot even bring himself to say the word ‘tax’. He has used the kinder word ‘levy’. However, it is a tax; it is a 1.7 per cent tax on industry to pay for the opposition’s paid parental leave scheme. The Leader of the Opposition should have been speaking with industry. It has strongly rejected his business tax. Mr Abbott’s 1.7 per cent levy will tax thousands of businesses right across the country.

What do others think of the Leader of the Opposition’s plan? The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry stated:

[the] proposal by the Leader of the Opposition to impose a new levy on larger businesses to fund a paid parental leave scheme is an unfair impost which will not be well received by Australian employers. Taxing businesses to fund social policy is double counting given that employers already contribute substantially to Commonwealth revenues.

Doing so for paid parental leave purposes is contrary to independent analysis released by the Productivity Commission which found that schemes such as these should be funded through general revenue given that the primary beneficiaries are the employees concerned rather than their employers.

The ACCI went on to say:

Business will seek further information from the Opposition but will not support a tax on business of this type, nor a bidding war between Government and Opposition at the expense of the business bottom line.

If I can say this to ACCI: I wish them well in seeking further information from the Leader of the Opposition. So far, we have clearly seen a lack of details on the part of members opposite. If ACCI do manage to get details of the coalition’s plan, absolutely make sure you have it in writing.

The Australian Industry Group, another leading business group, has stated that, under the Leader of the Opposition’s plan, the costs on business are just far too great. Ai Group CEO Heather Ridout has stated, in relation to the coalition’s paid parental leave policy:

… it puts a huge cost on big companies. It will be anti the employment of women. It will be—it’ll cause a bias towards the employment of men.

That is a substantial policy failing with the opposition’s scheme. In terms of tax policy, it will deter investment in the sense that, in Australia, we already have a high reliance on capital taxes such as company tax compared with other countries. Small to medium sized economies like ours are reducing their company tax rate, not putting it up. That—putting it up—will deter investment in Australia and particularly in sectors that are not going to be among the big darlings of the mining boom. If the Leader of the Opposition does not want to listen to industry then he should have a chat with his party room colleagues because, as we heard on Tuesday, some want to abolish his business tax and support our plan.

While on this side of the House we want to support industry by reducing company tax from 30 per cent to 28 per cent, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he will not support a reduction in company tax but instead impose a great big new tax on business. He wants to increase business taxes to pay for his unfunded paid parental leave scheme.

The Rudd government have had a consistent position on paid parental leave for a very long time. We have been advocates of such a scheme for a very long time. The member for Sydney, who is at the table, has been a very strong and loud advocate for such a scheme not just during her political career but prior to entering parliament. We have not shied away from this issue. We have been open and transparent on it from the start. Yet, members opposite have failed to let the Australian people know their policy on paid parental leave. Actually, I stand corrected; they have spoken about numerous positions on it. Their positions include not supporting our scheme, introducing their own scheme that taxes small business and—my favourite, which is this week’s position—some member’s support us and others do not know what they are going to support at the end of the day. I will be very interested to see when the vote comes on this bill what members opposite decide to do.

I am proud to be part of the Rudd government because it is the only government that has shown the commitment to introduce a paid parental leave scheme across Australia. It is all very well for the coalition to talk about a paid parenting scheme while in opposition—and they have been in opposition for only a couple of years—after they have had 12 years in government to do something about it.

While our country has achieved so much in its short history, it has been a long time coming in finally catching up with other major economies in terms of support for paid parental leave. It is not good enough that we are one of only two OECD countries that do not have a comprehensive paid parental leave scheme. I urge every one of the members opposite to support this bill. I urge them to subsequently lobby their party room colleagues in the Senate.

I want to finish by recognising the hard work of Minister Macklin and that of many groups across the country who have worked tirelessly to see this country get a national paid parental scheme. The scheme is practical; it is measured. We have broadly consulted with all stakeholders. Also, we have broad support for this scheme among the Australian community and business, but those opposite do not. This is a great moment for Australian families. I am very proud to support this bill and I commend it to the House.