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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2328


Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (15:42): That contribution was not even worthy of an interjection. We had the member for Robertson talk about squabbling. Where has she been in the last week and a half! We have seen the ugliest, the cruellest, the biggest blood feud that we have seen in Australian political history. You want to see squabbling? You could not even describe it as squabbling: it was open internecine warfare. And the words are still there, because the players are still the same. George Orwell would be proud by the doublespeak that this current government and its members employ.

The member for Robertson talked about reform and she quite proudly, again—what cruel doublespeak—mentioned the carbon tax, the carbon tax that is going to put a $4 billion black hole in the budget. She did not mention the so-called reform. Whenever you hear the Labor Party use the word 'reform', you should just cross it out and put 'damage'. What damage are they going to cause in a political policy area? Let us look at the mining tax damage. It is going to worsen the budget bottom line by $6 billion. We know that the most important foundation of our society is healthy families. So why is this government pursuing a carbon tax that was only pushed on them by the Greens? If it were such good policy, why did they not say before the election: 'A carbon tax is something we will introduce. A government I lead will introduce a carbon tax'? Because the Prime Minister knew that the Australian people were not going to swallow that one. They would know the damage it would cause to their jobs and to their household budgets. So, when we talk about trying to help Australian families, who are struggling at the moment with increasing energy bills, you cannot look at the carbon tax as some sort of help or some sort of pathetic excuse for a reform. A carbon tax is not a reform. The carbon tax was the price that a Prime Minister in waiting, with poor political judgment, thought she had to give as the price to remain in her job. That is what the carbon tax is.

Looking at increases in electricity prices, we have seen only today that energy producers will be hit with a $4 billion carbon tax bill. How much is that going to push electricity prices up beyond the 10 per cent predicted in the Treasury modelling? That is causing real concern to families out there who are doing it extremely tough.

So, when the other side talks about reform, forgive me for joining the majority of Australians in thinking this government is an absolute joke. The real reform in which they should engage, the one they have not touched, is the reform of their own organisation. If the Labor Party reformed and became a truly representative party they would not have this internecine warfare or the factional warlords pulling the strings of a puppet Prime Minister preventing her even from bringing in the man she thought would best represent Australia as Minister for Foreign Affairs. That is the sting, that is the pain in the Labor Party—they know it. They know that they cannot engage in real reform and in real assistance for Australian families unless those factional warlords, those bosses, give their imprimatur. That is why any talk of real reform and helping families falls on deaf ears. Australian people and Australian families can see that this Prime Minister and this government are absolutely impotent in looking at the real problems and real challenges facing Australian families, and they are very significant.

When you look at starting a family, it is expensive. These days the reality is that most mortgages need to be serviced by a dual income. The financial stress on a young family starting out is increasing, thanks to the increase in regulatory costs to business, to increases in energy prices and to this so called reform of a carbon tax, which will only give less security to so many families, particularly those who rely on the manufacturing sector.

We have these additional costs and pressures and it is the responsibility of a major political party to ask what they can do in a fair dinkum way, not in a tokenistic way and not so they can say, 'Gee, we've ticked the box on paid parental leave. But what can we really do to give mothers and families a real choice in child birth and to spend time with their children?'

The World Health Organisation, Australian National Health and the Medical Research Council all tell us that six months is the minimum period of exclusive care and breast feeding that is optimal for maternal and infant health outcomes. That is why our paid parental leave scheme is for a much longer period. It covers that six month period, those 26 weeks, while the Labor Party's proposal only covers 18 weeks. Why not the six-month period that is recognised as the minimum period for providing those better health outcomes? It is because the Labor Party just wanted a token effort. They cannot bring themselves to go above party politics and say, 'You know, the opposition has actually come up with a better plan than us.' The women on the other side know it is, but they cannot bring themselves to say it. Considering the stresses of modern life, we have chosen to give women the choice of spending six months at home with fair dinkum pay.

The Labor Party's scheme, with a gross value of just over $10,000—we are not denying that it is a help—is really a very marginal net benefit to those who receive it when compared to the baby bonus and family benefits. It is not really likely to lead to a change in behaviour amongst a group of working women who currently feel they cannot afford to stay at home for six months. That is the reality of the financial challenges they face in their household budgets. That is something that is not acknowledged on the other side. One of the increasing burdens of administration of Labor's paid parental leave scheme is to actually have employers act as the paymasters for the paid parental leave scheme, which adds yet again to the regulatory burden on small business, which is doing it tough.

What is the coalition's paid parental leave scheme? It is fair dinkum because it provides mothers with 26 weeks of paid parental leave at a fair dinkum wage. It is not a token wage. It is saying to women, 'We value your contribution in the workplace. We value your need to contribute to your household budget. We value you as part of a productive workforce. We recognise the challenges in increasing Australia's participation rate. We want to make it easier for you to have one or two children and start a family and not be stressed having to run back to work because you are financially required to do so.'

Our paid parental leave scheme is a full replacement wage of up to $150,000, or the federal minimum wage, whichever is the greater. This brings us into line with world's best practice. It brings us into line with our OECD competitors. Countries that offer replacement wages—France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Singapore, Norway and Switzerland, just to name a few—deliver paid parental leave based on 100 per cent of the mother's prebirth earnings. So when we follow what our competitors are doing, trying to do our bit, what does the government do? They are in denial, pretending that their small effort to tick the box is going to solve the problem of choice for Australian families and for Australian mothers. No other country in the world derives its rate of payment from the national minimum wage as Labor's does.

The government also fails to understand the long-term financial security. Our paid parental leave scheme will include superannuation contributions at the mandatory rate of nine per cent, as it should. The coalition believes that the superannuation contributions must be paid while women are receiving paid parental leave, because we do not believe that paid parental leave is some token welfare payment. We believe it is a workplace entitlement and an important part of social reform that understands the society in which we live and the challenges facing young families now and into the future.

We are very passionate about this reform. We will continue to advocate this reform, because what we get told by working mothers and by women who want to start a family is: 'Thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for understanding how tough it is out there. I want to start a family, but I can't afford to take six months off and look after my child, because we just can't manage to pay our bills; we won't be able to pay our mortgage.' This is an absolute reality.

We have heard from the other side, 'They're not really going to deliver it; they're just promising it.' Well, we have actually provided a plan on how it is going to get paid. It will be funded by a 1½ per cent levy on companies with taxable incomes in excess of $5 million. That levy applies to about 3,300 companies out of 770,000 companies in Australia. These companies will also receive the benefit of a 1.5 per cent reduction in company tax. We think this is an important reform. This levy is necessary because of the mismanagement of this government. They still borrow $100 million a day. Do not look at what the Labor Party says—that they are one big happy family, that they will bring the budget back into surplus. Look at what they do and at the fact that they have delivered the four biggest budget deficits in Australia's history.

Look at how they have squandered billions of dollars in failed programs, like the pink batts program, the overpriced school halls and cheques to dead people. This is a political party, in government, so desperate to cover up the opening cracks in the relationship of its frontbench and to cover up its incompetence, its ineptitude and the fact that those on the frontbench are not really the ones in control. They actually take their eye off the ball when it comes to real policy and real reform, so when a problem comes up all they do is throw some money at it: 'Oh, you've got a bit of a problem? Don't bother us, because we're consumed by our internecine warfare. Here, have some money and go away.' The fact that they have squandered billions—that they squandered a budget surplus they inherited—means that they cannot deliver on the very important social reforms that are part of an evolving society and that are the real challenges for our community.

The public knows that in 12 years of good government under the coalition we delivered social dividends. We delivered real reforms. We delivered 20 per cent in real wages. We created more than two million jobs, and it will be our job to eventually clean up the mess that this mob has created to try to give the Australian people some hope for the future, give them the opportunities they deserve and give them the rewards when they work hard, when they make the right decisions, when they try to start a family and make their contribution to Australia. Unfortunately and sadly, those on the other side cannot bring themselves to commend the opposition for coming up with a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. (Time expired)