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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1620


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of the minister's failure to provide either an answer or an explanation.

I appreciate the response that the minister gave just now. But, again, it shows a lack of commitment to parental leave. This is a question that we have asked a number of times, and we still have not had a response to it. It is a very straightforward question asking for information—and I will advise the Senate exactly what we are looking for. It is a shame that we have not been furnished with this information.

As I indicated, on 13 January I tabled questions seeking information about the planned changes to paid parental leave that the government announced in the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Specifically, with reference to the proposed changes to Parental Leave Pay announced in the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services the following questions: one, what would be the total number of eligible parents who would be adversely affected by proposed changes to the PLP; two, can the minister advise the number of parents who will (a) lose part of their paid parental leave payment and (b) no longer be eligible for paid parental leave; three, what will be the estimated average paid parental leave payment that partial eligible parents would lose compared to under current arrangements; and four, what will the estimated average paid parental leave payment that parents will lose when they are not eligible for any paid parental leave payment be compared to current arrangements?

Senator Ian Macdonald: He told you he'll give you the answer at the end of the week!

Senator CAROL BROWN: Thank you, Senator Macdonald. This is a question that has been put on the agenda from 13 January. It is a question that many people would like to—

Senator Ian Macdonald: It took your government two years to answer a question!

Senator CAROL BROWN: You are a part of the rolled gold paid parental leave fiasco that was Mr Abbott's primary policy. It was thrown out, along with Mr Abbott himself, and then you come back in with a policy to actually dud mothers out of paid parental leave. What we are asking here are some simple questions for very straightforward answers. There is no reason why this information could not already have been provided.

Yes, the minister says the answers will come at the end of the week. You know what? I have been at an estimates committee where Senator Nash said we would be getting a response 'shortly' on a community affairs legislation report—that was 18 months ago! What 'end of the week' is Senator Fifield talking about? I do not know. But I do not trust what they on the other side have to say. I have asked, the Senate has asked, for a timely response. It is not asking for much at all. We have asked for a timely response, and the minister still leaves parents in the dark as to their plans.

Time and time again the Liberals have failed to show any real commitment to supporting paid parental leave. They did not support the Labor Party's paid parental leave scheme; instead, they have attacked it at every opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, they had a rolled gold paid parental leave, championed by Mr Abbott, and eventually thrown out, with Mr Abbott. What did they do next? They went from having his rolled gold paid parental leave to coming in with a scheme that seeks to attack. Everyone will remember what they said about mothers. They said they were 'double dippers'. It was a disgraceful performance on behalf of the government. Australian families, Australian mothers, deserve better.

I want to remind the Senate that it was in 2010 that Labor introduced Australia's first ever national paid parental leave scheme—one that was attacked by the government, who were the opposition at the time. Prior to the Labor government introducing the national paid parental leave scheme—the first ever in Australia—Australia was one of just two OECD countries without a government-funded paid parental leave scheme. More than 55 per cent of Australian women had no access to paid parental leave prior to the introduction of that scheme.

Based on the recommendations of the Productivity Commission, Labor's fair and sustainable scheme provides new mums with 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage. Since it commenced in 2011, more than 550,000 families have benefitted from Labor's paid parental leave scheme, allowing them to spend more time with their newborn babies. On this side of the chamber, we know how important it is for mothers to spend as much time as they can with their newborn babies. Many of these mothers have also been able to extend their leave, with support from their employers. Under Labor's dad and partner pay scheme, dads can receive two weeks paid leave at the minimum wage. The scheme is good for parents, good for children, good for employers and good for the nation.

An independent evaluation of Labor's scheme, released in March 2015, showed the scheme is delivering valuable support for families when they take time off work to care for a newborn or a recently adopted child. The evaluation also found that the scheme was particularly assisting low- and middle-income women who had no access to any form of paid parental leave prior to the introduction of the scheme. More importantly, one of the key findings of the evaluation was that paid parental leave had a clear effect of delaying mothers returning to work, up to about six months after the birth of their baby.

That is the Labor Party record on paid parental leave. Let us contrast that with the Liberals' record on paid parental leave. We know that the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, initially said that a scheme would be introduced over his 'dead body'. I am sure everyone on this side of the chamber remembers when Mr Abbott indicated that any paid parental leave scheme would be introduced over his dead body. I have already mentioned what Mr Abbott did then, and it is worth mentioning again because the backflip after backflip on paid parental leave really show what this government is all about. It is not committed to paid parental leave. It has shown that. Mr Abbott has shown that.

Senator Edwards interjecting

Senator CAROL BROWN: Senator Edwards can chuckle all he likes over there. It is all on record, Senator Edwards. First of all, Mr Abbott said 'no scheme' and 'over his dead body'. Then he said he had his rolled gold Paid Parental Leave policy, and he took that to the 2013 election. As I understand it, half his caucus was not in support of that policy anyway, but he pushed on. He promised an extravagant $20 billion scheme that gave wealthy women $75,000 to take six months off to have a baby. $20 billion! That scheme, which would have paid $75,000 to millionaires to have a baby, we know was all a con to try to buy votes from women. Then he said he would cap the amount at $50,000. What did he do next? He abandoned the scheme altogether. So first of all it was no scheme and 'over my dead body', then he came up with a rolled gold scheme costing $20 billion, then he capped it and then he abandoned it—pretty much like what has happened to Mr Abbott by his colleagues. He scrapped his 'signature policy', despite declaring that it was a 'fundamental conviction'.

Last year, what did we see next? In last year's budget, the government did a complete U-turn and announced a massive cut to paid parental leave. It was proposed to make savage cuts to paid parental leave that would have left around 80,000 new mums worse off every year, some by as much as $11½ thousand. It is clear that the Liberals' word stands for nothing in this area. It is clear that you cannot trust this government when it comes to helping Australian families with the costs of their new babies.

It is also worth noting that the government not only sought to cut assistance for new mothers but also sought to demonise them. Not only did Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison want to slash as much as $11½ thousand, as I said, but the language they have used to justify these cuts has been absolutely appalling. That can be agreed with by the majority of the senators, I believe, in this chamber.

First, the budget papers refer to working mothers who access their employer scheme and a government scheme as 'double dippers'. They should be ashamed at that language. They should be ashamed at describing Australian mothers as double dippers, as rorters. Then Mr Morrison launched an incredible attack on new mothers, describing the situation where they access two schemes—just as the law allows, I remind you—as a rort. He called it a rort.

Senator Edwards interjecting

Senator CAROL BROWN: Senator Edwards, if you do not like the history of paid parental leave, the history of your government's commitment to paid parental leave, then just leave.

Senator Edwards: Well, put your policy out there—

Senator CAROL BROWN: We introduced the scheme. For goodness sake, Senator Edwards!

Senator Edwards interjecting

Senator CAROL BROWN: Senator Edwards! We can just start again. Seriously!

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senators should not interject, and senators should not respond to the interjections. The comments and remarks should be made through the chair.

Senator CAROL BROWN: My apologies, Mr Deputy President. As I was saying, Mr Morrison launched an incredible attack on new mums, describing the situation of them accessing two schemes if they were able to as a rort.

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brown, just resume your seat for a moment.

Honourable senators interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brown.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Thank you, Mr Deputy President. As I was saying, Mr Morrison called the new mums rorters, then, to make matters worse, Mr Hockey, the former Treasurer, when it was put to him by Laurie Oakes that accessing the two schemes was a 'fraud', agreed. So they are double dippers, rorters and fraudsters. That is the language we heard from the government about new mothers.

Parents who want to spend more time with their newborn babies are not rorters, and they are not fraudsters. They are accessing the scheme just as it was designed.

But apparently the attack on Australian mothers in order to justify the savage cuts does not stop just because Mr Abbott has gone. Under Mr Turnbull's plans, new mums will no longer be able to top up their paid parental leave beyond 18 weeks with support from employers. This means that around 80,000 new mums will be forced to spend less time with their new babies, and they will lose $11,800. These cuts—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator CAROL BROWN: It is interesting that you should say that because obviously under our policy, Senator Bushby, there is leave for new dads as well. You should actually know that. Given that your government has been hell-bent on destroying paid parental leave, I am not surprised that you are not aware.

These cuts will rip $3.7 billion in support from parents over the next decade. These cuts are due to come into force from July and could slash as much as $11,800 from the household budgets of young families. However, the government is yet to get the legislation through the parliament. This means that women who are pregnant right now and due from July have no idea what paid parental leave scheme they will have access to when their baby is born.

I want to take a small amount of time to look at what the Hon. Jenny Macklin MP, the shadow minister for families and payments, had to say about the coalition's paid parental leave chaos. That is exactly what we have seen from the coalition—chaos. Ms Jenny Macklin said:

Thousands of pregnant women have been caught up in the Turnbull Government's paid parental leave chaos, not knowing what support they'll receive when their new babies arrive later this year.

The Coalition's cuts to paid parental leave—first announced in the 2015 budget—will rip $3.7 billion dollars in support from parents over the next decade, and leave—

as I have said and as every government senator knows—

80,000 new mums worse off every year.

These cuts are due to come into force from July …

That is what this will do—it will take $11,800 off those young families. The government has not got the legislation through the parliament so these parents have no idea. There is complete and utter chaos. We know on this side that this is not the only area where there is complete and utter chaos. This is an extremely important piece of legislation. The legislation you want to get through should be withdrawn and thrown out. You should support the Labor Party's legislation.

Senator Bushby: Another minute and three-quarters. Come on; you can do it.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Please do not say to mums in Tasmania, Senator Bushby, that you support taking money off them at that very special time. You have done nothing but support ripping money off Australian families. Money has been ripped off pensioners and money has been ripped off new families. You supported the schoolkids bonus being ripped down. This is a government that is in chaos. I do not know if you are part of the backbench doing the tax reform, but this is a government that is actually in chaos.

Australian women deserve to know what to expect. Women who are pregnant right now are living with uncertainty. They do not know if they will be able to access the existing scheme or will have support cut under the Turnbull scheme. Expecting mums are busy planning for the arrival of their newborn. They should not have to worry about whether they can afford to stay home to care for their child. What kind of Prime Minister rips $11,800 from the pockets of new mums? It might seem like small change to Mr Turnbull, but to young families it makes all the difference. Mr Turnbull needs to put an end to his war on working mums and drop these unfair cuts. This government is in chaos and new mums deserve certainty.

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator CAROL BROWN: All you have done, David, is rip money off Australian families. You should be ashamed of yourself. (Time expired)