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Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Page: 4181

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (17:42): Mr Deputy Speaker, I must say it is fortuitous that the member for Dunkley concluded his remarks by referring to statements by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, because they have had a few other things to say, most notably about the opposition's Paid Parental Leave scheme, which has been much lauded in the contributions of both the member for Menzies and the member for Dunkley this afternoon. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive, Peter Anderson, said earlier this year that he believed their policy was a 'mistake', when it was announced by Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, two years ago, and he said, 'We still continue to hold that view.' If the member for Dunkley cares to reflect on the views of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry regularly, he might choose to consider those wise words in the context of a paid parental leave scheme, which I suspect even he is not inclined to support. But he has made a valiant effort this afternoon and I commend him for that.

The other matter that I was astonished to hear raised by the shadow minister, the member for Menzies, earlier this afternoon was that of the coalition as, seemingly, the party supporting families and business. The hypocrisy that enables those kinds of contributions to be made is extraordinary in the context of a coalition which is poised to oppose the most recent announcement for families in relation to the federal budget—namely, the Schoolkids Bonus. What an extraordinary thing to do, when you are lauding yourselves as the party that is seemingly here to support families! Mr Deputy Speaker, we certainly know that the opposition has form when it comes to calling itself the party of families and the party of business, because we know that they are vehemently opposed to payments being made to families and to tax relief being given to families and to individuals under the clean energy future package. Indeed, at every turn in relation to every reform that we wish to make, we find the coalition critiquing our policies from the point of view of fiscal rectitude and from their point of view that they represent families. In actual fact, we find that they oppose benefits going to families and that they oppose practical measures to respond to the pressing needs of families and their cost-of-living concerns. It is similar whenever they talk about their role as the party of small business, because we know that they have opposed tax breaks for small business. It was extraordinary to hear the shadow minister speaking in this afternoon's debate about the things that they are doing for families.

We know that, through the Paid Parental Leave scheme that this government introduced in 2011, we have made one of the most significant commitments to families that this nation has seen. The commitment has been made as a result of the continued and sustained campaign by activists around this country for a comprehensive paid parental leave scheme. They have certainly got it, under this government. This bill is the next step in that scheme.

We know that paid parental leave, which was introduced in 2011, has given eligible working parents up to 18 weeks paid parental leave at the national minimum wage, which is currently around $590 a week before tax. It gives those parents flexibility and opportunity to stay at home with their new child at a critical stage in its development. For many who are working part-time or who are casual employees—and there are many women in those circumstances—this has been an extraordinary benefit. Indeed, more than 150,000 families across the country have benefited or are benefiting from this change to policy, historically delivered by Labor in this term.

I mentioned that this bill is the next step in that arrangement. It extends the Paid Parental Leave scheme by introducing the dad and partner pay for eligible working fathers and for other eligible partners. This includes parents who adopt and parents in same-sex couples. The dad and partner pay arrangements will start on 1 January next year. I am pleased to say that the payment delivers on a commitment that Labor took to the last election to give dads and other partners the opportunity to have two weeks off to support new mums at home and to be involved in the care of their child right from the beginning of their lives.

Dad and partner pay will give eligible fathers and partners two weeks pay at the rate of the national minimum wage, so it is consistent with the existing Paid Parental Leave scheme. It is going to be available to all eligible fathers and partners, including adopting parents and parents in same-sex couples who care for a child born or adopted from 1 January 2013. It is an extraordinary commitment being made by this government and is building on an existing commitment to families right around the country. It means that, effectively, eligible families welcoming a new child will be able to receive up to 20 weeks' paid parental leave and dad and partner pay from this government.

Dad and partner pay will be available to eligible full-time, part-time, casual, seasonal, contract and self-employed workers. Eligible fathers and partners must be caring for the child either as the primary carer or jointly caring with the other parent. To be eligible they must not be working or on paid leave during the period they receive dad and partner pay. Like parental leave pay, this new payment will be available during the first 12 months after the birth or adoption of a child. Claims for the payment will be able to be lodged from 1 October 2012.

This is a great opportunity for people who are planning to have children. I know there are people in my electorate, the growth corridor of Melbourne, who are planning to have children. I have many young families moving into my electorate pretty regularly. There are people who are planning to have a child or future children and the commitment made by this government will be a really practical and meaningful commitment to assist them with the cost of living at a time when they want to be available to their new child and to their partners for support at home.

Dad and partner pay will recognise the challenges faced by families who find it really difficult to balance the family budget when their child is born. In particular, this is likely to be the case for casual employees, who may not have annual leave entitlements accrued, and for self-employed people such as tradespeople, small business owners and those working in a family business or farm. Coincidentally, a number of those categories of person are often mentioned by the coalition as being people that they represent but, needless to say, they are not likely to support these arrangements applying to them.

The design of dad and partner pay has been based on independent expert recommendations made by the Productivity Commission together with community consultation on the policy. It is consistent with the Productivity Commission's recommendations. The payment will be available in addition to any employer funded paid leave, but it cannot be taken at the same time as paid leave. This will encourage fathers and partners to take more time off to care for their child in the important early months of their lives.

It was of note that, on Fathers' Day last year, the government invited employer and employee groups, small business groups, family and community groups and individuals throughout the community to provide feedback on the Productivity Commission's recommendations and on the dad and partner pay arrangements. These consultations and feedback from the Paid Parental Leave Implementation Group have informed the development of the payment that is included in the bill before us today.

The government-funded dad and partner pay will be provided in addition to employer funded entitlements. The government expects that employers will retain their existing parental and paternity leave provisions, continuing to set themselves apart, we hope, as employers of choice for parents, and providing fathers with the maximum opportunity to take some time off work at a critical time in the development of their child and at a critical time for their additional family members. Families eligible for dad and partner pay may also continue to receive other family assistance payments such as baby bonus and Family Tax Benefit payments. The bill also makes minor refinements to the legislation for the Paid Parental Leave scheme by making some amendments to improve clarity and consistency and by making amendments in other areas of legislation. I know, in terms of the practical realities of this bill, that young families in my electorate will certainly stand to benefit, and that this will certainly be welcome news for fathers and partners in many of those families that are planning to have a child in the near future. I am sure they will be relieved to know that not only has this government implemented a fully funded paid parental leave scheme which is not opposed by the business community, unlike that proposed by those opposite, but that there will be additional financial support for fathers and partners under these new arrangements.

When we speak about parties that are here to support families, there is only one party in this place that has put its money where its mouth is, and which has committed itself to providing families with practical financial relief in a range of policy areas. It has factored it into its clean energy future package; it has included significant reforms, such as this; and it has moved to ensure that parents have better access to child care by increasing the childcare rebate. We have made practical moves to ensure that families are able to respond to cost-of-living pressures and we are doing this in the context of ensuring that our economy remains robust in an increasingly difficult global economic climate. And we are doing all of this while at the same time pursuing a surplus.

I certainly commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 17:53 to 19:30