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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4390


Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the Opposition) (11:27 AM) —I am happy to rise in this chamber today. As I do, I am conscious of the example and the inspiration of none other than Sir Robert Menzies, who was the first Prime Minister to propose a serious benefit to families when his government proposed child endowment back in 1941. They were the dark days of war, but Sir Robert Menzies and his government were sufficiently committed to the families of this country and sufficiently committed to the welfare of the children of this country to introduce child endowment at that critical juncture in our nation’s history.

We are debating the government’s Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and the related bill to introduce a very modest form of paid parental leave. The scheme the government is bringing forward is a small step in the right direction, but it only costs $263 million a year. That is not an inconsiderable figure, but when you divide that amongst the families to whom the benefit will go it will be something like $2,000 per child. No-one who has gone through the business of managing a family budget would think that $2,000 a child was going to make a big difference. This is a step forward, it is an improvement, but it is a very small step forward and it is not much of an improvement.

In particular, the government scheme does not provide to the mothers of this country their full wage for the full six months that it is recommended they spend with their newborn baby. Our position, by contrast, is that mothers in the workforce should be paid real money for real time to bond with their newborn babies. Our position is founded on a clear understanding that over the past few generations society has changed, expectations have grown and lifestyles are different. We understand that in a way that I think the government does not, given the very limited nature of the measure which they are proposing to this parliament now.

There should be no limits placed on what the women of Australia can aspire to and achieve. There should be no role which is denied to women. There should be no bar placed on women and certainly the women of this country should be able to aspire to any role and any job beyond the traditional role of wife and mother. They should not be forced to choose between career and family. They must be allowed to choose both if that is what they want. That is what this policy of ours is designed to achieve.

As is well known, my views on this issue have evolved. I have changed my mind. I am pleased that I have been open on this subject to the wisdom of others. I am pleased that on this issue I have been able to grow. I am pleased that, over the years, on this issue in particular I have listened to other people. I have listened to my wife. I have listened to my daughters. I have listened to my colleagues. I have listened to my friends. I have tried as best I can to enter into their experience and to understand their hopes and their dreams. That is why I am so proud to stand up in this parliament today and advocate the policy of the coalition for a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme, which is long overdue and which sadly was not delivered by the former government and is certainly not going to be delivered by the current government.

We have to face the facts of modern life and a fact of modern life is that most families need two incomes to survive. Most families cannot pay the mortgage without two incomes. Members opposite know this. The staff of members opposite get 18 weeks at full pay. That is the parental leave that they get, yet they wish to deny other women and other parents the kind of benefit that would be provided by the coalition’s policy. We have to face the facts of modern life and a fact of modern life is that most families need two incomes to survive. If we are going to facilitate those families, we must facilitate their ability to maintain their income. The paid parental leave scheme that the coalition has adopted is good for women because it finally gives them a real choice, good for families because it supports their income when they are at the most financially vulnerable time in their family lives, and good for the economy because it will keep some of the most productive and potentially productive people more engaged in the workforce.

There is no more important challenge before this country than trying to ensure the productivity of our economy because, in the end, you cannot have a community without an economy to sustain it. The stronger that economy, the more prosperous, the more cohesive and most likely the happier that society will be. We look to the intergenerational report, which talked about the various long-term challenges that our country faces. Over several editions, that report has consistently talked about the three Ps—population, participation and productivity. A paid parental leave scheme is good on all three counts. It will increase our population. It will certainly increase the participation of women in the workforce and it will increase our productivity by keeping experienced workers engaged in the workforce. This is not just a visionary piece of social policy; it is an important economic reform. As a member of the party of good management, as a member of the party which above all else wishes to improve and strengthen the Australian economy again, I am proud to put this proposal to the parliament.

Of course, all policies have to be paid for. Only members opposite think that there is some endless source of finance, some magic pudding from which to pay for all the things that they desire to create a better society. I make no bones about the fact that this policy will be paid for by a levy of up to 1.7 per cent on taxable company incomes over $5 million a year. I wish it were otherwise. Were circumstances different, it could have been different. If we had a $20 billion surplus, we could have done it differently. But given the situation that this government places us in, given the fact that this government in just 2½ years has turned a $20 billion surplus into a $57 billion deficit, given that this government has put us in the position where we are borrowing $700 million a week, this is the least bad way to bring about an effective paid parental leave scheme any time soon. And it must be done soon. The women of Australia and the families of Australia have waited too long and they ought not be denied this visionary piece of social policy, this important economic reform, any longer.

It is interesting that members opposite have talked about a great big new tax. Doesn’t it show how that refrain is getting under their skin? It is getting under their skin, isn’t it? It really is getting under their skin. I make three points. First, this is an extremely modest levy compared to the $9 billion a year hit that they want to put on the resources sector, let alone the $15 billion a year additional hit that they want to put on our economy through the emissions trading scheme that they are still committed to but too gutless to talk about. The second point I make is that this is a genuine reform. It is not just a tax grab to feed their insensate spending habit. Third, I want very much to ensure that this is only a temporary additional burden even on large business and, once we have debt and deficit under control, once we have been able to reduce personal income tax, I would like also to reduce corporate tax so that there is no long-term additional benefit even on those large companies earning corporate incomes over $5 million a year.

This is a very important social reform. It is a very important piece of economic reform. By doing it the way the coalition has proposed, it does not discriminate against younger women because it is a levy on business regardless of any particular business’s employment practices. It does not hurt small business because it is a levy on taxable income over $5 million a year of larger companies. It does not add to the administrative burden of business because the work will be done by the Family Assistance Office. It should not add to bureaucracy because all that it should require to implement is a tax return and a doctor’s certificate. So this is the simplest, the fairest and, ultimately, the cheapest way of bringing about an important economic and social reform.

As I said, the government’s measure is a small step in the right direction. I believe we should go much further and that is what the amendment in my name will do. I say to members of this House that, if you want to see a long overdue reform, it is important to support the coalition’s policy on this point. If we are to have a better society in the future than that which we have experienced in the recent past, it is important to change the government. If you want to stop the great big new tax on mining, you have to change the government. As was clear from the announcement that the coalition made this morning, if you want to stop the boats, you have to change the government. And, if you want to give families a fair go through a decent paid parental leave scheme, you have to change the government. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1)   affirms its commitment to supporting all Australian families and supports policies which give choice and flexibility to parents to enable them to choose what is right for their individual circumstances, whether they are at home or in the paid workforce;

(2)   recognises that parents have different patterns of family responsibilities and paid work over their life cycle;

(3)   recognises that due to rising costs of living and a housing affordability crisis, the majority of families require two incomes to make ends meet;

(4)   notes that Australia remains only one of two OECD countries that does not provide a paid parental leave scheme and that introducing a paid parental scheme is critical to the needs of working families and our national productivity more broadly;

(5)   rejects the Government’s representation of a paid parental leave scheme as a social security measure and instead affirms that it is a valid workplace entitlement that must come with a superannuation component to arrest the gross inadequacy of female retirement incomes;

(6)   notes the Government’s proposed paid parental leave scheme is inadequate in its current form and should be amended to better reflect the requirements of Australian working mothers, and families more generally;

(7)   supports the ability of casual, part time and fulltime women to access paid parental leave provided that they have met the qualifying criteria;

(8)   recognises that a paid parental leave scheme is only one part of government’s important role in supporting families as they raise the next generation of Australians;

(9)   acknowledges that the bill does not:

(a)   provide paid parental leave for a period of 26 weeks to afford all mothers the opportunity to breastfeed their infant for the minimum six month period recommended by the World Health Organisation;

(b)   provide women with a replacement wage, to a cap or minimum wage (whichever is greater), and so does not adequately support working families when they are at their most financially vulnerable;

(10)   acknowledges that the bill places a totally unnecessary impost on Australian businesses by requiring employers to act as paymasters for eligible employees; and

(11)   calls on the Government to make such amendments to the bill as would rectify these flaws.”


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Is the amendment seconded?


Dr Stone —I second the amendment.