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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4408

Mrs D’ATH (12:39 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and cognate bill. Can I say how proud I am to be part of a government that is delivering a paid parental leave scheme for the first time ever in this country. This bill will benefit many workers and many families across this country. This bill introduces Australia’s first national, government funded, paid parental leave scheme from 1 January 2011. Parental leave pay will be provided for up to 18 weeks at the national minimum wage and be paid to eligible primary carers who have or adopt a child on or after 1 January 2011 and who can satisfy work, income and residency tests. In most cases the mother will be the primary carer, but allowance is also made for transfers of all or part of the payment to the other parent or to another carer in exceptional circumstances.

From 1 July 2011 parental leave pay may be claimed through the Family Assistance Office up to three months before the birth or adoption. The government will fund employers to pay their eligible long-term employees as part of the scheme. Eligible claimants who are not paid by their employers will be paid by the Family Assistance Office. This bill also contains integrity provisions, such as compliance rules for employers and right of review for employees to ensure that parental leave pay is paid to eligible parents in a timely manner. Any delays, disputes or debts that may arise in the payment process will be managed appropriately by the Family Assistance Office and the Fair Work Ombudsman, depending on who is making payments. Other family payments, such as the baby bonus and the family tax benefit, will remain available for families not eligible for the scheme and for those who choose not to participate in the scheme. An eligible parent could also receive family tax benefit part A while participating in the scheme.

This bill is part of a package of bills which will include the consequential amendments to related legislation, including family assistance, income tax and child support. This package of bills will provide necessary consequential amendments and transitional arrangements associated with the introduction of what will become the new Paid Parental Leave Act 2010, including phasing in the participation of employers in the scheme. Employers may opt to provide any eligible employee with parental leave pay from 1 January 2011. The requirement for employers to pay parental leave pay to their eligible long-term employees will take effect from 1 July 2011.

I said before that this will provide a significant benefit for families across this country. This is long overdue. Australia has been one of only two OECD countries, along with the United States of America, which do not have a comprehensive paid parental leave scheme. The Rudd government’s decision is historic. We have committed $731 million over five years to Australia’s first comprehensive paid parental leave scheme from 1 January 2011. The scheme will cost approximately $260 million per annum and provide paid parental leave to approximately 148,000 new parents per year.

We have heard from a number of members on the other side about their views on paid parental leave. Before I comment on some of the views that have been expressed here today in speaking on this bill, I think it is important that we go back and look at the past comments and views of those who we have already heard from today. The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, is now out there espousing the importance of paid parental leave. But the reality is that he has always opposed paid parental leave, even saying that he would see it introduced over the Howard government’s dead body.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —But he listened to his wife and children.

Mrs D’ATH —I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has been married for more than 12 months. He is suddenly listening to his wife and children now, rather than listening to them over the last decade—that is my point to those on the other side who seek to interject. I think it is wonderful that any member would listen to their partner in relation to the importance of issues such as this. But I suggest that that discussion should have been had and those listening skills exercised well before now.

As a working mother I am very proud of the experience I bring to this parliament, but we do have a new position. The coalition has put out a wonderful paid parental leave consultation document—The coalition’s direct action plan on paid parental leave. It says that paid parental leave ought to be part and parcel of any decent system of employment entitlements, such as sick pay, holiday pay and retirement benefits. I totally agree that paid parental leave should form part and parcel of any decent system of employment entitlements.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mrs D’ATH —But, again, let us look at what—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DS Vale)—Order! Under section 65, the member is entitled to be heard without noise, disturbance or interruption.

Mrs D’ATH —I refer this House to what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition and to his understanding of what a ‘decent system of employment entitlements’ is. Tony Abbott has said that Work Choices was good for wages, jobs and workers. He claims that Work Choices was good because it was improved and that he would not rule out bringing back Work Choices but just rule out the phrase ‘Work Choices’. The Leader of the Opposition claims that getting rid of Work Choices actually hurt jobs and that Work Choices would have been good during the global financial crisis. Tony Abbott was opposed to any changes to Work Choices, because he thought it could not be improved and that it improved our standard of living. The Leader of the Opposition also claimed that Work Choices was economically advantageous.

When we hear those on the other side arguing about what fair and decent conditions are and their concern about women in the workforce and paid parental leave, we must consider that in light of their past statements and what they say in their current document on paid parental leave about what they consider to be decent employment entitlements. On this issue of what decent working entitlements are in the eyes of those on the other side, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, I refer the House to Tony Abbott’s address in reply to the 2010 budget on 13 May. In that address the Leader of the Opposition said that the first principle of government should be to do no harm and that the coalition wants an Australia that is ‘prosperous, united and respected, where families’ choices are taken seriously by government’. The Leader of the Opposition went on to say that the ‘former government’s workplace reforms went too far’ but ‘helped to create more than two million new jobs’ and ‘lift real wages by 20 per cent’. He then stated that the coalition would ‘seek to take the unfair dismissal monkey off the back of small businesses, which are more like families than institutions’. He said:

We will make Labor’s transitional employment agreements that are being phased out under the Fair Work Act and Labor’s individual flexibility agreements more flexible. We have faith in Australia’s workers who are not as easily pushed around and exploited as the ACTU’s dishonest ad campaign is already making out.

The Leader of the Opposition showed in his address in reply that when they talk in their paid parental leave consultation paper about a parcel of a decent system of employment entitlements this is what they are actually talking about. Under AWAs, workers lost basic conditions without any compensation: a 64 per cent cut in annual leave loading, a 63 per cent cut in penalty rates, a 52 per cent cut in shiftwork loadings, a 51 per cent cut in overtime loadings, a 48 per cent cut in monetary allowances, a 46 per cent cut in public holiday pay, a 40 per cent cut in rest breaks and a 36 per cent cut in declared public holidays—and 22 per cent provided workers with no pay rise, some for up to five years.

This is what is meant by decent working conditions, according to the opposition and its leader. We know that those most likely to be affected by changes such as these flexibility agreements are women, who are predominantly employed in casual and part-time positions. So I ask those on the other side, when they stand there arguing that their paid parental leave scheme would deliver more, to be honest with the Australian people about what they consider to be decent employment entitlements for workers in this country.

There are many reasons this legislation should be introduced and passed by the House and the Senate. Women should have the choice to stay at home or to return to the workforce. Contrary to the belief of the member for Gippsland that this Paid Parental Leave scheme would force women back into the workforce, what it does is provide them with financial support that they do not have right now in this country. Some have been fortunate enough, through negotiations with their employers, to have a paid parental leave scheme, but that is not the case for every worker across the country, and that is something that this government seeks to rectify.

The member for Gippsland went a little bit further in his comments about women returning to the workforce, and I totally agree with him when he says that women should have choice—absolutely; women should have choice whether they want to return to the workforce or not. But when you take that argument one step further and start saying that it is not in the interests of the child for that parent, particularly that mother, to return to the workforce then I believe that you unfairly start to place an unwarranted burden on those mothers who choose to, or who must, return to the workforce for financial reasons.

I know that there are many members in this parliament right now who are working mothers. There are those who have become parents and become mothers while they have been serving as an elected representative in this House. The member for Gellibrand, the member for Sydney, the member for Ballarat and the member for Indi have all had babies while they have been members of this House. We should not judge them or in any way claim that it is not in their children’s interests that they not only be great parents but also serve in this parliament—and serve their community—while they are fulfilling that important role of being a parent. We have moved beyond the argument that it is only those who stay at home that provide a good quality of life or the best upbringing for their children. It is a choice and we should not judge that choice.

There is another issue that needs to be discussed when alternative positions are put forward in this debate about the Paid Parental Leave Scheme—that is, the Rudd Labor government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme is fully costed and funded. The alternative scheme proposed by the opposition is a tax. It is a tax on business. It is a 1.7 per cent tax, at a time when the Rudd Labor government is putting forward a reduction in tax to business, a two per cent reduction in company tax. To scrap the Rudd Labor government’s reduction in company tax and then introduce a new tax on business would make businesses almost four per cent worse off under a coalition government. And then of course we have the denial. We have had Tony Abbott saying that his paid parental leave scheme, with a tax on business, would not create any flow-on effect of increased costs: ‘Of course not! We put a tax on big business. They will not increase their costs to smaller business, who will then not flow it on to the consumer.’ Let us be real! Business has already come out and said that if Tony Abbott, in government, introduced a 1.7 per cent tax, of course that cost would flow onto their customers, and then small business would flow that cost onto their customers, the households. What we have is Tony Abbott holding out in one hand a paid parental leave scheme, saying ‘Isn’t this wonderful! And, by the way, when you go to the grocery store and you buy baby formula, or nappies or anything else for your new baby, you will be paying with the other hand—because we’ve hit business for this paid parental leave and those costs will flow.’ It is not just a denial; it is misleading the Australian public to say that a 1.7 per cent tax on big business will not flow to the consumer at the end of the day. They will pay under a Tony Abbott scheme, I can guarantee that.

This alternative scheme—that does not even appear to have the full backing of those on the other side—is a tactic. It is an excuse not to support this bill in this parliament right now. The fact is that the opposition have not come out and said what they are going to do with the bill, whether they are supporting it or whether they are not. If you listened to the speakers, you would certainly be led to believe they would be voting against this scheme. What I say to those opposition members who may be considering voting against this scheme is: you cannot do this to those people in the workforce who are expecting this Paid Parental Leave Scheme to be in place. They are relying on it and they are planning around this scheme. You have a responsibility to support this scheme, a scheme that will be introduced for the first time ever in this country. Be honest. As a government you had 11 years to do this. You chose not to. So just step aside and let this scheme be introduced. That is what you would do if you were a responsible opposition, but the reality is you are not a responsible opposition. You are erratic. You are a risk to workers in this country. This bill should be supported. It has my absolute support and if those opposite choose to oppose this bill they should come to the electorate of Petrie and explain to all of those women in the workforce why they oppose it.