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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4415

Mr NEUMANN (1:15 PM) —I rise to speak on this historic occasion in our nation’s history in terms of workforce participation, the rights of women and the role of families in our society. This is truly a wonderful initiative of the Rudd Labor government, long overdue, and those opposite should be ashamed—simply ashamed—of their inaction and inactivity during their many long years of tenure on the treasury bench. They have a disgraceful, woeful record when it comes to caring for the rights of women and supporting families in our community.

The Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and Paid Parental Leave (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010 introduce Australia’s first national paid parental leave scheme, to commence from 1 January 2011. Eligible working families of babies born or adopted from that date next year will receive 18 weeks parental leave, paid at the federal minimum wage. This scheme, as the member for Petrie correctly pointed out, is fully costed and fully funded. We have put aside more than $250 million to assist in establishing Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme, and we have followed the Productivity Commission’s recommendations. During late 2009, we had 32 consultation sessions held with over 200 key stakeholders, including employer groups, unions and other organisations, to discuss how this could happen. The recommendations of the Productivity Commission report suggest that we should undertake this type of scheme, and so we are doing it. Unlike those opposite, we are engaging in real action. Those opposite had 12 years of inaction on this topic.

This Paid Parental Leave scheme will be available to all working parents, including full-time, part-time, seasonal and casual workers; contractors; the self-employed; and people who have many employers—because that is often the case; to make ends meet, people need multiple jobs on occasion. The Paid Parental Leave Bill is particularly important to me as the father of two daughters at university, one 19 and the other nearly 21—both aspire to working lives and to careers in the future—and as someone who was in small business for more than 20 years. We have many on this side of the House who have experience in small business: the member for Forde, the member for Makin, the member for Dawson and me. With extensive business experience, we know how important it is to keep good employees. We know how vital it is. It has been estimated on many occasions that it would cost a professional practice such as that of an accountant or a lawyer more than $100,000 to lose a valuable female employee. The Paid Parental Leave scheme will make a big difference in terms of workforce participation, productivity and profit for our businesses large and small. This is a very important bill funded by the Australian government, and it is set to start early next year.

It is often dangerous in your own electorate when you are there by yourself and you think no-one is listening to you, even if you are someone as senior in this parliament as the Leader of the Opposition, because you can look like you are at home—on home ground and home territory—but what you say is judged by those who listen—often via the media locally, sometimes at a state level and sometimes at a national level. Certainly, when you are the Leader of the Opposition and you are making speeches on International Women’s Day in Manly, New South Wales, you have to be careful. I heard what he had to say. I saw him on the TV, pink tie and all, looking very feminine in terms of his views, as if he had got into the scheme and the groove of things. I thought I would listen to what he had to say, and I had a look at the transcript of what he had to say that day. This is about what the coalition is proposing. He was talking about his scheme. It really was a thought bubble—something that must have come to mind because he had to say something when it came to International Women’s Day on 8 March 2010.

He talked about his new scheme, which is going to put what he calls a 1.7 per cent ‘levy’—not a tax; he does not want to use the word ‘tax’, because he thinks he is ideologically opposed to the use of the word ‘tax’—on the taxable income of businesses earning more than $5 million a year, and that will be about 3,200 companies. Some of those 3,200 companies are big companies—fair enough—but some of them are medium-sized companies, with $5 million turnover. Then he went on to talk about when he wants to bring it in. He talked about the fact that he wants to bring this in and about when he is going to do it—because you are not sure about it when you read the speech; you have a bit of a look and you think, ‘I’m not actually certain.’ He said: ‘It would be better if these things could be done. We’d like to bring down company tax rate.’ He is not supporting our reduction in company tax rate. He said the next government’s priority would be to repay what he calls Labor’s debt and then reducing personal income tax. ‘Then, after that, when we’ve done all this sort of thing, we might make some headroom to get rid of this paid parental leave levy’—or he thinks it is a levy. ‘We might get rid of it.’ He does not tell us at all when he is going to bring it in.

I had a look at what some of the media have said about this. I looked at what Matthew Franklin said in the Australian. I saw what the Business Council of Australia said about this scheme. They represent more than 100 of Australia’s biggest companies. They commented that those companies are already doing the heavy lifting on paid parental leave. So he got the Business Council of Australia against him with his comments. Then he got the Australian Industry Group, uniting with Sharan Burrow, the President of the ACTU, against him as well. It is not often you can get the President of the ACTU, the Executive Director of the Australian Industry Group and the Business Council of Australia united against you in one fell swoop. That was quite miraculous. It was quite a feat he managed to do.

This of course is from the bloke who famously said in 2002 that there would be a compulsory paid maternity leave scheme over the government’s dead body. I know the Leader of the Opposition has had some religious training. That is a road to Damascus conversion if I have ever seen one. It is probably the best miracle in 2,000 years.

I had a further look at it to see if I could get some more clarification. I was wondering when the scheme was going to come in. We have not heard much from those opposite about when the scheme is going to come in. Obviously, this caused them a bit of difficulty. On 18 March, only a matter of days after his statement that was made without consultation with his caucus, he made a couple of comments. People were asking when the scheme was going to come in. The Leader of the Opposition said in a doorstop interview on 10 March 2010:

We will do it as quickly as we reasonably can, should we win the next election. Now, I would be amazed if we cannot do this within two years. I would certainly anticipate that it would …

How obtuse, vague and esoteric is that? There is no guarantee this is coming in. Is this the gospel truth, is it Holy Writ engraved in stone or what is it? We are not quite sure. It is sort of qualified. It is general; there is no specificity.

I generally agree with the shadow minister for the status of women, the member for Murray, on a lot of women’s issues. She purports to be a small ‘l’ liberal. It must be an extraordinarily lonely existence for people like her among those opposite. She is losing friends, and the member for Kooyong is sort of going as well. When asked on 15 March 2010 in a doorstop interview about when this was going to happen, she said:

As soon as we could get it into place and we would hope that would be within, you know, a few months of getting into office …

Here I have the coalition’s paid parental leave policy. It is entitled The Coalition’s Direct Action Plan on Paid Parental Leave, but I would actually call it a non-action plan. It is a consultation document. They said they were going to consult people. The Leader of the Opposition did not consult his caucus. When I saw the morose, sullen and depressed looking faces of those opposite when he was speaking before, it was pretty clear there is not a lot of support over there for this thought bubble.

We do not know whether this is going to be brought in within a few months or a few years. There are conditions, qualifications, subterfuges and generalisations. It is a great story but, like The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and The Lord of the Rings, it is a work of fiction. It simply is not true. It is an interesting read because it talks about things they have done in the past. It does not talk about the inaction of the Howard government on paid parental leave.

There is no date for when it is going to be brought in, so you have to trust him; you have to trust his word. Is this the Leader of the Opposition in a Kerry O’Brien 7.30 Report stance and position or is it the person we heard today with a hand on his heart talking about how much he supports women’s rights and issues that affect Australia’s working families? We are not quite sure. When I think of The Lord of the Rings, I do not think he is action man and I do not think he is all-wise and all-powerful like Gandalf. In fact, I think he is more like Saruman. He has been a religious wizard who in the pursuit of power has decided to abandon all his previously held beliefs because he so desperately wants the prize of power.

Paid maternity leave is just a subterfuge to ensure that the women of Australia who have young children vote for him. We know they abandoned the coalition in 2007 and he has to get them back. They were worried about Work Choices. They were worried about their 16-year-old daughters negotiating with Woolworths on AWAs. They were worried about their husbands at factories in Ipswich in my electorate and the rural areas outside not being able to negotiate with their bosses and having AWAs thrust into their hands. The coalition have to get them back, so the Leader of the Opposition came up with a spontaneous extemporaneous statement. Now they are scurrying behind their backs to try to do it.

They claim they support business. As the Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy said, this is going to cost them more than $10 billion. Anyone who thinks that these 3,200 companies are going to suck it in and suck it up and not pass on the costs to them is kidding himself. They will; the big companies will pass it on. Those opposite masquerade as supporters of business, and they are not. The next time the voters go to the polls they will have a choice between Labor, who wants to reduce company tax from 30 per cent to 28 per cent, and those opposite, who want to increase company tax from 30 per cent to 31.7 per cent. It is pretty clear which side of politics is in the business of reducing taxation.

The Leader of the Opposition realised that he was in a bit of trouble after the 7.30 Report fiasco. He went up to Queensland and realised that he had to say a few things. So he had an interview with ABC Capricornia. They put it on him a bit in the interview. I have got a transcript of the interview. He said that he does not like the idea of taxes—he kept on about how much he did not like the idea of taxes. In the interview with Aaron Stevens on ABC Capricornia he said:

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see—

and this is about how it is going to affect him in the polls—

I try to be fair dinkum with people. I do not like tax and I always try to avoid it.

That is his own statement. Fair dinkum, the coalition is all over the place on this and when you listened to their speakers this morning you would never know whether they were Arthur or Martha, whether they were going to support our scheme or oppose it.

Certainly you do not hear much with respect to their conviction in supporting their own policy. The member for Gippsland was all over the place on the issue. It did not look as though he really supports it. There was no love for his own policy in what he said. And I have heard the member for Mayo speak many times. Of course he is a passionate supporter of Work Choices—we have all known that; he is one of the architects of Work Choices—but in fact he cannot even get the Fair Work Australia legislation in terms of the nomenclature; he cannot even work it out. But when you listened to the member for Mayo there was no conviction in his voice to support this particular scheme because he knows it is a tax on business.

We are supporting working families. We are supporting the women of Australia. We are also supporting those men who take seriously their parental responsibilities and want to share in those first few months of a child’s life. Twenty per cent of children under the age of two are primarily bonded to their fathers and fathers play an important role as role models and caregivers. Many of them are substantive caregivers with respect to their children in the early years. Labor recognises modern families and the challenges they face. Those who seem to be living in a 1950s world—

Ms Ley —Hardly!

Mr NEUMANN —That is the truth. That is what they have been like. There was no parental leave scheme put by those opposite at any stage. Where were the small ‘l’ liberals then? Was a submission put to the cabinet then? Where was the private member’s bill then from those opposite? It did not happen, and never would under archconservative former Prime Minister John Howard. Nor would it happen under the truth-teller at that stage, the now Leader of the Opposition, because when he said that it would happen over his dead body that was the truth.

Those people who go to the polls next time can have a choice. Do they believe the Leader of the Opposition who in a moment of sincerity back in 2002 said he would not do this at any stage, or do they believe the Leader of the Opposition when, in his own electorate on International Women’s Day, he had come up with something? I wonder what his conversation would have been like with the shadow Treasurer and the shadow minister for finance. We had the fiasco last week with the National Press Club and with the budget-in-reply speech, but it must have been an incredibly interesting conversation after he said: ‘Fellers, we have come up with this scheme. It’s going to be great. I have backflipped and I have changed my whole view. St Paul had nothing on my conversion experience, fellers. I have changed. I am a New Age feller.’ People are not going to believe that, and those sitting on this side do not believe those opposite would ever bring in a paid parental leave scheme if they had the chance. It is simply nonsense.

This is a historic day for the women and men and children in the Australian family. This is important legislation. I want to pay tribute to the many women in this caucus; to the great champions of the ACTU who have fought hard in relation to this; to the businesses that had the foresight to permit paid parental leave schemes to operate in their businesses for working women and working men; but also to those progressive forces in this community who have sought to ensure that all of us will go forward together with greater prosperity, with greater productivity and with greater profit for our businesses, which are the lifeblood of the Australian community.