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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4423

Mr TURNOUR (1:50 PM) —I stand here today very proud to be a part of a government that is introducing the Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and the related bill. This is legislation that is long overdue and a scheme that the former government and many of those opposite had more than 10 years to implement. We are delivering on a scheme and it is a very good scheme. The government funded scheme will provide parental leave pay to mothers and adoptive parents who have been working and who have a baby or adopt a child on or after 1 January 2011, the start of next year. To be eligible for the scheme, parents will need to meet the paid parental leave work test, income test and residency requirements. The claimant must be the primary carer of the child from birth or adoption and have verified the child’s birth or adoption. Paid parental leave is for a maximum of 18 weeks and must be taken in one continuous block.

The scheme is fully costed and funded by the government. There is no new tax on this side of the House to pay for our scheme, while the opposition is proposing a great big new tax on everything to pay for theirs. It is fair to business and it is fair to families. This bill is a major win for working families, who have been waiting for decades for a national paid parental leave scheme. Until now Australia has been one of only two advanced economies without a national paid parental leave scheme and it is a sad indictment of our nation and of our economy that we have not had one until the Rudd government’s introduction of this one. This legislation changes that and delivers for working families. It means one parent has the financial security to take time off from work to care for their baby at home during the vital early months of their baby’s life. It is important that mothers have time to recover from birth and bond with their baby, and this legislation will allow that to happen.

I have a young child, who is just about to turn three, and she is fantastic. Luckily enough, my wife has been able to take time off to care for our child. But many families out there are in financial stress and they need assistance to take time off from work. This legislation is about providing that assistance. This legislation, though, is designed to ensure that mothers maintain their connection with the workforce and it will boost workforce participation.

Once the scheme is fully implemented, parental leave pay will be provided by employers to their long-term employees. A long-term employee is a person who has been an employee of the employer for 12 months or more prior to the expected or actual date of birth or placement of their child. We want to make it as simple as possible for the business to implement the scheme. The Family Assistance Office will send a notice to the employer so they will not need to determine whether or not they have to pay it. The Family Assistance Office will notify them and they will also notify the parents. In other cases, the Family Assistance Office will also make the parental payments. The Family Assistance Office will ensure that funds are made available to an employer in advance of the employer’s obligation to provide parental leave pay to an employee. To reduce red tape, funds may be received in as few as three equal instalments. If employers adhere to their normal and proper pay practices when providing parental leave pay to their employees, they will not breach any of the obligations under the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

A parent will not be able to work while receiving parental leave pay but may keep in touch with the workplace for up to 10 days during the period, if this is mutually agreed between the person and their employer. Parents can nominate when they wish to receive their pay. The start date can be on or after—but not before—the child’s date of birth or placement and all the pay must be received within the first 12 months after the date of birth or placement of the child. Parental leave pay can be received before, after or at the same time as employer provided paid leave such as recreation or annual leave and employer provided parental leave. Our scheme also lets families make their own work and family choices. Parents can transfer the leave so mums and dads have more options for balancing work and family. If a person returns to work before they have received all of their 18 weeks of paid parental leave, the person’s partner may be able to receive the unused amount of paid parental leave, subject to meeting eligibility requirements.

Under our scheme, women in seasonal, casual and contract work and the self-employed will have access to paid parental leave. For most of them this will be for the first time. This is very important. It is a well thought out, well constructed scheme. It is not only for full-time employees but for those who are doing part-time and casual work. A mother may be eligible if she has worked continuously for at least 10 of the 13 months before the birth or adoption of her child and has worked for at least 330 hours in that 10-month period. That is around one day a week. To meet the needs of contractors and seasonal and casual workers who have irregular work patterns, a person can have a break of up to eight weeks between working days and still be considered to have worked continuously. Parental leave pay will also be available to parents who work in their own business or family business, such as a farm. So it is a scheme that will also support those in small businesses in primary production.

The scheme will be means tested, ensuring it is targeted at those in need. A person will be eligible if they have an individual income of $150,000 or less in the financial year before the claim or birth of the baby, whichever is the earlier. This scheme has been the result of two years of extensive policy development and consultation based particularly on the work of the Productivity Commission. I want to congratulate them on the work they did. Around one-third of mothers return to work within six months of the birth of their child. Two-thirds of these mothers return to work because they need the money. So many families are under financial stress. Both parents need to go out to work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. This legislation will put in place fair payment for them to have a baby and will help them with cost-of-living pressures—that is, the same way our third tax cut, delivered this year, will and the same way our increase in the child care tax rebate is helping families with cost-of-living pressures.

This legislation will improve productivity by ensuring that more women can continue to participate in the workforce and helping to ensure Australia is well placed to face the challenges of the future. Business will benefit from the retention of skilled and experienced female staff but will not have to fund the parental leave payments. Families not eligible for paid parental leave, or who choose not to participate in the scheme, will be able to continue to access the baby bonus and family tax benefit if they are eligible. An online paid parental leave estimator will be available from September 2010 to help parents choose the option that is best for them. The government estimates that 85 per cent of working families will be better off by on average $2,000 by taking paid parental leave as compared to the baby bonus. The government expects close to 150,000 people each year to benefit from our new Paid Parental Leave scheme. This is historic legislation that is going to benefit many families in my electorate of Leichhardt and families all across the country.

As the minister said, we need to pay tribute to people like Sharan Burrow and others in the union movement, who have been campaigning for this for many years. We should pay tribute to Marie Coleman and others from the National Foundation for Australian Women, as well as to the current and previous sex discrimination commissioners—Elizabeth Broderick and Pru Goward. We also need to recognise that small business representatives like James Thomson value paid parental leave, and business representatives like Heather Ridout have recognised the value of this leave scheme.

Our scheme stands in stark contrast to that put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, who had 10 years in the Howard government to actually advocate for and deliver a paid parental leave scheme but did nothing. Earlier this year, he pulled a rabbit out of a hat—even his own backbench and shadow ministry did not know about it—and announced his own scheme. It is a very unfair scheme that will put a tax on everything. That is because, if you are a business turning over $5 million or more, you will have to pay the great big new tax that the Leader of the Opposition is introducing. That will be Woolworths, Coles and clothing retailers. All of those businesses will have to pay the Leader of the Opposition’s great big new tax. It is unfair and it is irresponsible. There are working families in my electorate earning $40,000 or $50,000 and under Mr Abbott’s scheme they will be paying for parental leave for millionaires. If you are a millionaire under Mr Abbott’s scheme, you will get paid parental leave of $75,000 for six months. That is outrageous. It is unfair.

I would suggest that Mr Hockey, the shadow Treasurer, and Mr Robb, the shadow finance minister, should look at savings. I suggest they add a line in their budget reply to say that they will discontinue Mr Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme. As Phil Coorey rightly pointed out on 17 March: Peter Costello, a well-respected Liberal over that side of the House, said that—because of the things I have pointed out, that it would be a great big new tax on everything—it was a ‘silly’ tax and a silly scheme.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.