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Monday, 31 May 2010
Page: 4540

Mrs GASH (1:21 PM) —I agree with the previous speaker, the member for Hasluck, that we have come a long way in recognising the worth of women both at home and in the workforce. While the Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and related bills may no longer affect me, unfortunately, they will certainly affect my five granddaughters. Therefore I am pleased to have the opportunity to place on record my views about this government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme. I would also like to take the opportunity to highlight the inadequacy of this government’s scheme as well as point out the strengths of the coalition’s proposal, which I think this government should consider.

My first point relates to the period of leave or time frame each policy grants to a new parent. Labor’s proposal allows for 18 weeks compared to the coalition’s 26 weeks or, in other words, around four months versus six months, which is crucial for breastfeeding and for adapting to the lifestyle of having a newborn baby in general. I well remember my own experience with both my daughters who were each breastfed for 6-8 months.

The next weak point I see within Labor’s policy relates to the rate at which new parents are paid. Labor will offer the minimum wage of $543.78 per week unless a mother’s salary is above $150,000. If it is more than that she does not qualify for the scheme and would simply, maybe, get the baby bonus, whereas the coalition will offer a replacement wage, that is, the equivalent amount to what she was earning up to $150,000. Anyone earning more than $150,000 will simply have their payments capped to the value of $150,000 as this is the limit. A woman earning, say, $175,000 will receive a replacement wage to the value of $150,000 for six months. However, if a woman is only working one day a week, under the coalition’s scheme she is entitled to receive the minimum wage as opposed to her regular wage, whichever is greater. Some of you might be asking: what about the non-primary carer—dads in many cases? Well, dads, you will be entitled to two weeks ‘use it or lose it’ parental leave to bond with your newborn. The coalition’s scheme will signal to the community that taking time out of the workforce to care for babies is good, healthy and normal.

Now for the fine print. Labor will not pay anyone who has not worked a minimum of 330 hours in 10 out of the 13 months before the child’s birth. Their legislation will not guarantee time off work to take advantage of the PPL scheme. A woman may find that her employer will not allow her the 18 weeks off to take advantage of the scheme. In fact, Labor have refused to amend the scheme to create a legal entitlement for leave. But there is more bad news. Businesses will actually have to administer this whole scheme for their employees under Labor’s proposal, which is something I am sure they do not need to do with their spare time—what with all the pressures on small businesses of high interest rates and just making ends meet so that they can continue to employ people. I would worry that it might even turn some business owners off employing young women just so they can avoid the administrative nightmare.

By contrast, the coalition’s scheme can be for anyone who has worked even one day a week either in their own business or in the workforce in 10 out of the 13 months prior to the birth. This means employees, contractors and the self-employed who meet the work eligibility criteria are all entitled to payments. They will also get super contributions at the mandatory rate of nine per cent—unlike Labor’s proposal. Better still the Family Assistance Office, not small business, will be responsible for administering it. Furthermore the taxpayer will not need to foot the bill for the coalition’s scheme, instead big businesses who have a taxable income or profit of more than $5 million, will. That is, of course, after all their deductions and expenses. Out of all the businesses in Australia, this will affect only 3,200. They will pay a levy of 1.7 per cent to pay for this scheme. This levy will be reconsidered when the budget gets back into surplus. No small business will have to pay the levy, only 3,200 large businesses will, many of whom already have some sort of PPL scheme in place, which could be rolled into this one.

The Liberal Party is not traditionally the party in favour of more taxes and to some people this announcement has been surprising, but there are several reasons why this scheme is just too important not to do so. With the high cost of living as well as high mortgage and interest rates it is becoming harder and harder for families to live on one income. I certainly know that is so in the electorate of Gilmore. Women need a replacement wage if they are to be enticed out of the workforce to have a child and then return to work. Productivity is essential to driving economic growth in this country. Keeping the experience and skills of our women in the workforce is crucial. We need our Australian families to have more babies so our workforce will not have to import workers from overseas. Australia is actually the second last OECD country to adopt a mandatory paid parental leave scheme. It is considered vital for the future around the world, which is why it is alarming that Labor’s scheme is so inadequate.

Lastly, we need fairness restored. All women no matter where they work should have access to the support they need at such a crucial and life-changing time. This actually benefits small business as well because women do not have to weigh up which maternity leave scheme is better when choosing where they will work—and believe me they do this now. Therefore the scheme at a local small business should be just as attractive as at a major firm in the city. Also it is important that small businesses especially do not have to deal with the paperwork of figuring out who gets what.

Obviously as I said earlier it would be preferable if this essential scheme did not have to be funded by a levy and in the future under a coalition government it will not be. The coalition has unequivocally stated that this is temporary and we would prefer to pay for this from a surplus in the budget, like the one we left the current government. We all know that it simply does not exist anymore. It is gone and all we are left with is a $100 million bill for each day, or $700 million a week, just to pay the interest on this government’s spending. Paying off this government’s massive debt will be our first priority when we return to government. Then we will be able to do such things as lower taxes and take this modest levy off big business.

In conclusion I would like to state that a paid parental leave scheme is critical to empower parents to make decisions for their families. It is crucial for the future economic sustainability of this country and it is crucial for the job security of all mums and dads. While I am very conscious that many mums did not get this support in their time, it is fair to say that family pressures and circumstances have changed. We need to encourage Australians to continue to make this country what it is. I am very proud to be part of a party that is putting forward a bold policy on this issue.