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Monday, 31 May 2010
Page: 4545

Ms MARINO (1:44 PM) —I rise to speak on the Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and Paid Parental Leave (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010 which introduce a national government funded Paid Parental Leave scheme from 1 January 2011. Many families in my electorate certainly need the two incomes to meet their commitments—the costs of raising their families, the costs of education particularly if they have to send their children away for tertiary education, as well paying their mortgages. As we know, 280,000 women have babies each year in Australia, and 60,000 of these return to work within six months of giving birth. When I speak to young women, many say to me also that women should not have limits placed on them when it comes to employment.

Women also tell me that when they cannot afford to have children they have to postpone the time in their lives when they do have children. This can have impacts later in their lives in their capacity to have children. Many believe they should not have to choose between a career and a family or be restricted by the timing of that decision. They want to be able to make that decision at a time that is right for them and right for their family. They also need flexible workplace arrangements throughout their working life cycle—something which can be easier to deliver in larger enterprises than it is in small business workplaces. These are the same women who play an invaluable role in our workforce, often being the primary earner in a partnership, but who are also critically concerned with the interests of their children. And we do know that Australia’s women are some of the best educated in the world.

As we know, Australia is one of only two OECD countries without a mandated paid parental leave scheme, the other being the USA. Having said this, Mr Deputy Speaker, larger private businesses, government agencies and departments in the public sector have been offering paid leave schemes for over 25 years for their employees, including maternity and paternity leave. This has certainly encouraged women to seek this type of employment and to use the paid maternity leave option. In fact in 2005, 76 per cent of women employed in the public sector used paid maternity leave compared to 27 per cent of women who are employed in the private sector.

There is no doubt that each day parents spend with their newborn babies is very precious. Anyone who has ever had a child knows how incredibly precious and important the first days, weeks and months of their baby’s life are, and that it is important both for you as the parent and for the baby. I suspect that there are many of us who see every single day of our children’s lives in exactly the same way.

For mothers, this time can also include having to manage breastfeeding, recovering from sometimes difficult pregnancies, as well as recovering from the birth itself. There is also the adjustment at home with a newborn in the house, often complicated by babies who do not simply eat and sleep all the time, as some believe they should. In many cases, for women in families and small businesses as well as those in the workforce, managing work, family and community voluntary expectations also continue during this time. I have seen women who put their babies into care and want to keep breastfeeding, having to leave their workplace with the agreement of the employer to go and do exactly that so that they can maintain their employment during that time.

Under this legislation the government is proposing 18 weeks of leave at the national minimum wage for primary carers who can satisfy work, income and residency tests, and who have, or adopt, a child on or after 1 January 2011. There is no provision that requires employers to continue their own, often more generous, schemes and many small to medium businesses cannot afford to top-up a new scheme in the way the government may hope that they can. Women will also have to choose between receiving other family payments, such as the baby bonus and family tax benefit, or the Paid Parental Leave scheme. They will have to use a calculator to assess whether they will be better off under these existing payments or the government’s proposal.

The government has also ruled out including superannuation payments in the first three years. It is a fact that the work patterns of women inevitably mean that they are in and out of the workforce with family and caring commitments over the course of their careers and lives, which inevitably leads to a lower level of retirement funds at their disposal. The government has excluded superannuation payments from the commencement of the scheme, which fails to address the long-term retirement requirements of women. As we know, the majority of age pensioners—75 per cent of them—are actually women who have not had, and do not have, the financial capacity to support themselves in their senior years. The coalition has included superannuation contributions at the mandatory rate of nine per cent in our paid parental leave scheme.

I have very serious concerns about the additional burden on small to medium businesses and, essentially, how the government’s scheme will actually work in practical terms within these businesses on a daily basis. Exactly what employers will have to do to discharge their responsibilities, and how, has yet to be explained, but it will be another administrative and compliance cost for the businesses concerned. The government has also failed to address the payroll and workers compensation impacts on the employer to continue and to retain and pay the workers on parental leave on their books. How will this scheme work for self-employed and family business operators, for women in the farming sector, those doing seasonal work and contractors in the workforce? I would also like to know how this scheme is reflected in the government’s workplace relations laws and where the provisions are. I am concerned that the minister’s officials have indicated that the rules accompanying this legislation will not be provided until at least October this year.

We should also not underestimate the challenges small to medium businesses will face in finding replacement workers for the parental leave period. It will be far more difficult in areas of skills shortages as well as in regional and rural areas. Understandably, small businesses are very wary and extremely concerned about both the extra costs and compliance issues that will be imposed by this legislation.

As a result of a lack of consultation with the sector, the government is having to introduce a six-month phasing in or moratorium period, during which time the administration of payments will be borne by the government. Future estimates will reveal what the cost has been to government during this period and give some insight into the additional cost to business over the longer term. This is, unfortunately, just another example of the government’s rushed rollout of policy and programs and continues its pattern of failure to consult with stakeholders.

Under this legislation, small businesses will have to manage the government’s parental leave payments to employees who are participating. Small business may be liable for state payroll tax and workers compensation for employees on parental leave, as well as for their replacements. This will add further compliance costs to individual businesses. Under the coalition’s scheme, small businesses will not pay the levy; nor will they administer it.

The government is borrowing $100 million a day, $700 million a week, and will have a deficit of $57.1 billion on 30 June of this year. It has a history of rushed and bungled programs. The coalition’s scheme will provide payment to all full-time, part-time and casual workers, providing primary carers with 26 weeks of paid parental leave and up to two weeks of paternity leave—very important for so many fathers who also want time with their newborn baby. This will be available to all employees, including contractors and the self-employed, who meet the work eligibility test. The coalition’s scheme will be administered by the Family Assistance Office, not by employers.

Parents have to balance work and family life year after year, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, until their children become fully financially independent. As well as privately negotiated benefits, the Australian government provides a range of family payments and subsidies, including the baby bonus, which are, in comparison with other OECD countries, relatively generous.

I would like, at this time, to acknowledge the extremely valuable contribution made by mothers who make the decision to raise their own children. I see this every day in my electorate. These are the same women who often make an invaluable contribution to regional and rural communities as volunteers in so many ways, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. They are in school canteens, they are at sports days, they are mums’ taxis, they are supporters of community sport and often the flag wavers, and they are part of community service organisations as well.

The challenge of finding affordable housing and managing on one wage is a very real issue for many young people. The Labor government has made decisions which affect families—for instance, the decision to cancel 260 new childcare centres. Families in my electorate of Forrest who do manage to secure a place for their children at a local childcare centre while they work can find it almost impossible to afford, depending on their wage. We will see $86.3 million in government cuts to the childcare rebate over the next four years. This comes despite the fact that families are facing a $13 to $22 a day fee increase per child in the next year to meet childcare quality reforms. As we know, accessible and affordable child care is key for parents, especially mothers who stay in the workforce. The family is the foundation of our society and our small communities. Assisting families, particularly those with newborn children, is not only a right but also a matter of importance for this nation.