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Monday, 31 May 2010
Page: 4616

Mr HALE (7:06 PM) —I would like to commend my colleague the member for Calwell for her contribution. As a mother and a member of this place, I know that she has worked tirelessly with the minister in helping formulate the Paid Parental Leave scheme. There are a great many women on our side as well as in the opposition, and men, who will have a great deal of satisfaction that this piece of legislation has come through. I remember that as a young campaigner in 2007 it was with a great deal of pride that I knew it was part of the platform that the Labor Party undertook to implement, a paid parental leave scheme fully funded by the Commonwealth. I thought that was significant, and it is with a feeling of honour that I participate in the debate tonight on the Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and the Paid Parental Leave (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010.

The introduction of this legislation on 12 May represents one of the most significant achievements of the Rudd government. I was thrilled to be in the chamber when the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs introduced the bill because it was truly an historic moment for Australia. As a result of our reform, new mums and dads will receive up to 18 weeks government funded paid parental leave. It is big news for Australian families and it is great news for the working families in my electorate of Solomon, in the Darwin and Palmerston areas. I am very proud to be a member of the Rudd government because—make no mistake about this—it is the only government that has shown the commitment to introduce a paid parental leave scheme across Australia. It was all very well for those opposite to talk about a paid parental leave scheme for the last 12 years they were in government. If they were fair dinkum about it, they would have introduced it. However, it was probably something they were going to get to in their 13th year, similar to climate change.

Mr Baldwin —Why has it taken 2½ years?

Mr HALE —I will take the interjection from the shadow minister. I do not remember during the campaign the coalition ever talking about a paid parental leave scheme. They never spoke about it. However, there was a thought bubble. We all know about the thought bubble. It was the Leader of the Opposition who decided that he would introduce a paid parental leave scheme. I read through his speech because I was very interested in how Phoney Tony had evolved into this great man that he is.

Mr Baldwin —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I ask you to remind the member, pursuant to the standing orders, that he should address members of this chamber by their correct title. The Speaker has already ruled on that particular expression that he is using.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—The standing orders do require members to refer to other members by their correct title and I would ask the member for Solomon to do so.

Mr HALE —I accept that, Mr Deputy Speaker, and thank the shadow minister for the interjection. What I will say is that I was reading it and so it is probably true. He read his speech and said in his contribution to this debate, ‘I have listened to my colleagues.’ We know that is a lie because the Leader of the Opposition did not listen to his colleagues. It came as a surprise to them that suddenly he had found this new-found socialistic bone in his body and was going to bring in a paid parental leave scheme. I continued to have a little bit more of a look at his contribution to this debate. I always wondered why in 12 years, sitting on big surpluses, not once did they try to introduce a paid parental leave scheme. This goes to the core of this debate because it is about the honesty of the Leader of the Opposition when it comes to this issue. He suddenly comes into this House and expects the Australian public to believe that he has a paid parental leave scheme that is bigger and better than anything that has ever been put forward before. I will get to how he is going to fund it, because that is a separate issue altogether. After being a cabinet minister for the last 11 years, right in the inner sanctum of the coalition government under John Howard, and then driving to work—or he might have been riding his pushbike because I do not think he uses Commonwealth cars and I commend him on that—he suddenly thought: ‘Yep, I’ve got the scheme. I’ve got it. I am gonna nail it. This is what I am going to do.’

He forgot, because he has got a little bit of a selective memory, that in 2002 he said ‘over my dead body’ would there ever be a paid parental leave scheme. But suddenly the Leader of the Opposition has found this great socialistic reform that will come to pass. It came to him in this bubble that he first took to the press, where he does most of his best work, and then took to the party room. I remember that, back in December when he was preparing to lead the coup against the former Leader of the Opposition and when he did not want to be called a climate sceptic, he decided that the reason—

Mr Baldwin —Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to what this bill is actually about. I ask you to draw the member’s comments back towards the legislation before the parliament.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not think there is a point of order. I do not think the speaker has ranged that far from where the debate has been, but I will listen carefully.

Mr HALE —The point I was making was that he was prepared to say the reason that he led the coup was not that he was a climate change sceptic but the fact that the then Leader of the Opposition, the member for Wentworth, had not brought his views to and had not debated them properly in the Liberal Party room. That was the fundamental reason that he said: ‘I had to stand up and I had to say something. That’s not the way the Liberal Party operates. We debate issues; we have personal opinions.’ That was why he led the coup. He went outside that and changed his position on that. He decided that he could introduce legislation through the media.

Mr Baldwin interjecting

Mr HALE —The shadow minister was a cabinet minister in the former government.

Mr Baldwin —No, I wasn’t. I wish.

Mr HALE —I gave you a promotion. You were probably a parliamentary secretary.

Mr McMullan —Even John Howard didn’t make a mistake as big as that.

Mr HALE —I quote from the Leader of the Opposition’s contribution to this debate:

Of course, all policies have to be paid for. Only members opposite think that there is some endless source of finance, some magic pudding from which to pay for all the things that they desire to create a better society. I make no bones about the fact that this policy will be paid for by a levy of up to 1.7 per cent on taxable company incomes over $5 million a year. I wish it were otherwise. Were circumstances different, it could have been different. If we had a $20 billion surplus, we could have done it differently. But given the situation that this government places us in, given the fact that this government in just 2½ years has turned a $20 billion surplus into a $57 billion deficit, given that this government has put us in the position where we are borrowing $700 million a week, this is the least bad way to bring about an effective paid parental leave scheme any time soon. And it must be done soon. The women of Australia and the families of Australia have waited too long and they ought not be denied this visionary piece of social policy, this important economic reform, any longer.

Who believes that? If you believe that he is honestly going to bring that in, you believe in the Easter bunny, you probably leave a light on at night for Harold Holt and you probably think Elvis is in Tennant Creek driving a cement truck, because there is no way in the world that this Leader of the Opposition will implement his paid parental leave scheme.

They had a $20 billion surplus and they still did not do it. They are still in denial over the global financial crisis. They are still in denial that the Treasurer, the Prime Minister, the Treasury and the Reserve Bank have been able to guide Australia through the global financial crisis, leaving us better off than any other country. They are still in denial that our debt was looking at something in the high twenties and we have been able to keep it at around six per cent. They are still in denial. And it just shows how out of touch this Leader of the Opposition is with what real people out there in the community are thinking. He was out of touch when he was a cabinet minister when it came to paid parental leave. He cannot be trusted on this issue.

Many of my colleagues tonight have touched on where the bill is at. Many of my colleagues have spoken about different parts of the bill—the money, the eligibility aspects and all those types of issues. But, for me, this is more about the credibility of the opposition in regard to a paid parental leave scheme. It is only Labor that will deliver it. There is no doubt about that. The Leader of the Opposition says he wants to slug business with a 1.7 per cent tax. We are looking to bring corporate taxes down, through the mining tax, by two per cent. It is roughly a four per cent tax turnaround for small- to medium-sized businesses.

I put this to the Leader of the Opposition: who carried Australia through the global financial crisis? It was not the big miners; it was small- to medium-sized businesses in this country, aided by targeted stimulus spending. Those businesses showed discipline and courage by sticking with their workforces. The reward for them from this side of the House is to look at a two per cent decrease in the corporate tax rate. That is what we on this side of the House are doing. We are saying to small- and medium-sized businesses in this country: ‘We felt your pain. We gave you money through stimulus. We acknowledge the fact that you continued to put apprentices on, you did not lay people off and you showed courage and discipline in very tough times.’ What does the coalition do? What does the Leader of the Opposition do? He wants to kick small- and medium-sized businesses when they are at their most vulnerable, coming on the back end of a global financial crisis. He wants to whack a tax on them to pay for his paid parental leave scheme. It is unbelievable. What have businesses done to deserve that? I thought that the coalition were the party for small- to medium-sized businesses.

Mr Perrett —Twenty years ago.

Mr HALE —They were, possibly, 20 years ago—that is right, Member for Moreton—but not now. They stand over the top of businesses, and on this occasion the Leader of the Opposition wants to kick businesses when they are at their most vulnerable. And it will only be the Labor Party and it will only be the Rudd government that will stick by small business. That is a 3.7 to four per cent turnaround in tax if Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister of this country. That would be bad for the country.

But do you know what? You can see, in his comments about the $20 billion surplus, that he has given himself the out. This can only go one of three ways. The first possibility is that he will not bother implementing it at all. He will say: ‘Times are too tough now. We have to pay off Labor’s debt. We will have a look at it another time.’ It will be a bit similar to the phrase, ‘Work Choices is dead.’ Who believes that? Flexibility—

Mr Perrett —Those rock solid guarantees!

Mr HALE —Yes, his ironclad guarantees. No-one believes him on that. That is the first thing that could happen—scrap it, put it on the backburner. The second thing that could happen is that he may implement the 1.7 per cent tax on small- to medium-sized businesses—but I doubt it. The third thing he might do is, if he does do the 1.7 per cent, he will bring back Work Choices. And that will be his payback to big business. He will say: ‘Look, suffer for a while. Just take it easy. I am going to get rid of their penalty rates. If a woman happens to fall pregnant, we will bring in a clause along the lines of unfair dismissal, and you can get rid of her for operational reasons—because she can no longer contribute.’

This Leader of the Opposition is probably the worst Leader of the Opposition out of the three. The other two had some integrity, but not this bloke. He will do anything and he will say anything; he freely admits that himself. He did it a couple of weeks ago with Kerry O’Brien. Everyone knows. If it is written down and he is reading it, you know it is pretty well close to the truth. But, if he is talking off the cuff—and he prides himself on that; he always tells the Prime Minister off for reading notes—there is a good chance he will throw in a few lies here and there, throw in a few little curve balls. But that’s Tony. That is the way this Leader of the Opposition operates.

Does anyone honestly believe that this Leader of the Opposition is committed to a paid parental leave scheme? You are kidding. He is not committed to it. He was never committed to it in government. He has given himself so many little outs—you can see that in his speech in the second reading debate. This Leader of the Opposition loves to put little curve balls, little deceptions and all the rest of the stuff into his speeches. And he loves to talk to the media the same way.

In his speech in the second reading debate, Mr Abbott said:

As I said, the government’s measure is a small step in the right direction. I believe we should go much further and that is what the amendment in my name will do. I say to members of this House that, if you want to see a long overdue reform, it is important to support the coalition’s policy on this point. If we are to have a better society in the future than that which we have experienced in the recent past, it is important to change the government. If you want to stop the great big new tax on mining, you have to change the government. As was clear from the announcement that the coalition made this morning, if you want to stop the boats, you have to change the government. And, if you want to give families a fair go through a decent paid parental leave scheme, you have to change the government.

No-one is buying that for a moment. ‘Change the government’ is the common theme in there.

Mr McMullan —It’s true—they did change the government and they are getting paid parental leave.

Mr HALE —That is right. Thank you for the interjection, Parliamentary Secretary. He too would have worked long and hard on this particular bill.

So the common theme in everything that the Leader of the Opposition said is changing the government. There is no substance to what he said and he would not even guarantee that the boats would stop. There is no substance to what the Leader of the Opposition says. He has no credibility whatsoever when it comes to paid parental leave, and that was picked up in the policy that he introduced on 9 March while he was riding up the hill in his lycra. It was picked up on by the CEO of the Australian Industry Group, Heather Ridout, in an interview that she did about this. In referring to the Leader of the Opposition’s policy, she said:

… on any measure this is bad parental leave policy and it’s bad tax policy.

Well from a parental leave perspective it puts a huge cost on big companies. It will be anti the employment of women. It will be—it’ll cause a bias towards the employment of men.

In terms of tax policy, it will deter investment in the sense that we already have in Australia a high reliance on capital taxes such as company tax compared to other countries.

In terms of tax policy, it will deter investment in the sense that we already have in Australia a high reliance on capital taxes such as company tax compared to other countries.

And small medium sized economies like ours are reducing their company tax rate and not putting it up. That will—putting it up will deter investment into Australia and particularly into sectors that aren’t going to be the big darlings of the mining boom.

We just can’t afford this kind of operation, so on any measure it’s a poor policy.

I will finish off with this last quote from Heather, when she said what she thought of the opposition’s policy:

It is a most inequitable scheme and I don’t know who thought it up, but they’re not a rocket scientist.

That just about sums up the Leader of the Opposition: surely not a rocket scientist, and we all know that.

Be careful, I say to the working women of Australia and their partners. Be very careful when it comes to paid parental leave schemes being put forward by this Leader of the Opposition. He did absolutely nothing as a cabinet minister for 11 years. In 2002 he said, ‘Over my dead body will I ever be part of a paid parental leave scheme,’ and then he came into this place and decided he was going to slug business with it by putting the company tax up by 1.7 per cent. But we know there is always a hidden agenda with the Leader of the Opposition. No-one falls for it. Not one person in this place falls for it and I know that the Australian public—

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr HALE —They did not know about it. They would have fallen for it, but they did not know about it. I know that the Australian public will not fall for it either, because this guy has form. We saw his form with Kerry O’Brien two weeks ago. We saw his form when he openly admitted, ‘If I’m reading off notes I sort of tell the truth but, if I’m not, anything goes.’ Anything goes—and this guy wants to be Prime Minister.

Mr Baldwin —Haven’t you got anything to say about the bill?

Mr HALE —As the shadow minister interjects again, this debate fundamentally goes to the credibility of the Leader of the Opposition, and he has no credibility when it comes to paid parental leave. I am absolutely rapt that the minister has introduced this bill. I fully support it, I fully endorse it and I commend the bill to the House.