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Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Page: 290

Mr BANDT (10:45 AM) —For the first time this year, many Australian parents were able to access paid parental leave. I and the Greens have welcomed this change, especially as my electorate has one of the highest proportions of working women anywhere in the country. However, as my constituents have reported to me, there are a number of concerns with its current form, particularly the requirements of the work test currently in place.

The scheme came into effect on 1 January. It provides primary carers with 18 weeks of pay at the national minimum wage rate, to be taken within the first year after birth or adoption. Eligibility is determined by several criteria including a Paid Parental Leave work test. To meet the work test, you must have both worked for at least 10 of the 13 months prior to the birth or adoption of your child and worked for at least 330 hours in that 10-month period.

Paid parental leave has been a long time coming in Australia, and I support the effort being made to implement a government subsidised program that establishes the right of an employee to take paid leave to care for a newborn child. But I do have concerns about a number of aspects of the program as it has been implemented, especially the requirements of the work test. By restricting eligibility to parents who have been at work for 10 of the last 13 months, the program excludes women, including many constituents of Melbourne, who have returned to work for a period shorter than 10 months between pregnancies.

For example, one of my constituents has written to me that she has been at her current workplace for five years, during which she has had two children and worked part time between each pregnancy. She is due to have her third child in March. At the time she takes parental leave, she will have worked a great deal more than the required 330 hours but will not meet the requirement of having worked for 10 of the last 13 months. She will not be eligible for paid parental leave. Another constituent will have worked 668 hours over 6½ of the last 13 months, but she will not be eligible for paid parental leave. Both women should be entitled to paid parental leave, as they are removing themselves from the workforce to care for newborn children, but the requirement to have been working for 10 months prior restricts their entitlement.

This requirement makes it difficult for parents, particularly women, to manage the timing of work commitments and pregnancies to make the most of their workplace entitlements. The work test requires parents to ensure that there is at a minimum a 14-month break between children. With all the family planning in the world, this is not always possible. We do not want eligibility for paid parental leave to be subjected to an arbitrary time line for staggering the births of children, nor do we want parents to feel pressured into returning to work after the birth of a child to ensure that they have been working for 10 months prior to the birth of their second or subsequent child.

There is enough evidence out there supporting paid parental leave as a real workplace entitlement over a welfare handout, but unfortunately, despite the rhetoric from government about supporting women in maintaining their connection with the workforce and boosting workforce participation, the fact that this scheme fails to provide a proper entitlement to take leave for many parents is going to impact very unfairly on the constituents of Melbourne. (Time expired)