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Thursday, 10 May 2012
Page: 4528


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (11:51): It is always interesting to follow the member for Blair. In fact, I thought I was standing up to speak on an appropriation bill rather than the Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and Other Measures) Bill 2012. What didn't he cover in that speech he just gave? But we are here to talk about the specific bill today, which is the Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and Other Measures) Bill 2012. Today's amendments streamline and correct many of the original functions in the Paid Parental Leave Act passed in June 2010. However, these amendments do not go far enough, and the coalition is seeking to propose further amendments that will ease the regulatory burden that the Paid Parental Leave scheme creates for Australian business.

The member for Blair, in his very far-reaching speech, spoke about all the things that the Labor government had done for families, but I notice he is very selective. He does not talk about the $12 million that has been cut from occasional day care, particularly centres like the Kitchener Road centre in my electorate of Brisbane, which will close down as a result of that. Not only is that reducing the flexibility of families, but many, many families require occasional care for study or things like having an operation, and that has absolutely devastated the families in my electorate that rely on that occasional day care centre. The member for Blair spoke about many far-ranging things, including the thresholds and childcare rebates, but from I remember quite clearly that those thresholds for childcare rebates have been tightened up under this government. So it is very interesting to see the selective quotation of all the wonderful things that this government has done, but what it is doing, essentially, is reducing the flexibility of families in my electorate, particularly by totally cutting the occasional care that has been offered to them.

The bill that we are talking about today amends the PPL Act. The minimum period of time in which an employer may not request a 'keeping in touch' day will be extended from 14 to 42 days, and that is an important amendment. It will allow employees to perform permissible paid work during the period of leave for the purposes of 'keeping in touch' with their employer. In the cases where an employee is eligible for paid parental leave, this is a very important change. As a mother of two children, I know only too well how important it is to have an uninterrupted six-week period for a parent to be with their child. One of the most important things about this is allowing the mother time to physically recover. Not every baby has the same patterns of sleep, breast and management, and sometimes there are issues when a family brings a newborn baby home. There are some health issues, colic issues and all sorts of settling-in issues. That is a very important aspect, particularly physical recovery. No birth is the same. We have multiple births. We have different births taking place and different periods of recovery according to individuals. So that is a welcome move. Most importantly, employees themselves may still request a 'keep in touch' day after a minimum period of 14 days. What that does is again allow that very much needed flexibility in the PPL arrangements and allow employees to maintain contact with their employer if they wish to do so.

To further increase flexibility in leave arrangements, the bill amends the restrictions on when an employee may begin leave. Currently, a pregnant employee is able to begin her period of leave six weeks prior to birth but no earlier. These amendments will allow employees to begin unpaid parental leave more than six weeks before the expected date of birth if they come to an agreement with their employer, and that is a very important thing.

Moreover, there is a provision in the Paid Parental Leave Act that considers Commonwealth employees to be employed by the specific government agency, rather than by the Commonwealth at large. This creates confusion for workers who are employed by two agencies in the 12 months before the birth as to whether such a Commonwealth worker is eligible under the work test. The coalition agrees to the amendment that employees will be regarded as employed by the Commonwealth as a whole, eliminating any possible discrepancies.

The bill also extends the Paid Parental Leave scheme by introducing a two-week paternity leave payment. The new payment will be implemented from January 2013. The PPL will now be extended by introducing a new payment called 'dad and partner pay' for eligible working fathers and partners, and this is a good thing. Dad and partner pay will be available to eligible fathers and partners, including adopting parents and parents in same-sex couples, who are caring for a child born or adopted from 1 January 2013.

The coalition seeks to propose a further amendment to this bill that eases some of the regulatory and compliance burden related to the requirement that businesses act as the de facto pay clerk for the scheme. Let me tell you as someone who has run a small business that this is exactly what businesses do not need: more compliance. There is enough compliance out there day in, day out for the business that I was running to employ someone full time just to deal with the compliance aspects of running a small business. Then this is being heaped on the hundreds of thousands of small businesses out there in this country that will have more and more compliance put on them yet again by this government. They talk about reducing compliance, but all this does is increase the mountain of compliance that already exists.

The member for Dunkley has previously proposed to the House the Paid Parental Leave (Reduction of Compliance Burden for Employers) Amendment Bill 2010, and we seek similar amendments again. We propose that the government provide employers with the opt-in action of acting as the government's pay clerk for PPL payments to employees and have the Centrelink Family Assistance Office as the default option for administering payments to eligible employees. In the government's current legislation, the Centrelink Family Assistance Office administered payments for the first six months. After this time, it was the obligation of the employer to forward on payments received from Centrelink to eligible employees. On top of that, I understand that from 30 June this year the Centrelink Family Assistance Office will cease to administer PPL payments, and from 1 July all employers will have to bear the additional administrative burden of serving as the government's pay clerk. The government failed to offer any compelling reasons for forcing this on employers, and the coalition is still waiting for one. At the time, peak business bodies all protested at the proposed change, and once again this government is doing what it does best: it does not listen. It refuses to listen to small business.

It is very poor planning by the Labor government to implement a new government program—rushing it through again, as they always do—and at the same time expect businesses to administer it. Australia already has a network set up to administer welfare payments to Australians, and I am sure the members opposite would have heard of it: it is called Centrelink. It would have been a much better alternative, and frankly it is absolute madness by this Labor government not to use the Family Assistance Office in this case. I have heard from very large employers that they have largely been able to absorb this function in acting as the de facto pay clerk for the scheme. However, this issue raises enormous compliance costs for the small businesses in my electorate and in many electorates throughout Australia. Many employer organisations and members of the small business community have spoken to me about being forced to absorb this particular impost. They want to work constructively with the government to ensure that their expecting parents have a safe and secure fiscal position at a time of uncertainty. What they did not expect was that the government would then burden them with more red tape and more compliance, and that the Labor government's paid parental leave would impose more and more burdens on them.

On 8 November the government lumped into the entire Australian economy another significant and costly regulatory burden in the form of a carbon tax. Between 2008 and 2010 Labor passed 12,835 regulations and repealed a mere 58. To any person with any common sense it is clear that this tax-and-spend government is addicted to over-regulating the economy and does not take into consideration the concerns of small business around this great country of ours. Therefore, I call on the government to accept the coalition's amendment to help small business in this very, very small but highly significant and important way.

Originally, Labor designed an inadequate Paid Parental Leave scheme, which provided only 18 weeks of minimum wage from January 2011. As this Labor government so often does, it ignored the recommendations of the Productivity Commission. It is very good at getting Productivity Commission reports but it then ignores them. The legislation did not sufficiently provide for casual workers who are by definition unable to use accrued leave as a further substitution for time off work.

As the member for Murray quite accurately pointed out earlier in this debate, there is no provision for superannuation. I have also had representations from parents in my electorate who are sole providers. For example, there is a mum in my electorate who is the main breadwinner and earns $150,000, and there is absolutely no provision in this legislation when one person is the main breadwinner, and that is something that is clearly a flaw.

The coalition have a proud history of providing support to Australian families. We reformed the family tax system in 2000 to expand access to Family Tax Benefit for Australian families, and in 2004 there was a Baby Bonus scheme implemented to help families when they needed the money most. More than ever, with the rapidly increasing cost of living combined with the additional impost of the carbon tax, Australian families require a system in place that helps them to support and raise a child.

I again want to refer to what the member for Murray said in this debate earlier—that there are many different systems of support and we need to have an open mind. When a child is very young there are many different schemes available. I have used family day care and childcare centres, and I have also used a nanny agency. That does not mean that you use all the different schemes and not have flexibility. As your child grows their needs change, such as when they go to school. We need to have an open mind, particularly when we are looking at care in the home. It is not something that is only the privilege of the elite. There are many families in my electorate who are shift workers, including many nurses. There are also seven-day-a-week hospitality businesses that require the system to have some flexibility. I hope that this government will look at flexibility, particularly for families that have children requiring care sometimes seven days a week and at irregular times.

If the coalition are able to form government we will introduce a scheme that will provide payment to all full-time, part-time and casual workers, provided they are eligible under a minimum work test. The coalition have a scheme that will signal to the community that taking time out of the workforce to care for a new child is a normal part of the work-life cycle of parents. I really believe that as I am among the many thousands of women who have had to have time off when children have been ill. The day we can honestly say to employers that we are taking time off because our children are ill and not feel adversely impacted by that will be a good day indeed. The coalition's Paid Parental Leave scheme will provide primary carers with 26 weeks of paid parental leave at full replacement pay up to a maximum salary of $150,000 per annum. Our scheme will be fully funded and we will strike the right balance to help promote female workforce participation as a financial incentive for women to engage in paid work both prior to and after childbirth. This will have a positive impact on individuals, families and society.