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Thursday, 10 May 2012
Page: 4540

Mr MATHESON ( Macarthur ) ( 12:47 ): I rise to speak today on the Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and Other Measures) Bill 2012. This bill seeks to refine and iron out a number of issues with the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010, including 'keeping in touch days', debt recovery, notices and delegation of the powers of the Secretary of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. This bill also amends the Fair Work Act 2009 to clarify unpaid parental leave arrangements where there is a stillbirth or infant death. Other amendments to the Fair Work Act include provisions to enable the early commencement of unpaid parental leave and to enable employees who are on unpaid parental leave to perform permissible work paid for short periods for the purposes of keeping in touch.

I cherished my time with my two beautiful daughters when they were newborns. Being able to take leave and not worry about how to make ends meet would have been an added blessing to the joys of becoming a father. Balancing work and family is difficult at the best of times; however, the financial pressures of a mortgage and a new baby meant that my wife and I had to continue in the workforce while our two daughters were newborns. We were, however, fortunate to have the loving support of our parents, who cared for our daughters while we were at work.

The Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 has provided a basic level of Paid Parental Leave for working parents. I know my wife and I would have been overjoyed to have the opportunity to receive some financial assistance and leave to spend a significant amount of time with our daughters when they were little. Dad and partner pay provisions within this bill will give dads and working partners the opportunity to take paternal leave and still receive some income.

Fathers and working partners have traditionally borne a heavy burden of responsibility during the birth or adoption of a newborn child. They must provide for their new family as the main source of income and, once completing work, they must still spend quality time with their newborn—and their spouse, might I add. Being able to support your spouse through this incredibly rewarding challenge of being a new parent is so important for both the mother's wellbeing and the overall health of the family relationship.

I am also very encouraged that the government is finally acknowledging the contribution and the role of fathers by making these provisions for dad and partner pay within the Paid Parental Leave Act. These provisions will give fathers and partners of mums with newborns the opportunity to bond with their young child in those first critical months of development without having to dig into their annual leave or take unpaid leave. I have always firmly believed that fathers play an important role in the healthy development of their young child.

During the 2010 election the government committed to extending the Paid Parental Leave scheme by introducing a two-week paternity leave payment. I must say that while this government has a shocking record of delivering on its election promises—the carbon tax and the company tax spring to mind—I am glad that they have at least honoured this important issue.

Through this bill, dad and partner pay will be available to eligible fathers and partners, including adopting parents and parents in same-sex relationships, who are caring for a child born or adopted from 1 January 2013. Under this legislation, eligible fathers and partners will be able to receive two weeks of dad and partner pay at the rate of the national minimum wage; the same weekly rate as for the existing parental leave pay of $590 a week before tax. Eligibility for dad and partner pay will be the same as that of the income test, work test and residency requirements applied to the Paid Parental Leave scheme. Dads and partners will not have to undergo an additional assessment for eligibility for dad and partner pay if they have already made a secondary claim to receive parental leave pay. This is an important feature of the bill for fathers who have claimed parental leave pay as the primary carer of their newborn who could otherwise fail an additional work test or income test for dad and partner pay.

The Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and other Measures) Bill 2012 also makes a number of amendments to the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010. These amendments have been introduced to address a number of uncertainties surrounding provisions for employees to return to work for up to 10 days in total during their Paid Parental Leave period, referred to as 'keeping in touch days'. The bill also seeks to clarify the operation of a number of provisions within the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 which deal with debt recovery, notice and provisions relating to delegation of the secretary's powers.

Other important amendments to highlight are those that deal with changes to the Fair Work Act 2009. These amendments clarify unpaid parental leave arrangements where there is a stillborn or infant death. They also seek to enable early commencement of unpaid parental leave, allowing a parent to start unpaid parental leave more than six weeks before the expected date of a birth, where the employer agrees.

Another important amendment to the Fair Work Act made by this bill is the introduction of 'keeping in touch' provisions within the act. These provisions will allow parents who are on unpaid parental leave to perform permissible, paid work for short periods for the purposes of keeping in touch. Currently, if a parent accesses a 'keeping in touch' day at work, which is allowable through the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme, they will jeopardise their National Employment Standards entitlement of up to 12 months unpaid parental leave. This is because a national employment standard stipulates that entitlement to unpaid parental leave must be single, continuous unpaid leave for a period of up to 12 months. I am glad that the government has identified this grave oversight. This amendment will ensure that 'keeping in touch' arrangements within the Paid Parental Leave Act will align with the Fair Work Act, ensuring that no parents get caught out in this legislative muddle again.

While I am in support of this bill and we supported the government's Paid Parental Leave Act, the provisions in the coalition's paid parental leave package are far more generous and supportive of working Australian families. I am proud to be part of a team delivering a visionary approach to policies to assist Australian families. The coalition's alternative paid parental leave scheme would provide for up to 26 weeks leave, as opposed to the 18 weeks provided for by the government. Those 26 weeks would be paid at the rate of the mother's or primary carer's current wage, or the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, and would allow the father to take paid parental leave at the same time as the mother. The coalition's paid parental leave scheme would also include compulsory superannuation contributions, which are so important to securing the future of Australian families as they grow older. The coalition's paid parental leave plan would enhance child and maternal wellbeing by providing working mothers and fathers with real time and real money during the important period following childbirth.

This policy is in line with many paid parental leave provisions in other OECD nations. An interesting addition to this bill is that the payment of dad and partner pay will be administered and paid solely by the Department of Human Services' Families Assistance Office. This is very interesting to note, as the Paid Parental Leave scheme lumps employers with the administrative burden of playing pay clerk for the government's scheme. The administration of Paid Parental Leave may not be as cumbersome and difficult for some large organisations with their own human resource departments. However, for small business employers this impost comes with significant compliance costs and additional regulatory burdens that they could well do without.

It is absurd that the government is satisfied with administering one paid parental scheme but not the other. Why they will not allow Centrelink's Family Assistance Office to administer both the Paid Parental Leave scheme and the dads and partners leave scheme is a question that they continue to refuse to answer. The Family Assistance Office should be the default option for administrating Paid Parental Leave to eligible employees, both parental leave and dad and partner leave. The shadow minister for small business's amendment to enable all employers to opt in to administer the payment of these leave payments is a sensible one. I commend his amendment to the House.

This amendment would allow larger employers to continue to provide an ongoing relationship with employees who are taking parental leave and yet still balance this with the needs of small business employers who struggle with an already overregulated and suffocating red-tape bound business environment. This amendment would reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, both large and small, and reduce their already growing compliance costs at the hands of this government. While I firmly believe that working mums and dads would receive a better deal under the coalition's paid parental leave plan, I have no qualms in supporting this bill and commend it to the House.