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Thursday, 10 May 2012
Page: 4549


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (13:21): I believe this is very important legislation. It makes a few minor amendments to the functionality of the Paid Parental Leave scheme as it operates now, but the really important part of this legislation is that it provides for dads and partners, from 1 January next year, for the first time, to receive paid parental leave or pay. Eligible fathers and partners will be able to receive two weeks paid leave and partner pay at the rate of the national minimum wage, the same wage per week as paid parental leave. This legislation is groundbreaking because it not only provides extra support to families at a time when they have a new baby but recognises the role fathers play in relation to babies. I think that is a very important message that the government is sending out—the recognition that fathers play a very, very important role in the care and development of their newborn baby.

I have spent a bit of time looking at and researching some of the implications of the father being able to be intimately involved in that first process—and there is hardly a father now who is not present at the birth of their baby. It is a time that is quite challenging within the family. It is a time when it is really important that both the mother and baby connect. The mother has carried the child for nine months and in many cases goes on to breastfeed their child. Dads need to establish their role once that child has appeared. They feel a significant need to be close to their new baby and help deal with the challenges that occur when a new baby makes its presence felt in the family.

'Engrossment' is a term that is often used to describe the powerful response that fathers often feel towards their newborn child. This includes his attraction to the infant, a perception of the newborn child as perfect—and most fathers have had that feeling that their new baby is perfect—and the elation and feeling of self-esteem he has at the time of the birth. From the research I have done, experts encourage fathers to hold and examine their babies and to feel that they are really a very important part of that period. This bonding that often commences with the father at the birth—the initial eye contact and the response the baby has towards them—is important to develop.

This two weeks paid parental leave will allow a number of workers who have previously been denied the ability to spend time with their newborn child to do so. In 2011 Australia finally caught up with the rest of the world with the introduction of our Paid Parental Leave scheme. I note the amendment from the opposition, and I will speak to that as I get towards the end of my contribution to this debate. Needless to say, the opposition opposed paid parental leave all the way along the line. And then, at the end of the day, the Leader of the Opposition came up with his very, very, very expensive model of paid parental leave after publicly saying for years that he did not support paid parental leave. This legislation builds on the historic reform of the introduction of paid parental leave, which allowed women to spend time with their child nurturing, bonding and setting in place the relationship that they will have into the future.

At the 2010 election we made a commitment to give dads and other partners a chance to have two weeks leave to support the new mum at home and be involved in the care of the baby right from the very start so that the mother would be able to rely on the father of her child, or her partner, to provide that support during a difficult period when you have sleepless nights and you have a strange creature who is making its presence felt within your house. What it does is allow the family time to consolidate. It allows the family time for the new baby to be integrated into the family. In cases where there are toddlers, it very much helps when the father can be involved and help the transition of a new baby into the house. Anybody who has been associated with a family that has a new baby knows that, if there is a toddler, there are problems and there are little barriers that have to be passed. Quite often that toddler is the only one in the family, and it really changes the relationships within the family.

This is good for new dads, new mums and other siblings within the family, and it provides the best possible start for new babies. This legislation means that it will be available to all eligible fathers and partners. That includes adoptive parents and parents of same-sex couples who care for a child born or adopted from 1 January 2011. The current rate is $590 a week before tax. It means that eligible families welcoming a new baby into the world can receive up to 20 weeks Paid Parental Leave plus the dad and partner payment. I know from my own sons, who have become fathers, how important the time they had had off work when their babies came home was. They had to use their annual leave entitlements. They do not in any way regret that. But when fathers are not automatically given Paid Parental Leave for such periods, it is not recognising the role of fathers. The dad and partner payment will do that.

Claims for the payment will be able to be made from October this year, and it will be available for a wide range of people. This is particularly important. It is going to go not only to those employed in ongoing positions but to casual employees and self-employed people such as tradespeople, small business owners and people working on farms. It is a recognition that fathers come from a variety of backgrounds. It is a recognition that often, when self-employed people and tradespeople have to go away from their workplace, it means that they get no income at all. It is very important that they are able to receive this payment. The legislation is based on and consistent with the independent expert recommendations of the Productivity Commission. The payments will be available in addition to any employer-paid leave but cannot be taken at the same time as paid leave.

Another important aspect of the legislation is that there was widespread consultation between government and employee groups, business groups, family and community groups, and individuals. People were asked to provide feedback on the legislation that we are debating here today, and that feedback was positive. As such, I would argue that each and every member of this parliament should support this legislation. It is about recognising the role that fathers play in our society. It is about ensuring that babies have the best possible start in life. I agree with the previous speaker from the opposition—child development starts from the day a baby is born. The emotional security a baby feels, from the support and input they receive, is reflected later in that baby's life. This legislation is about providing babies with the best start and providing the right sort of support to the family unit.

I am really disappointed that the opposition is once again engaging in wrecking tactics. I had hoped that when this legislation came to the parliament the opposition would support it. Instead, what we have before us is an amendment designed to wreck the legislation. The opposition's mickey mouse paid parental leave scheme appeared as a thought bubble to the Leader of the Opposition after years of opposing paid parental leave. It is so disappointing. I had hoped that, just for once, the opposition would walk into this place and say: 'This is really good legislation.

Mrs Griggs: Well, put up some good legislation, then.

Ms HALL: It's legislation that will be good for families. It's legislation that recognises the important role that fathers play.'

Mrs Griggs: Does it include superannuation?

Ms HALL: As I said, it is very disappointing.

I hear members on the other side interjecting, saying that fathers do not deserve to have this legislation passed through this parliament. This legislation is not about welfare; it is about workers entitlements. Now we are going to see the opposition voting it down, voting against families. They voted against families yesterday—they said that families did not know how to spend the schoolkids bonus, when families have to pay thousands of dollars to educate their children. Today they are set to vote against babies, against fathers, against the welfare of children into the future. I can only say I am extremely disappointed and I would beg the opposition to think again, to get behind and support this important legislation.