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Thursday, 10 May 2012
Page: 4551

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (13:36): The amendment to which I am speaking points out that whilst we are not declining to give the bill a second reading—if you had listened to the previous speaker perhaps you would not realise that—we are moving an amendment that notes that the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme is too short and does not provide superannuation and does not maintain the income of the majority of Australian mothers, and calls on the government to immediately adopt the coalition's better, fairer paid parental leave scheme.

I have to say that this amendment gives us the opportunity to speak about the benefits that will flow both to mothers and to the economy if our scheme is adopted. In 2006 I was chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services and we brought out a report called Balancing work and family—a very strong and important report. A lot of research was done on the benefit to the economy as a whole when women are able to work full-time in the paid workforce. The need for adequate childcare expenses and Paid Parental Leave were both very important in the submissions that were made to that committee.

Many of the submissions that came to the committee pointed out things like:

Australian women have embraced the expansion of tertiary education and the opportunities opening up in the workplace. In 1951, only 20 per cent of university enrolments were women. In 1987, for the first time, female students outnumbered males, and by 2004, this majority had risen to 54 per cent.

That is, there were more women than men in tertiary education at university. This means that we have many trained women who want to be able to utilise their experience and their qualifications in very sensible ways that will work to their own benefit, that of their families and that of the nation.

It was pointed out in other submissions to us that loss of salary is one of the reasons that those women who have taken tertiary education do not have children. One of the things that came out very importantly was that the simple fact of having a child reduces a woman's lifetime chance of being employed by seven per cent. The authors Dr Matthew Gray and Professor Bruce Chapman writing in the journal Family Matters stated this fact and calculated that on average this hypothetical woman would lose 37 per cent of her lifetime earnings by having a child, and that the impact of having the first child was greater than the second or third children.

The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers of Australia noted that, of their female membership, 69 per cent did not have children. By comparison the current estimate of the Australian population is generally that 16 per cent of women are likely to remain childless. The association, in its submission, said:

The very high proportion of childless female professionals found in the APESMA Surveys also reflects the reality that professional women with children are leaving the workforce or reducing their level of workforce participation due to family responsibilities

They also said:

Lack of access to part-time work in such professions—

that is, professional engineers, scientists and managers—

has not been caused by any industrial or legal limitation, but by culture, custom and practice. This is also reflected in the predominance of professional development opportunities being based upon full time workplace participation.

In other words, the women who are going on to take tertiary education face difficulties in choosing to have children and seeking full-time work without proper paid parental leave and without adequate child care arrangements.

Accordingly, the scheme that we are asking the government to introduce is the one that, should we be elected, we will introduce. That is, that there should be 26 weeks of paid parental leave, a full-time replacement wage—that means the whole wage—of a salary of up to $150,000 per annum or the minimum federal wage, whichever is the greater. This paid parental leave should include superannuation at the mandatory rate. To put that into context, we are always hearing about the serious need for people to enter the scientific and engineering areas, but those women who have chosen to do that are penalised more than any others.

We had Access Economics do some research for us on the benefit to the economy overall should we see a greater participation rate of women in the paid workforce. They estimated that the impact of that change could be as high as 4.4 per cent and that GDP could increase by 4.4 per cent—more than that estimated by the government in the Intergenerational report. As a reform initiative, increased women's participation would be placed above the 2000 tax reforms, which had a 2.5 per cent increase in GDP and below the national competition policy reform increases of 5.5 per cent.

We also found, in the submissions and in our findings overall, that women will eventually hold the majority of post-school qualifications, which means that we need to remove all barriers to women working, where they wish to do so. So by paying women the full existing wage that they are paid at the time that they have children, and by including superannuation, we would be encouraging women to return to the paid workforce and to have children—which are equally important.

We also say that we would use the same work test and eligibility conditions as the government designed scheme, but we would fund our scheme by a 1.5 per cent levy on companies with taxable incomes in excess of $5 million and that the levy would apply only to taxable income in excess of $5 million. It would be paid and administered by the Family Assistance Office and would not impose an unnecessary administrative burden on employers, unlike Labor's scheme. There is no reason that small business in particular should be burdened with becoming an organ of government for the payment of paid parental leave. It is far better that we utilise the Family Assistance Office.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Order! It being 1:45, the member for Solomon can go and debate with somebody else and try to get my good graces in some other way! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate will resume at a later hour today.