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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4609


Senator CASH (Western Australia) (09:57): In the very short time that has been allotted to speak, I rise to speak on the Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and Other Measures) Bill 2012. This bill will amend the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 and the Fair Work Act 2009 as well as implement other minor changes to five acts consequential to the dad and partner pay payment in order to extend the Paid Parental Leave Scheme to fathers and partners from 1 January.

The coalition welcome the long-overdue change in this amendment, which was promised by the government in 2010. Schedule 1 of this bill extends the Paid Parental Leave Scheme to provide two weeks pay for fathers and partners at the national minimum wage level of $590 per week before tax. It is important to note that fathers and partners will only be able to lodge claims from October 2012 for children born or adopted on or after 1 January 2013. Despite this payment being promised at the 2010 election, dad and partners will have to wait until 2013 to receive a paternity leave payment from the government. While the coalition do not oppose the bill, the reality is that the coalition's paid parental leave scheme is far superior to the government scheme, in that our scheme provides real benefits for women, men, families, business and the economy. In summary, instead of trying to fool the public and portray the coalition's PPL scheme as a reward for the rich, Labor should look at the facts. Labor's paid parental leave scheme does not pay superannuation, while the coalition's scheme includes superannuation at the mandatory level. Our scheme is a genuine social reform that will help families; it is not the box-ticking exercise that is the government's. Labor is asking employers to be the pay clerks, despite the Productivity Commission warning that the biggest dangers of an employer co-funded paid parental leave scheme are discrimination against women of reproductive age and, in the shorter term, financial pressure on cash-strapped employers. Under the coalition's plan, small business will not pay the levy and they will not administer the scheme. Workers taking paid parental leave will be paid directly by the government and businesses do not have to find the money and then wait to be reimbursed. Labor's scheme places an administrative burden on small business, while the coalition's plan will be administered by the Family Assistance Office.

A clear contrast between the coalition's PPL scheme and Labor's scheme is that no woman will be any worse off under the coalition's scheme and, further, 99 per cent of working women will be financially better off compared with the Labor scheme. The coalition's PPL scheme also provides more time for mothers to bond with their children. Labor's 18 weeks is insufficient time for women to breastfeed and bond with their child. The coalition will be giving women 26 weeks of PPL compared with Labor's scheme of 18 weeks. The coalition's 26-week scheme is precisely the duration that health experts recommend is the minimum period for optimal maternal and health outcomes.

One of the most important differences under the coalition's scheme is that working women on PPL will receive superannuation contributions at the mandatory nine per cent level. Labor's PPL scheme does not provide for any superannuation payments during PPL and, because of this fundamental failing, will further entrench the financial disadvantage of women who have chosen to have children. The coalition believes that if government is committed to women and to ensuring their financial security, superannuation contributions must be paid while women are receiving paid parental leave.

This is a step towards ensuring that women are not disadvantaged when it comes to their retirement savings. With the average life expectancy for women being higher than for men, it is important that women are not penalised with low retirement savings for having children. Research shows that a typical woman will have 35 per cent less savings than a typical man and that a woman who takes a career break to have children will have 26 per cent less for retirement than if she had continued working. That is why the coalition believe that women should not be disadvantaged when the time comes to draw on retirement savings and that is why we have included superannuation in our policy. Financial security for women is something we have seen various Labor ministers for the status of women pay lip service to but take no action on, and that is clearly reflected in the government's paid parental leave scheme. The least the government could do is admit that its policy on this is wrong and harmful to a woman's financial security.

Men will also be better off under the coalition's scheme. More than 94 percent of full-time working men will be better off financially under the coalition's PPL scheme and, unlike Labor's scheme, no man will be worse off. Men on low incomes will be up to $200 better off under the coalition's scheme and men on middle incomes will be up to $1,500 better off. Working families are also significantly better off under the coalition's PPL scheme. Why? Because they will get more time off and more money under our scheme. Unlike Labor, the coalition recognises that paid parental leave is a work entitlement rather than a welfare benefit.

Employees are entitled to sick, carers, annual, bereavement and public holiday leave at their actual salary amount and paid parental leave, in our opinion, should be no different. Under the coalition's PPL scheme, employees will receive a proper work entitlement. A proper paid parental leave scheme reinforces that taking time off work for births is a normal part of life and not an inconvenience, as the Labor scheme would have it. The coalition's PPL scheme gives women real choice because it fully supports their income when their family is at a most financially vulnerable time. Our PPL scheme recognises that a family's financial responsibilities do not reduce when a child is born into the family. There is no maternity leave from mortgage payments, power and fuel bills or grocery expenses. Mortgage payments, electricity and fuel bills and grocery costs do not take maternity leave but women certainly do and so, for a reasonable amount of time, their pay should be like any other work entitlement and not a basic welfare entitlement.

One of the other clear differences between Labor's scheme and the coalition's scheme is that the Labor scheme forces small and big business to incur the red-tape cost of administering the PPL payments. On that point, I was astounded to hear the member for Corangamite in the other place say:

... I want to make it very clear to those listening in the House today or via the broadcast that the paperwork burden is actually very manageable and very small and does not take a great deal of effort by either the employee or the employer. If you look at the efforts that this government has made in terms of red tape reduction, I think we have a first-class record of removing unnecessary red tape. Importantly, there is some necessary red tape or regulation to ensure proper operation of our laws. The level of paperwork associated with this is appropriate, it is not a great burden and it does not take an unnecessary amount of time.

Senator Ronaldson: He's a fool.

Senator CASH: Thank you, Senator Ronaldson, I will take that interjection. You are right. If the member for Corangamite stands by that statement he is clearly a fool who has absolutely no understanding at all about the way that small business functions.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! Senator Cash, you will withdraw that remark about a member in the other place.

Senator CASH: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I will withdraw the remark, and I will say that the statement—

Senator McLucas: Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I would also request that Senator Ronaldson withdraw his comment, which will also be on the record.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ronaldson, before you leave the chamber, the comment you made about the member for Corangamite may well appear in the Hansard; would you withdraw that remark.

Senator Ronaldson: Mr Acting Deputy President, I was actually directing my comment to Senator Cash that the member for Corangamite is a fool—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ronaldson, I realise that.

Senator Ronaldson: But, if there is a concern, I will withdraw it.

Senator McLucas: No ifs.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you.

Senator CASH: The member for Corangamite has made these statements and they clearly show that he has no understanding at all of how a small business runs. If he honestly believes that the level of paperwork associated with this is appropriate, that it is not a great burden and that it does not take an unnecessary amount of time he should go to any small business owner in the Australian community, as I have done, and I can tell you that the first thing they will say is that they cannot afford the red tape and regulation that is placed on them by Labor's PPL scheme. If the first-class record of removing unnecessary red tape that the member for Corangamite refers to is in relation to the 18,089 additional regulations created by the Rudd-Gillard government since the beginning of 2008 whilst only 86 were repealed then, quite frankly, the Liberal Party has a very, very different definition of a first-class record—so different that we have committed to cutting red tape and the compliance burden on small businesses by $1 billion a year if and when we are elected to government.

The coalition's PPL scheme, unlike Labor's scheme, will release employers from the pay-clerk burden imposed by the Gillard Labor government, unless employers opt in for this additional regulatory and compliance task. Imposing such additional regulatory and compliance obligations on employers for no good reason adds nothing to ongoing workplace relationships and is an additional burden that most employers can well do without. Anybody who has spoken to an employer will know that red tape is not conducive to good business practice. Imposing such additional regulatory and compliance obligations on employers for no good reason makes ongoing workplace relationships tougher than they need to be and is an additional burden that they can well do without.

As always, it is a coalition government, not a Labor government, that wants to make life easier for small business owners, who carry our economy each and every day. This will be especially important for small business owners who, unlike big employers, do not have whole departments that can actually handle the PPL pay-clerk task imposed by the government's scheme. The coalition's PPL scheme will also help boost productivity in the workplace. Our scheme boosts productivity because it provides more encouragement to women to remain in the workforce, to continue gaining practical workforce skills, to learn on the job and to continue applying their knowledge, skills and abilities in the workplace. It provides more encouragement for workplace participation and it makes more workplaces more efficient by removing the onus Labor has put on employers to administer the PPL scheme.

The Productivity Commission estimates that when faced with a choice of resigning or taking paid parental leave almost one-fifth of mothers choose to resign their jobs. The coalition recognises that, for employers, replacing an entire role is expensive and time-consuming in terms of recruitment and training costs and the risk of loss of corporate knowledge that an individual has built up in a role. Our PPL scheme provides the right incentives for working mothers to return to work. The coalition's PPL scheme is a globally recognised productivity boost. In fact, Australia is the only country in the world with a paid parental leave scheme that is entirely based on the minimum wage. According to the Productivity Commission's report on paid parental leave, at least 37 nations around the world had introduced a paid parental leave scheme prior to the launch of Labor's minimum wage scheme. Of those schemes, 35 were based on full or part replacement wage. Many other countries offer replacement wage, just like the coaliĀ­tion's scheme, including France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Denmark, Serbia, Singapore, Slovenia, Estonia, Greece, Mexico, Morocco, Luxembourg, Poland, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and Spain. They all deliver paid parental leave based entirely on a mother's prebirth earnings. I find it very interesting that in so many areas the Labor Party conveniently wants to be world leader.

Senator McEwen interjecting

Senator McLucas interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cash, resume your seat. I remind senators that under standing order 197 a senator shall not interrupt another senator speaking except to call to attention a point of privilege or a point of order. Senator Cash has the call.

Senator CASH: As I was stating, the Labor Party conveniently, when it suits them—certainly not when it suits the Australian public—likes to be world leader in so many areas. They want to be a world leader when it comes to the carbon tax. They promised the Australian people, prior to the last election—the 2010 election—that there would be no carbon tax if they were elected to government. Conveniently, when they assumed office, they broke that promise. And when we questioned them as to why they broke that promise, what did they say? They said that Australia needs to be a world leader when it comes to reducing the impacts of climate change. So what do they do? Well, in four days time they will impose on Australia the world's greatest carbon tax.

So they want to be a world leader when it comes to carbon taxes. However, when it comes to the paid parental leave scheme it is the exact opposite. Goodness forbid that the Labor Party actually support women. Goodness forbid that the Labor Party actually support the economic success of women—because gosh, you cannot actually give women a hand up in life if you are from the Labor Left! You need to keep them down, because then you have an excuse for remaining in government.

Honourable senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cash, resume your seat. Senators on my right and my left, I remind you again that under standing order 197 a senator shall not be interrupted except on a point of privilege or order. Senator Cash has the call.

Senator CASH: Goodness forbid that the Labor Party would ever say to women in Australia, 'We think it is absolutely fantastic that you are successful.' Did you know that less than one per cent of women in Australia earn in excess of $100,000? Instead of saying to those women, 'Well done; we celebrate your success, because we want you to be better,' what does the Labor Party say? They say: 'Quite frankly, that's not good enough. If you take time off work we will not give you a replacement wage. Because we're from the left of society, we believe that all you are entitled to is a welfare benefit.' And that is what they give them.

We on this side of the parliament, however, celebrate the economic success of women. If there is a woman in Australia who gets an improvement in her job, if there is a woman in Australia who gets an increase in salary, we say that is absolutely fantastic, because that is a step in the right direction towards ensuring the financial security of women. That is why our paid parental leave scheme will celebrate the economic success of those women and provide them with 26 weeks at their replacement wage up to $150,000.

Despite the Gillard government's best efforts to talk up the benefits of Labor's paid parental leave scheme, the truth is that the coalition is the party in Australia that celebrates the economic success of women, and that is why it is our paid parental leave scheme that is the better scheme for Australia.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The question is that this bill be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.