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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1624

Senator HARRADINE —My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister, and it deals with maternity leave and the maternity allowance proposals. I refer the minister to the Prime Minister's reported comments in the Australian of 6 June that he supports the payment of a maternity allowance to all mothers, even if they are not in the paid work force. My question is whether such a payment is to be regarded as a welfare measure or an equity measure; what consideration is being given to a permanent increase in family payment or tax relief in respect of children to recognise the obvious fact that children do not become cheaper after 12 weeks of maternity leave; given that larger families have greater income needs, what consideration is being given to payment allowances on a per child basis; and, given criticism of the cost of social security payments, what consideration is being given to restoring tax relief for family members so that their support of each other out of the paid work force may be recognised?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Mr President, I am not sure that I can answer all the details of Senator Harradine's question. I can only give a background but I will undertake to answer those details as soon as I can.

  In Australia, whilst the majority of women have access to unpaid maternity leave, few employees, apart from those in areas of the public sector, have access to paid maternity leave. Professor Bettina Cass, chair of the National Council of the International Year of the Family, has advocated a two-part system of parental benefits that would provide effective choice to parents caring for babies to leave the work force to care for their child by the payment of a young child or infant parenting allowance for all parents taking care of a newborn or adopted child in the first 12 weeks, with the community sharing the cost, as with other family payments, through the social security system, or, by paid maternity leave, where workers have an entitlement under an award or enterprise agreement.

  On 1 June 1994 the government announced an agreement with the ACTU regarding the continuing implementation of accord mark 7, Putting jobs first. One element of the agreement commits the government, in relation to the 1995-96 budget, to having further negotiations with the ACTU about ways to assist families and, in that context, to give consideration to introducing maternity allowances paid through the social security system in the spirit of ILO convention 103. The details of level, scope, coverage and means testing are to be considered in the budget context.

  Australia has not ratified ILO convention 103 and has entered a reservation to the relevant section of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. There has been a variety of press reports on this, but in the Canberra Times of 6 June 1994 a spokesman for the Prime Minister is reported as saying that there was a possibility that the allowance would be extended to people who are not working.

  That is only a broad overview; Senator Harradine asked about more detailed aspects. I am not sure whether those details have been worked out yet but whatever information I can get I will forward to him.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister to respond to the clear indication given by the Prime Minister that an allowance would be available to all women. If there is argument against that, what would be the justification for denying a tax funded benefit to women be they at home or in the paid work force? I ask the minister to answer that in accordance with his undertaking to answer my other questions.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I will also seek to get further information on that supplementary question for Senator Harradine.