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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 3423


Senator BOYCE (9:59 AM) —I would firstly like to congratulate and thank my colleague Senator Mary Jo Fisher for her contribution as a participating member of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee in the inquiry that was held into the Paid Parental Leave (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010. I do take her point about this being a bill on parenting payments, but I am going to use the term ‘paid parental leave’ because that is the one I am used to using.

I think almost everyone in this chamber and in the other house would be delighted that we finally have before us legislation that somehow relates to the idea of paying families to stay out of the workforce to care for their children for a short length of time and to try to bring together in a more seamless way the idea of having a family and being a worker. I certainly support and reiterate the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, about regarding paid parental leave as an industrial relations issue, not a social welfare issue. When we think about where we were perhaps just five years ago, we realise we have come a long way in developing, understanding and accepting the need for paid parental leave in Australia. I think we can be particularly pleased about the Productivity Commission’s work here, the work of Ms Elizabeth Broderick from the Human Rights Commission and the work of many people who developed this. I pay tribute especially to probably a pioneer in this field, Ms Pru Goward, who is a member of the state legislature in New South Wales and who was the first ever Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She was appointed by the Howard government. I think there was a little shock when her report first came out well over 10 years ago on the topic of paying mothers to stay home. We have moved a long way since then. We no longer talk about maternity leave; we talk about paid parental leave. We are, I hope, getting more along the road to actually accepting that this is about parents and children. Whilst mothers still tend to be the ones who do the majority of caring, it is about supporting families and not only about supporting women.

As I said, I was delighted to have Senator Fisher involved in the Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into this. The coalition, whilst accepting this as a first step along the way, have suggested a number of amendments, many of which Senator Fisher has outlined to us. We are not the only ones suggesting amendments. If you look at the little list here, you see there are government amendments, Family First amendments, Greens amendments and coalition  amendments suggested to this legislation. Many of them are extremely sensible and the fact of their existence makes the little performance of the Prime Minister yesterday even more bemusing when he rushed out and tried to take over someone else’s press conference, which in itself made you wonder why a petition with 25,000 signatures needed to be presented yesterday asking that this legislation be passed. It was very obvious that this legislation, with amendments, was going to be accepted by all sides of the house. We had a stunt by the ACTU then turn into a superstunt by the Prime Minister. We had the pusillanimous person standing there and saying: ‘It’s now down to crunch time. We have a very simple message for the Senate: get out of the road, guys, just get on with it. We can’t delay any longer.’ How incredibly bizarre and how incredibly pathetic, given that the work has been done by many others—some of whom I have named—over a very long period of time, that the Prime Minister thinks that he can run in just as the game has finished and say, ‘Hey, it’s my game and if you don’t finish it straightaway I’ll be really upset and get angry and everything.’ It was the most pathetic and sad little effort I think I have seen in a very long time from anyone claiming to have the ability to lead or to be a leader.

I will now just go through a few of the other areas in this legislation that I think need immediate consideration. Firstly, where is superannuation in this scheme? It is not there. There is no requirement for superannuation to continue to be paid. Senator Collins was earlier talking about gender pay equity—a very real issue and one which is about to be addressed in the courts but which is only the first step along the way to fixing that. Nevertheless, one of the biggest reasons for the lack of pay equity is the fact that women do have broken careers: they work part time and they work in lower paid jobs. Because of that lack of super and lack of savings, they end up as the poorest group comparatively in our community. Women over 65 are the poorest group in our community. This bill begins to assist women to continue to save and grow their assets while out of the workforce and having children, but only in a very small way. One of the key measures is superannuation. That was not in the legislation that was brought to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry.

I think the most bizarre aspect of this legislation for business, and one that certainly would not be maintained under a coalition government, is the fact that employers have to be the paymasters of this scheme. There were a lot of questions asked at estimates about this, many of which I asked. For the first six months of this scheme the Family Assistance Office will pay everyone. So the Family Assistance Office will set up their systems, they will get the computer programs, they will organise the resources and they will get the staff so that for six months they can pay everyone. Then they will stop paying everyone and just pay about one-third of them. The other two-thirds will be paid by employers. Why? Why is this scheme like this? Why are they insisting that small business and others become the paymasters for staff who are away? It is a lovely theory but it involves new computer programs and in many cases it involves a lot of expenditure—for a few staff to replace something that the government is already going to do. It just does not make sense. It never has made sense. It never will make sense. Why would you do it this way?

The other problem is that it sets up all these liabilities for employers and uncertainties around workers compensation and superannuation—and payroll tax, for heaven’s sake. I remember the last time someone said: ‘Oh, it’s all right; the government is going to talk to the states and sort it out.’ Yes, and in time for 1 January what’s more! I do have concerns about this. Under a coalition scheme the FAO would administer 100 per cent of the paid parental leave scheme. They would be the permanent paymasters. This is not a job that would be duckshoved off to small business and others who, in many cases, do not have the resources to do it and are waiting, trustingly, for the government’s money to arrive so that they can make these payments.

The amount of red tape and the cost in this system is bizarre. It adds to those many little problems—the subtle discriminations that might make an employer think: ‘It’s all too hard. If I have a choice between a man and a woman for that job, I’ll take the man because I don’t have to worry about it then.’ So, instead of making it as easy as they can, they have come up with other bizarre little ways to make it complicated and complex. Certainly we would be making many changes to this legislation to improve it and turn it into a scheme that acknowledges and respects families, parents and the way they fit within the industrial relations framework.

I am pleased that, despite the Prime Minister’s ‘concerns’ about ‘crunch time’, this legislation is to be supported, with amendment, in the House. I think we have come a long, long way that this can be done with the support of both sides of the House.