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Minchin reiterates opposition to taxpayer-funded paid maternity leave and embryonic stem cell research.

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Under embargo:  7pm, 16 August 2002 31/2002

MINCHIN REITERATES OPPOSITION TO TAXPAYER-FUNDED PAID MATERNITY LEAVE AND EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH  Paid maternity leave is a red herring in the wider debate about Australia’s fertility rate and an ageing population, the Minister for Finance and Administration, Senator Nick Minchin, said tonight.

 In a speech to a Liberal Party function at Killara, Senator Minchin also reiterated his opposition to embryonic stem cell research.

 “Fertility rates have been falling in Australia and the developed world for the past 30 years.  But in recognising this, we should not be alarmist.  Births are forecast to exceed deaths in Australia for at least another 30 years while the total population is forecast to continue to increase through immigration until 2063.  So with one of the highest fertility rates in the OECD, Australia is in far better shape to manage than many nations,” Senator Minchin said.

 “There is no point trying to be King Canute holding back this demographic reality.  Most experts acknowledge that the government can do little to affect fertility rates.  The Department of Family and Community Services said last month,

There appears to be little association between the level of spending on families and fertility rates in OECD countries.  In other words, spending more on families does not necessarily translate into higher fertility rates.

“There is no evidence that paid maternity leave in particular increases the fertility rate.  Twenty out of 24 developed countries with paid maternity leave have lower fertility rates than Australia.

“My Department has now formally costed paid maternity leave at between $415m and $780m per annum depending on the rate of pay and eligibility.  This would be a major new burden on taxpayers.

“I cannot see the justification for taxpayers handing over an additional half a billion dollars to mothers in the paid workforce while ignoring all other mothers.

“As ageing is inevitable, the debate needs to focus on how we make the transition to an older society.  The Intergenerational Report highlighted the many public policy challenges ahead, especially in the area of health.  Unfortunately the ALP proved its irresponsibility by opposing our initial measures to make our finances more sustainable by reforming the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme and the Disability Support Pension.”

Senator Minchin also restated his opposition to the legislation permitting embryonic stem cell research, involving as it does the destruction of living embryos.

“While stem cell research may offer hope of providing cures for a number of diseases, I believe that research should be restricted to adult stem cells, where the considerable moral dilemmas attached to destructive research on embryos are absent and where there are almost certainly greater prospects of success.

“I particularly oppose the elements of the proposed legislation that would override the existing bans on embryonic stem cell research in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.  As a federalist, I believe that the Commonwealth Parliament should not seek to deprive the State Parliaments of their authority and responsibility in this area.

“There is no specific head of power in the Federal Constitution giving the Commonwealth Parliament the authority over medical and scientific experimentation.  The legislation’s reliance on the Corporations power and the External Affairs power to allow morally reprehensible experiments currently banned by three States is in my view at least questionable and may well be open to legal challenge,” Senator Minchin concluded.


Contact:     David Wawn, Minister’s office, (02) 6277 7400, (0409) 866 462