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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6422

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) (11:39 AM) —I thank the member for Petrie for her very real interest on two very important matters for this government. As she is very well aware, the Prime Minister, along with the Minister for Housing and me, has both put in an enormous amount of personal time and put forward the government’s commitment to addressing the issue of homelessness. Yes, we have put a lot of extra money into both upgrading homes, as the member for Petrie highlighted, and building new social housing.

One of the things that I would like to add to the member for Petrie’s remarks that the Minister for Housing has really wanted to see happen is the extra effort to put the services around those who are homeless. There was an article in the media today from a very important homelessness service in Melbourne highlighting that one of the groups that is often not thought about in the homelessness policy area is children. It is the case—and I am sorry to say this, and I am sure the member for Petrie would agree—that there are far too many children homeless on any given night in Australia. One of the jobs that we have, and that the Minister for Housing in particular is committed to, is making sure that when women and children are escaping domestic violence they have a place to go to, a roof over their heads, and that they also have the services around them to help them get back on their feet so that the kids can go to school and the mothers can get the support that they need. Those wraparound services are critical and are, of course, part of our new homelessness agreement with the states and territories.

The member for Petrie also highlighted the critical importance of paid parental leave. Her advocacy on behalf of parents, mothers and fathers, in her electorate to see this paid parental leave scheme come into place has been very important. I can say to the member for Petrie that this new scheme will mean that parents are able to take extra time off work while they look after their babies. I have said on a number of occasions that, for me, paid parental leave is all about what is best for babies. What is best for babies, as we know from all the research, is that they have time with their primary caregiver, normally the mother. What we are doing in this paid parental leave scheme is giving the choice to parents. If mum wants to take some time off work after she has had her baby—to recover from the birth, to establish breast feeding if she can and, most importantly, to bond with her new baby—but does not want to take the full 18 weeks off and wants to go back to work after, say, 12 weeks, she can then have dad take the remaining time off work so that he can have some time with their newborn baby. We want to get as much choice into this new paid parental leave scheme as possible.

I would also say to the member for Petrie, given her experience in industrial relations, that one of the reasons that we are taking the time we are taking to introduce this new scheme is to work it through very carefully with employers. We know how important it is to get this new scheme right. We intend to work with individual employers and also the employer organisations and unions. We want to make sure when we introduce the scheme, which will be the first time such a scheme is introduced in Australia, that it is going to work for not only mums and dads and their families but also for employers. We know that in Australia, relative to similar developed countries around the world, we have a lower level of participation in the workforce by mothers of little children, although it improves as children get older. That is another reason that we are taking the time to get this right and working with employers to introduce this very, very significant change for our country.