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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5658

Dr STONE (4:52 PM) —In relation to paid parental leave, can I ask the minister: when do you expect to have the payroll tax issues resolved? They are of great concern to very small businesses. I understand you have begun some negotiations with the states, so when are businesses likely to be assured that the problems have been resolved? We are concerned that discrimination against women might be the outcome in some cases, where payrolls have to reflect the second income—with a person on maternity leave and someone on paid parental leave. As you know, we are concerned that this unfinished business should have been resolved a very long time ago. We are concerned to know how those negotiations are going. When are we going to know just how that particular issue will be dealt with?

In relation to the six months you have already built into the legislation as a moratorium time when businesses do not have to act as paymasters for their employees on paid parental leave, we are keen to know if you would consider extending that six-month moratorium. I know you are saying that the government will continue through the Family Assistance Office to act as paymaster for casual, contract and other employees who do not readily have someone they can nominate as an employer; so can you consider extending that six months to allay some of the fears of small businesses who are most concerned about the red tape and the increased problems with their payrolls. At this point in time they have nothing to guide them, other than being told: ‘Well, it’s a bit of a mess. We’ll give you six months while we sort it out.’

We also have a problem with the Fair Work legislation in relation to the eligibility—under which you can return to your position or a like position—and that particular eligibility not matching the paid parental leave criteria, which is 330 hours, 10 months work over a 13-month  period and so on. How does the government intend to align these two criteria so that we can be sure that the woman—the primary carer is usually a woman—returning to work after 4½ months leave can be secure in the knowledge that there will be a job waiting for her if she has not in fact had 12 months of continuous employment with that employer making her eligible for that special entitlement?

On the question of safety of women and children, as you are aware, new settlers—particularly women who are in family reunion categories, humanitarian refugees, refugees who come through the front door and people from a non-English-speaking background—need very special support in learning the English language and in preparing for job training and entry into the workforce. We are concerned that these funds have been restricted or cut back while there is unfortunately a huge diversion of funds that were previously able to be spent on new settler services going to the crisis with the boat people on Christmas Island. A billion dollars has blown out there. Can you inform us of what is happening with those new settler services, in particular on the safety of women and helping women understand the cultural context of Australia? Where can they go if they are abandoned or need to leave an abusive relationship? For example, if you have a woman who has come to Australia on an overseas spouse or fiancé visa and she is not from an English-speaking background, as you know, at the moment with Centrelink she does not have any automatic rights to immediate support from our welfare services sector if she leaves her marriage.

What is the government doing about that particular problem? Have you got some policies in mind, given that the overseas spouse visa categories are growing? The issue of abuse in those relationships is serious and in some parts of Australia it is worse than others. We were not able to discern any special additional—or, indeed, any support in particular—for those women, particularly in accessing Centrelink support, which would give those women a chance to be financially independent and escape an abusive relationship.