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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2339

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (16:27): I was listening to the contribution made by the member for Petrie and she posited the question: why is it that in government we did not deliver the PPL—the paid parental leave scheme? It is a very valid question but let me pose this question to her: did she realise that the task we were left with in government was incredibly significant? We inherited from the Labor Party $96 billion of debt. This is an undeniable fact, a record of the previous Labor government's mismanagement. With this Labor-Greens alliance, we have seen more of the same. This is a government that cannot manage the economy. This is a government that has reduced $20 billion of surplus to deficits. We are going to have a net debt of $133 billion. This is the record of the current Labor government. It has accumulated four deficits which amount to over $167 billion. Their record is incredibly poor. If government members would like to compare the paid parental leave schemes, let us do that. Let us talk about the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme and the scheme that we on this side of the chamber have put forward. Our paid parental leave scheme is more comprehensive and it is simpler than the scheme that the government has brought forward. Let us go though it bit by bit. We are offering a 26-week paid parental leave scheme, compared to the government's scheme of only 18 weeks. The reason we have done this is based on the research. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the World Health Organisation have recommended that six months is the right amount of time for a parent to bond with their child. It is a recommended time, particularly for mothers who would like to breastfeed and bond with their children. This is very different, of course, from the scheme brought forward by the government.

Another key difference is in superannuation. The government likes to talk about superannuation and yet, when it comes to the crunch, it is only our paid parental leave scheme that is going to contribute the mandatory nine per cent of superannuation for women. The government is not doing this. The government scheme is silent on superannuation. It is not making any superannuation contribution. We already know that there is a big disparity between men and women and their superannuation earnings over their lifetime. On average, Australian women at around 70 years of age have accumulated about $250,000 in superannuation, and this compares to men, with about $450,000. One of the reasons for this disparity is that women leave the workforce in order to have children. This is a fact. And this government wants to make the disparity even worse by not contributing superannuation in its Paid Parental Leave scheme.

The gross value of the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme maxes out at $10,258. Ours recognises that different women are on different wages. Ours is at replacement wage, capped at $150,000, or the federal minimum wage. But it is not just this that makes ours a more comprehensive paid parental leave scheme.

Ours is a much simpler scheme. Ours does not seek to impose additional burdens on small business. Ours does not seek to tell small business that they then need to administer a new government scheme by changing their payroll and accounting practices, which will cost them significant money and also time. No, we will instead administer our scheme through the Family Assistance Office. It will be direct from government to families. It will not seek to impose additional burdens of red tape and regulation, particularly on small business, who can least afford it.

The member for Petrie said that this is unfunded. That of course is not the case. It is a funded scheme, and we have outlined before exactly how it will be funded. If Labor did not get us into such financial trouble, if it did not rack up such significant debt, we would not have to fund the scheme in the way that we have proposed. It is of course our intention that, once we have cleaned up Labor's mess—as we always do when we are re-elected—we will remove the 1.5 per cent levy that will be imposed on companies with a taxable income in excess of $5 million. That is around 3,300 companies out of around 770,000 companies. We note as well that the company tax rate will reduce in 2013-14 by 1.5 per cent, so, while it is not our preference to do this, it is something that unfortunately, given the parlous state of the books, in order to be economically responsible, we have done so, so that the scheme is fully funded.

We on this side of the chamber want to see increased productivity and we want to see increased participation. One of the most effective ways of improving productivity is to encourage wider workplace participation. One of the biggest barriers to wider workplace participation is child care. We know this. It is an unadulterated fact.

The Labor-Greens alliance, through their thought-bubble policies, clearly do not understand this pretty basic fact. We have already seen this government announce the quality assurance framework. Not only has it announced it but it is seeking to ram it through. This will change the ratio of staff to children from five to one to four to one. Why? The government cannot in fact tell us why. There is no research to back this up. The only implication that will flow from this is that it will increase the cost of child care for Australian families. Some parents may in fact choose to send their child to a childcare centre with a better ratio, but this should be a choice for parents. It should not be mandated. It should not be forced upon them. And it should not be forced upon them particularly in terms of the increased cost.

Minister Ellis I think suffers from the same affliction as the Prime Minister. She finds it very difficult to be honest about the real cost that this policy will have. She has tried to pretend that it will only increase the cost by about 57c a day, but that is completely and utterly untrue. The Australian Childcare Alliance has found that three-quarters of all childcare centres are going to be forced to increase their fees. Twenty-five per cent of them are going to be increasing their fees by between $30 and $50 a week. I know that in my area the Glen Eira council has told me that it is going to be increasing its fees for its childcare centres from $91 a day to $116 a day. That is a bit higher than the 57c that the minister has claimed it will cost. That is what it is going to cost to administer the federal government's new mandatory carer-to-child ratios from 2012.

But this government is not listening. It is not listening to Australian families. It is not listening to the fact that they are hurting. And it is not listening about the additional impost that this will have on their daily lives and the potential impact it will have on our participation rate and therefore our productivity.

Our record, of course, is very different to that of the government. We do not seek to mandate these sorts of things. We believe in giving parents choice. But this is not it, because this Labor government has also ripped money away—$12 million—from Take a Break occasional care. There is an occasional childcare centre in Murrumbeena, in my electorate, that I know fundraises around $6,000 a year, which is a huge impost on it. The federal money being ripped out is going to be around $7,500. That centre will need to more than double its fundraising effort just to stay afloat. This is the real impact that the government's policies are having on childcare centres, on parents and on families in this country. The government's record is poor. Our record stands in contrast. We have a strong economic record. We can deliver on our policies, we can deliver on our promises and we want to see more hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians.