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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 2341

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (16:38): A new child is a wonderful addition to any family. It is an occasion that is eagerly awaited and looked forward to by all concerned. Considerable planning takes place irrespective of whether the new arrival is an adoption or a birth from within the family. Part of that planning is for the financial implications of having a new child. As the mother of three children, I can in this instance speak from very direct experience. The costs associated with the arrival of a new child are enormous and they range from additional medical bills through to the purchase of a cot, prams, additional clothing, nappies et cetera. The list goes on and on. These are not discretionary items; they are essentials. As parents, we actually must buy these things. Even for subsequent children, those costs exist, because some of those items will certainly need replacement and there will be the medical costs irrespective of whether this is the first, the second, the third or a subsequent child.

I believe that the family is the foundation of our society. There is overwhelming evidence to support the view that the recommended time for a mother and child to spend together to establish breastfeeding and to bond is six months. While six months is such a short time to share with your child, it is a long time to be without a source of income, particularly when you have been working and earning money in the time leading up to the arrival of your new child.

The Productivity Commission report Paid parental leave: support for parents with newborn children identified a number of relevant factors. It said that around 72 per cent of mothers in paid work take leave around childbirth. That leave is from a number of different sources. There is paid parental leave, unpaid parental leave, annual leave, sick leave and long service leave. Those that cannot access leave generally resign. On average, mothers taking leave from paid work remain on leave for 37 weeks. Mothers with more than one child return to work after childbirth slightly earlier than mothers with only one child. Of mothers with three children, 17 per cent return to work within three months, whereas only seven per cent of mothers with one child do that. The Productivity Commission also reported on the reasons why women return to work earlier than expected. They were: lack of paid maternity leave, lack of money and difficulty in maintaining household income.

Paid parental leave has actually existed under some workplace agreements for some time. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations estimated that paid maternity leave provisions were present in 15 per cent of workplace agreements. About 24,000 collective agreements and, until recently, 500,000 individual agreements are registered over a three-year period, so the 15 per cent covers about 44 per cent of the total workforce. Around 28 per cent of the workforce had workplace agreements containing paid paternity leave provisions, so there has been quite extensive coverage for quite some period of time. They were paid parental leave provisions, so they were above the minimum standard.

Not all parental leave provisions are actually incorporated into workplace agreements. Some of them are in company policies or human resources policies. The provisions have varied over time, but they generally have provided for six weeks of paid leave for the primary carer and one week of paid leave for the non-primary carer, although there are numerous examples of there being 12 weeks of paid parental leave—and up to 52 weeks in some instances. There are also examples of paid parental leave being made available and payable in two parts—one part of the payment being made when the leave was taken, with a further payment being made when the employee returned to work. Often the breakdown was on the basis of two-thirds of the payment being made effectively upfront, at the time that the leave was taken, and one-third of the payment being paid on the return to work of the employee.

The Paid Parental Leave scheme introduced by the Labor government falls well short of an acceptable scheme. As I indicated previously, the recommended time for a mother to breastfeed and bond with her baby is six months, yet Labor has implemented a paid parental leave scheme of only 18 weeks. Payment is capped at the minimum wage and there is no superannuation paid for that period. It seems to me very much an ill-conceived scheme that does not meet the needs of women and their families. I believe that there needs to be a much greater focus on women's participation in the workforce and positive measures that can be taken to encourage women to return to the workforce, preferably at an appropriate time after the arrival of their new child. I believe that wherever possible there should be a choice available for women to return to work. There are many women who would like to spend time with their new child, but for financial reasons they find that they have to return to work. One of the obvious reasons for this is the ever-increasing cost of living that we have under the current government. Mothers often feel the need and the necessity to return to work much earlier than they wish.

On the Gold Coast, unemployment is at about 5.5 per cent, but this figure does not paint an accurate picture at all of what is happening in our communities. There is a significant level of underemployment. There are people who would be working additional hours but either cannot find that work or it is not available at a time that suits a new mother, for example.

There is also the issue of the cost of child care and the lack of suitable childcare arrangements that form barriers to a return to work. These are issues that must be considered as part of a proper workforce participation model. Of course, we all want to help our new mothers and our babies. We want our babies and our children to be very well looked after. We also want to make the transition back to work as easy and straightforward as possible for the women.

If I turn now to talk specifically about women returning to work, there are a couple of issues that must be raised and that I need to address. Firstly, there is no doubt that there is a cost involved in the arrival of a new child, as I have indicated previously. Clearly, there is the cost of the child care itself. This is an added financial burden that new parents must consider in their planning around the return to work. There are costs in the child immediately going into child care—for example, getting an additional pack for the child to carry their clothing, their drink bottles et cetera. There are costs associated with taking the child to child care. All of these are a financial burden and they take place at the time that the mother, the primary carer, returns to work. This should not be overlooked. There is also the juggling of the drop-off and pick-up times at the childcare centre and making sure that you are dropping the child off in time and you are back to pick them up before the centre closes. I have indicated that the costs associated with that are quite significant.

Then there is the issue of how work is organised. In my view, this needs a major overhaul in light of family responsibilities and striking the right balance between working and meeting our individual family responsibilities. Specifically, I think there needs to be a lot of work done on the way that part-time work is managed. We have had a traditional model where we have worked full shifts. Shorter shifts and split shifts have not been supported by the union movement—they have argued against them—but they are work patterns that suit women who work and they support family responsibilities. We need to start breaking down some of those barriers and getting women back into the workforce because they have a major role to play in our economy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The discussion has concluded.