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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7899

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (2:22 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Finance and Administration. I ask whether the minister is aware of figures released yesterday by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which commissioned NATSEM to cost national paid maternity leave for Australia, that demonstrate that a national paid maternity leave scheme could be provided in Australia for $213 million net per annum. I also ask why the minister refused to provide the costings of the Department of Finance and Administration to HREOC. Given the government's unwillingness to provide those figures, does the minister accept the figures released yesterday?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I am not aware that we denied any figures to HREOC. I thought we had released our figures, which showed that the sort of model which was being discussed would cost, at a minimum, $475 million to provide $430 per week for 14 weeks to all mothers. That figure has basically been confirmed, as I understand it, by Ms Goward's report. It reveals that that sort of scheme would cost around that amount— between $465 million and $475 million. Of course, the option put forward by Ms Goward discounts the baby bonus, the various tax benefits et cetera for any mothers who take taxpayer-funded maternity leave under her scheme. So once you discount all that you come up with her figure of some $200 million.

We are very interested in the proposition Ms Goward has put up. The responsible minister, my colleague Senator Vanstone, has said that this option of Ms Goward's will be considered in the context of our review of work and family policies to see whether it is an option that should be pursued in our examination of the appropriate policy settings for work and family. All I can say is that, from the evidence I have seen, what has been released does confirm the original costings that we released. My recollection is that we released those costings publicly.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer and for that clarification. The report stated:

Although the Government has declined to provide details of the Department of Finance and Administration's costings to HREOC ...

I was reading that from the report but, if that is the case, I am glad to hear that the government has provided the figures. I acknowledge the minister's response and ask whether this means he may have changed his view that paid maternity leave represents middle-class welfare.

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —The government, as has been said, will consider this particular option. But I have to say that, as finance minister, I have always had difficulty with propositions that are open-ended, that are not means-tested, that anybody on any sort of salary—

Senator Jacinta Collins —Did you think that about the baby bonus?

Senator MINCHIN —You have to understand that what we are being asked to consider is a proposition that people on $150,000 or $200,000 per year should be entitled to a benefit paid for by the taxes of families earning $30,000 or $40,000 per year. I think these are relevant considerations that we will obviously take into account when we come to consider whether there is a place for Ms Goward's proposition in our lexicon of family benefits.