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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1094


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (7:00 PM) —I rise this evening to speak briefly to the Fair Work Bill 2008 before the Senate. The Australian Greens want Australia to be brought up to speed with the rest of the world and to introduce a government funded, 26-week paid parental leave scheme to make the work and family arrangements that suit workers best. In encouraging and lobbying the government to do so, we believe that in the current economic climate the government has an opportune time to make a difference to mums and dads in the workforce. While senators around the chamber today stand here debating newly proposed industrial relations frameworks, one glaring omission in the Fair Work Bill is the issue surrounding work-life balance, including both workplace flexibility and paid parental leave simply to support working families.

Support for working families is a platform that the Rudd government went to the 2007 election with and, while it is all very well for ‘working families’ to be used as a mantra day in, day out, few will be convinced it means anything unless the government commits to a paid parental leave scheme as a budget priority to prove that support for Australian families is at the top of the policy agenda. The fact that in 2009 Australia is still one of only two OECD countries without a national parental leave scheme is an indictment of both the government and the opposition. Now more than ever it is time to support working families, as we experience more challenging economic times. The needs of parents and their newborns should not be overlooked simply because of the global economic crisis. Rather, ensuring parents have money in their pockets will no doubt help to stimulate the economy. Let us face it—we all know babies are expensive.

Legislating for a paid parental leave scheme offers wide-ranging benefits to business and also provides long-term productivity benefits to the Australian economy. A paid parental leave scheme must be a workplace entitlement. It is not a welfare benefit. The Greens have long been calling for a government funded paid parental leave scheme to be introduced, and it is time for the government to play catch-up and ensure that this is not going to continue to be a glaring omission in the upcoming May budget. On behalf of the Greens, I will be moving a second reading amendment urging the government to bring forward amendments in this industrial relations legislation to provide for paid parental leave by this year’s budget. We know that legislating for 26 weeks paid parental leave would cost less than $1 billion per annum, yet we keep hearing, ‘It’s all about the cost.’ We have just seen a $42 billion stimulus package passed without a look-in for Australian mums and dads with newborn babies. When it comes to parental leave, the government simply are not on the right page.

Despite the Productivity Commission’s final report into parental leave, handed down to the government late last month, we are yet to hear any movement on whether the government plans to respond, release the report and introduce legislation in support of Australian mums and dads. On Saturday just gone, the YWCA released their survey results of the views of federal politicians on paid parental leave—just in time for International Women’s Day, which was celebrated across the world last Sunday. The fact that just 32 federal politicians responded to the survey suggests that there must be some embarrassment within the Labor and the coalition ranks about their positions on the delayed introduction of some sort of government funded paid parental leave scheme.

Despite having one of the highest rates of female education in the world, Australia fails when it comes to supporting families on the birth or adoption of a child. From Finland to the Slovak Republic and even to the United Kingdom and New Zealand, paid parental leave is provided for and is an essential part of workplace entitlements. There have been continuous calls for implementation of a government funded scheme here in Australia that is in line with the ILO convention of 18 weeks, yet working mums and dads have been left out in the cold. Australia remains only one of two OECD countries without a comprehensive paid parental leave scheme. Would it not be wonderful for Australia to do something before Barack Obama does? Would it not be shameful if Australia were left being the only country without a paid parental leave scheme? Come on, Mr Rudd—let’s see you beat Barack Obama at his own game.

I briefly touch on the issues surrounding pay equity for women in the workforce. The gender pay gap is essentially the result of undervaluing women’s work. The work of women has historically been considered to be of less value than the work in industries and occupations dominated by men. A robust award system, strong minimum wages and collective bargaining are all essential elements to combating the gender pay gap. In the late nineties and early 2000s, most of the states in Australia undertook comprehensive reviews into the gender pay gap. They all found that the award system was crucial for changing how women’s work was valued. Most states introduced pay equity principles that allowed their industrial relations commissions to review wages and awards to ensure they reflected the proper value of the work being performed, regardless of whether it was by men or women. A couple of successful cases were run in New South Wales and Queensland before the awful Work Choices legislation hit families, mothers and their kids hard and took away—particularly from women—this avenue of addressing pay equity.

While we are pleased to see the Fair Work Bill contains more improved equal remuneration provisions than Work Choices, we will be keeping a close eye on how they are used and will not hesitate to recommend changes if those provisions prove ineffectual. As I foreshadowed earlier, I will be moving a second reading amendment to this legislation to ensure that Australia moves on legislating for paid parental leave for working mums and dads. Australia should not be one of only two countries in the OECD without such support for working families. Paid parental leave must be seen as a workplace entitlement. It is appropriate that this amendment be done through this legislation. The Fair Work Bill needs to be fair for all workers, mothers, dads and their kids. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

   but the Senate calls on the Government to bring forward amendments to its industrial relations legislation to provide for paid parental leave in this year’s budget.