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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3216

Senator FIFIELD (Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (1:52 PM) —I rise to speak on the Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010 and the Paid Parental Leave (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010. Let me make it clear at the outset that the coalition supports paid parental leave and the introduction of a scheme to deliver this leave for Australia mothers. As with so many other important reforms, Rudd Labor have rushed this scheme, and one can only hope that they do not bungle its implementation. Make no mistake, Mr Rudd’s scheme is second rate, it is less than optimal—but it is a step in the right direction. Introducing such important reform requires careful consideration, sound planning and a comprehensive understanding of the policy outcome that is best for the nation. In the shadows of a pending election this government are just rushing through a scheme that they hope will be popular and restore public confidence in their policy agenda. But Australians are not going to be terribly impressed by the government’s second rate paid parental leave scheme. The minister and her department are not sure of the detail of this scheme. No-one seems sure of how it will be implemented or regulated. Instead the chorus from Labor and from the minister is the old adage of ‘she’ll be right’. And we have heard that before. The government have many times asked Australians to have confidence in their ability to develop and implement policy. And all of this comes from the minister responsible for slashing $50 million from services designed to help families and deliver important relationship support services.

The coalition were deeply concerned, however, when only weeks ago officials from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs who were providing the coalition with a briefing on paid parental leave were unable to answer simple questions about the practical implementation and operation of the scheme. One such question was: how will self-employed mothers be treated under the scheme? And, to top off this lack of detail, the regulations themselves will not be available for some time.

We should not forget that Labor has form on policy planning and implementation. Mr Acting Deputy President, I am sure that GroceryWatch, Fuelwatch, home insulation, Building the Education Revolution and the emerging debacle of the social housing program would all be familiar to you. While the government promises a lot, it not only does not deliver but bungles the process and this costs taxpayers real dollars. We on this side can only hope that we do not have to add paid parental leave to the list of this government’s policy failures. The Rudd governments paid parental leave scheme is, it has to be said, far from perfect. It does not provide to mothers working in the paid workforce of this country their full wage for the first six months, the time it is recommended they should spend on their newborn baby. Women should not have to choose between family and career; they should be able to choose both.

Given that parenting is such an important and critical part of early childhood development, the shortcomings of Labor’s scheme are extremely disappointing. Labor’s scheme is complex and, in true Labor style, where there is an upside, where there is a benefit, there is always a downside, there is always a detriment. Just like their assault on Australian miners, this scheme assaults yet another important part of Australia’s economic engine room: small business. This scheme throws a barrage of red tape at small business, which is something they can ill afford. It compels the hardworking small business operators across this country to become paymasters for Labor’s second-rate scheme. The government are not able to clearly and concisely advise how the implementation and management of the scheme would work. The small businesses of Australia are being asked yet again to trust the Rudd Labor government, a government that have demonstrated just how business savvy they really are by embarking on a project that will cost over $40 billion without a business plan. They are wasting billions of dollars because of incompetent oversight and planning in building the countless ‘Julia Gillard memorial halls’. If small business operators adopted the Rudd government’s modus operandi, they would go to the wall. Labor, however, unlike many businesses, have the nation’s credit card to rely on—and rely on it they do, to the tune of $100 million each and every day.

Sadly, there is further bad news for hardworking small business operators: they will be liable for state payroll tax for an employee on paid parental leave as well as for that employee’s replacement. Requiring the Family Assistance Office to administer the government’s scheme for the start-up phase delays but does not remove the needless costs and unwarranted obligations being forced on the small businesses that will be required to become the Rudd government’s PPL pay clerks. If it is good enough for the Family Assistance Office to administer the government’s flawed parental leave scheme for the first six months and it makes sense to invest taxpayer funds in that system and administration then why not keep it going beyond the initial period? By forcing employers to handle payments under the government’s scheme, Mr Rudd’s approach leaves small business to fund administrative expenses, payroll and office systems changes, reporting requirements and any increased liabilities for workers compensation, payroll tax and superannuation and to carry the risk of noncompliance or error.

Debate interrupted.