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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 3450

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (12:01 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:

(3)   Clause 7, page 19 (lines 23 to 27), omit “18”, substitute “26” (thrice occurring).

(4)   Clause 11, page 22 (line 30), omit “125 days”, substitute “181 days”.

(5)   Clause 11, page 22 (line 31), omit “18 weeks”, substitute “26 weeks”.

Statement pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

Amendments (3), (4) and (5)

The effect of amendments (4) and (5) would be to extend the duration of the entitlement to parental leave pay, resulting in additional amounts being paid. The increased expenditure would be met from the standing appropriation in clause 307 of the bill.

Amendments (4) and (5) are therefore presented as requests.

Amendment (3) is a consequential amendment and is therefore also presented as a request.

Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

The Senate has long accepted that an amendment should take the form of a request if it would have the effect of increasing expenditure under an appropriation clause in a bill.

On the basis that amendments (4), (5) and (10) would result in increased expenditure under the appropriation in the bill, it is in accordance with the precedents of the Senate that those amendments be moved as requests.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG —These requests go to the heart of much of the disappointment about this particular Paid Parental Leave scheme, as 18 weeks is simply not enough. In fact, my requests suggest that we should go with the bare minimum of six months—that is, 26 weeks. That is what has been represented by the World Health Organisation, various other organisations and associations, and experts, who understand that, if we really want to be able to give mums, in particular, time off with their newborn baby, exclusively to care for their child, that needs to be a six-month period. It goes to the heart of this argument about putting forward a Paid Parental Leave scheme that really offers the support that parents need. We know that the opposition support six months. The government’s official position has never been put on the public record so I am not sure what their official position is. They say, ‘Maybe we will start at 18 weeks and move upwards,’ although there has been no firm commitment as to whether they would support a six-month scheme.

We need to go to six months. Let us use this historic opportunity of all sides of parliament wanting a Paid Parental Leave scheme. Let us put it in place. In the big scheme of things, let us not wait another 30 years to try to improve this piece of legislation when we can bed down the bare minimum here today. If you compare Australia with other countries around the world that have already had paid parental leave schemes in place for quite some time, the numbers of weeks that they offer parents far outstrip this miniscule 18-week period. Sweden offers 47, New Zealand offers 28, Finland offers 32 and even the UK offers 39. Even 26 weeks, which I am suggesting would be the bare minimum, is still behind most of those countries.

We really should be looking at how long it has taken us to get to this point. For years and years women in particular trade unions and health organisations, advocates for the rights of children and health officials have been saying that we need a Paid Parental Leave scheme to give parents—mums, in particular—time off to spend exclusively with their newborn child. Let us do it properly and give them six months to spend with their newborn child, to recover from childbirth and to give them the best chance of breastfeeding. We know that that is such an important aspect and that, if you can do it, you should be able to do it for a six-month period if the Paid Parental Leave scheme is supportive enough. That is what this is about.

I hope that seeing as this is now an opposition policy position—Tony Abbott has said that he wants a six-month scheme; that has been backed up by his shadow cabinet and his backbench—this is the place where we can start to see this happen today. I look forward to their support on this particular matter. As I said, it would be nice to hear from the government as to where they stand. There has been a lot of talk from various ministers that they acknowledge 18 weeks is not good enough but that this is simply one step along the road. Where does the road lead to? Perhaps the minister could indicate whether the government support, and will show commitment on the record for, six months, because as of today they have not actually said that.