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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 3608

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) (10:43 AM) —The first thing I ought to do for the many people who are listening is make it clear that we are actually debating a resolution to, as I understand it, recommit the motion. I indicate on behalf of the government that we have agreed to that because we always take the view that the will of the Senate ought to be reflected in any votes. We should not have results that do not reflect the will of the Senate. I think Senator O’Brien explained what occurred as a result of Senator Xenophon’s absence yesterday. It appears that Senator Xenophon’s instructions for yesterday were not clear in terms of his view. But I want to confirm that Senator O’Brien acted appropriately in accordance with the instructions he had. It is always difficult to manage these things when a senator who is not from a major party is absent on leave. The whips are challenged in that regard, but Senator O’Brien acted appropriately in accordance with the instructions. Anyway, we will be supporting the resolution to recommit the motion so that the view of the Senate is properly reflected in any decision. The lights have gone out!

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Boyce)—The microphones appear to still be working.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —So we will press on the dark?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —It is just a gloom!

Senator CHRIS EVANS —It is always said that senators have good faces for radio, and perhaps this is commentary that is best heard in the dark! Can I indicate to Senator Boswell that we will not be supporting these amendments. While he brings to this debate the same sort of passion that Senator Fielding brought to it yesterday, it does not seem to have much to do with the bill and I think it is a little misplaced. Senator Boswell, you say that hundreds of millions of dollars in imposts will be thrust upon small businesses. In fact, only nine per cent of all businesses, and only three per cent of small businesses, will be involved in paid parental leave in any given year. So I think you might be guilty of a little hyperbole in this respect.

The fact is that small businesses will only be involved in this when one of their employees goes on maternity or paternity leave. If you are a small employer with two or three employees it will not be such a regular occurrence—even if the person is having a big family. The reality is that you will not be involved in paid parental leave arrangements on a regular or long-term basis if you are a small employer. That is the first point. So the hyperbole about hundreds of millions of dollars in imposts on small business is, quite frankly, a nonsense. So, Senator Boswell, while I always listen to your contributions, in this case I think it is misplaced, so I will not be making representations on behalf of the case that you have argued. And, quite frankly, it is a bit rich for a senior member of a government that was responsible for introducing the GST to lecture me about imposts on small businesses. I think we ought to bring this into perspective. Compared to the GST and the impositions on small businesses in terms of accounting costs and their dealings with government, I think it is fairly clear that paid parental leave is a fairly small impost.

The main focus of the debate is whether this is seen as a welfare payment or whether it is about parental leave and the right to have time off work. As Professor Marian Baird said in the Financial Review last week:

If paid maternity leave aims to recognise women’s workforce attachment, then that is an important consideration on how the payment is made—this is why the Productivity Commission recommended an employer link, otherwise it’s seen as a welfare payment.

We want women to maintain a strong connection to the workforce by receiving their government funded parental leave pay through their employer as they would other work entitlements. These are work related entitlements. As I said, only nine per cent of all businesses, and only three per cent of small businesses, will be involved in paid parental leave in any one year. As the Senate is aware, to help employers prepare for the scheme, we have organised a phase-in period over the first six months. We have ensured that employers can receive advances of funds in as little as three instalments. They will only be required to pay when they have received sufficient funds. So a whole range of arrangements have been put in place to work with employers to make this effective and have as little impost on them as possible. Employers will provide parental leave on a business-as-usual basis. They will not be required to lodge regular reports with the Family Assistance Office or establish special bank accounts. Parental leave pay will be paid in accordance with an employer’s normal pay practices and an employee’s usual pay cycle. It is not a payroll tax and there is no workers compensation payable. The design is very much based in the employment contract and the connection to work. That is the way the scheme is designed to operate.

The government will not be supporting the opposition’s amendments, which fundamentally go against the whole basis of and rationale for the scheme. We think the approach the government has adopted is the appropriate response. But we will be voting for the recommittal, because we are always concerned to make sure that the will of the Senate is reflected in the votes.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —I am advised that a major power spike has caused the lights to dim. Building Services have leapt into immediate action. Unless there are any strong objections, given that everything apart from the lights is working perfectly, I would like us to continue.

Senator Chris Evans —Like the British did in the Blitz, we’ll battle on!

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Exactly. Senator Hanson-Young.