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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3755

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (2:21 PM) —My question is to Senator Evans, the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Can the minister outline to the Senate how the government supports families to make their own working-family choices?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank Senator Collins for her longstanding interest in these matters. Last week the parliament took another important step to support Australian families with the Rudd government delivering Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme. For the first time in Australia’s history, working women will have access to paid parental leave, giving them greater financial security when planning to have a child. The Rudd government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme provides equal access to parental leave for all eligible women.

I think it is worth noting that around 30,000 working families with incomes less than $50,000 a year are expected to benefit from the government’s scheme. Women on low incomes now have the security of 18 weeks parental leave paid at the federal minimum wage. In 2009, only 15 per cent of women earning $300 a week had access to paid parental leave, compared to almost 70 per cent of women on high wages, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Rudd government’s scheme helps women to remain connected to the workforce while easing the financial burdens so that they can spend more time with their new baby in those important early months. The government’s plan supports families to make their own work and family choices. Parents can transfer or share the leave so that they have more options for balancing work and family. We know that more and more fathers are hands-on at home sharing that load.

It is in the best interests of the children too when parents are supported to stay home from work in those critical early months after the birth of their child. We know that those children get the best start in life. All the research proves this and it obviously helps families feel more secure and more in control. Paid parental leave will be available to Australian parents for births and adoptions on or after 1 January next year. It is a tremendous breakthrough for working families.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain the views of the Productivity Commission and their relevance to the government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —The work of the Productivity Commission was very important to the development of this initiative. It found that women on low incomes, particularly women in casual jobs such as retail and hospitality, had the lowest levels of access to paid parental leave. As part of its work, the Productivity Commission considered the economic productivity and social costs and benefits of providing paid maternity, paternity and parental leave. It also assessed the current extent of employer-provided paid leave.

The government recognised the need to balance the interests of business and working parents, particularly those on low incomes. We knew that this reform had been held off because of concerns about that balance, but our scheme strikes the right balance. It is fully costed and funded into the forward estimates, unlike some alternative thought-bubbles on the issue. The government’s scheme is fair to business, is fair for families and is closely modelled on the Productivity Commission’s final report. (Time expired)

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain how casual, self-employed and part-time workers will particularly benefit from the Paid Parental Leave scheme, and also outline how the scheme will help employers?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I know Senator Collins herself has been a long-term campaigner to make sure that these sorts of benefits are extended to casual and part-time workers, to contractors and to those who are self-employed. Our scheme does that: it gives parents more options to balance work and family, and it also helps employers to retain skilled staff and boost workforce participation.

The reality of the modern workforce is that people increasingly have casual, part-time and other arrangements that have traditionally not seen them benefit from this sort of reform. But under this government’s new scheme, those people will benefit from this reform and they will be able to access parental leave. To help employers prepare for the scheme, the role of employers in providing government funded paid parental leave will be phased in over the next six months of the new scheme to align with the new financial year, making sure this works for businesses as well as for families.