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Monday, 26 September 2022
Page: 1144

Senator BARBARA POCOCK (South Australia) (16:26): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Gallagher) to a question without notice I asked today relating to paid parental leave.

Twenty-one years ago, in 2001, I sat at the back of this chamber as a staffer, near the senator who introduced Australia's first private member's paid parental leave bill, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja. At that time Australian women were, alongside the US, the only women in the OECD not to get a paid rest when they had a baby—100 years after the International Labour Organization said they should. Anyone who has carried, pushed out, fed a new baby and been sleep deprived for months knows how essential that rest is. If Australian men had babies we would probably lead the world on paid parental leave, just as we led the world on the eight-hour day in 1856 and set a decent minimum wage at Federation. We were international leaders in creating a working man's paradise—a white working man's paradise, it's important to note—but that paradise did not extend to mothers.

Sadly, it was not until 10 years after that first private member's bill that this parliament finally enacted paid parental leave, in 2010, with leave of 18 weeks at the minimum wage. An additional two weeks was added later for partners on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.

Eleven years on, we have been overtaken by the rest of the OECD yet again, with the average period of paid parental leave now around 52 weeks in the OECD, and close to full replacement wages in many places. Australia now has one of the poorest paid-parental-leave schemes in the OECD. We are now stuck at an inadequate 18 weeks paid leave, with two weeks for partners, at minimum wage, without superannuation—a pay cut for so many people at a critical moment in a family's life.

Today the Greens are pushing for a catch-up. We've given notice of a bill, to be introduced in November, to increase the length of paid parental leave to 26 weeks, to offer six weeks of paid parental leave to be available to second carers on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. That leave is to be paid at a minimum wage level as the lowest level of payment, with income replacement for those who earn more up to a wage cap of $100,000, and superannuation to be paid on the full period of leave.

Overseas evidence tells us that increasing the rate of pay for paid parental leave and making a portion of it available for six weeks, in our bill, to second carers—mostly fathers in many Australian households—on a use-it-or-lose-it basis has a powerful, positive effect on the longer term sharing of parenting. It's great for fathers. It's really important for kids. It's important for families. It will shift gender equity.

It's also vital to include super. At present, new parents pay a big price in lost income, including superannuation, when they have a baby. We must ensure that mothers in particular do not find themselves living in poverty in old age after a lifetime of work and care.

There's powerful evidence that improving paid parental leave like this will do many good things. It will increase women's participation in paid work, it will address skills shortages, it will increase GDP, it will improve children's development and it will improve relationships between couples, and between kids and their parents. It has a very positive effect on men's health and it will help address gender inequality.

Those supporting increased paid parental leave—and they are many—know we can afford it. We can afford to increase the length of leave and the rate of payment, and we can pay superannuation on it. Rather than give a $9,000 tax cut to the very wealthy and each of the 227 politicians in this building, we can redirect stage 3 tax cuts to the parents and kids who need it most. We should set aside the stage 3 tax cuts and instead improve paid parental leave and take other measures that will help Australian families deal with the cost-of-living crisis, including providing free, quality, accessible early childhood education and care.

At the recent Jobs and Skills Summit, Australians and organisations from across the country and parents, women, unions and employers were united in a call for a paid parental leave increase and improvement for Australian parents, especially mothers. Indeed, the ACTU called for a pathway to 52 weeks leave, moving ourselves more centrally to the OECD average. Alongside improved early childhood education and care, increasing paid parental leave was one of the most common and most united points of discussion at the summit. No-one opposed it. It's time to act. We can afford it, and for the sake of our kids, parents, women, workplaces and economy, it's time we did it.

Question agreed to.