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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7355


Senator RICE (Victoria) (17:52): The Greens will also be opposing this amendment. I just want to discuss why that is. Senator Leyonhjelm is proposing to get rid of just a tiny—in fact, almost miserly, almost measly—concession to trying to balance the work and family commitments of people on parental leave and the rights of the employer. Here we have somebody applying to extend their period of unpaid parental leave. All that is being inserted here is that they be given a reasonable opportunity to discuss that with their employer before such a request is refused.

I put myself into their shoes. I had two periods of unpaid parental leave myself. You know that when you go on maternity leave, when you take parental leave, it can be a juggling act as to how much leave you take. Do you minimise your amount of leave because you need to get back to work to earn some money, or do you spend a longer period of time so that you can have time with your newborn child, spend time at home and enjoy that very special time of your life when you have a new child? Here, if you get to the end of your period of unpaid parental leave and you decide that you really do need more leave—if, due to the whole exciting and unpredictable nature of having a new child, you decide that you need an extra two months, three months or six months leave—to then at least have the opportunity to apply for that leave and to discuss with your employer about how this could work, how you feel that it is necessary for you to take this extra leave and how it could potentially work for the employer as well—to at least to have the opportunity to discuss that before it is refused—is a pretty small thing to ask.

It is also a pretty small thing to ask because we are talking about an extension of unpaid parental leave. Here in Australia, unfortunately, workers have pathetic paid parental leave, so it is that unpaid parental leave which is all that people have to rely on. Having the flexibility to be able to extend that parental leave is critical to being able to juggle the responsibilities of being a worker with the responsibilities of being a parent. Not only is it critical for an individual and the organisation that they work with to be able to juggle these responsibilities, but it is critical for our country as well to get the balance right so that people can be supported in their workplace to be a parent, to bring up a family. We need to be able to maximise the contribution of parents to the workforce and to be able to do that juggling act.

We need to be able to access the skills of all workers. It is essential for our future as a fair and prosperous country that all workers can have that ability and that we can have people who have parenting responsibilities, who have kids, who are also able to have flexible work arrangements and move in and out of their working life as their parental responsibilities require. To remove this proposed insertion of just allowing the opportunity to have a discussion about whether you will extend unpaid parental leave is a backwards, miserly and small-thinking action to be taking.

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that part 1 of schedule 1 and clause 2 in item 1 of schedule 2 stand as printed.

Question agreed to.

The CHAIRMAN: The next amendment I had was actually Senator Leyonhjelm's too, but I think it becomes redundant now that that amendment has not been successful.