House debates

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bills

Paid Parental Leave and Other Legislation Amendment (Dad and Partner Pay and Other Measures) Bill 2012; Consideration in Detail

11:38 am

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Small Business, Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

Sorry, I thought twice was not excessive in my second contribution, but I thank you for your counsel. I will put the props to one side, waving them to show you how many points of engagement there are. My point is the payment process is a financial transaction and the back of house work in the first six months of this scheme was done by the Commonwealth, and we believe that should continue unless the employer and the employee want it to be different. These amendments bring about that change. They actually inoculate against the risk that was identified in the Productivity Commission report, that the biggest danger employers were facing was the risk of discrimination towards women of reproductive ages because of imposts the scheme might impose upon them, not as it currently stands but if there was work and coordinated effort to require employers to push up the contribution with their own funds and their own effort.

The other thing this debate offers is an opportunity for the government to correct a broken promise. The Prime Minister, then in another shadow ministerial role, said:

Labor will not support a system that imposes additional financial burdens or administrative complexity on small businesses or in any way acts as a discouragement to the employment of women.

Yet what we have here in the way this scheme is designed are those additional financial and administrative burdens and complexities—the very thing that was promised by Labor not to be imposed on small business. Well, here is a chance for the government to honour a commitment by rectifying yet another broken promise. (Extension of time granted) That was what the government committed to when in opposition. That promise was broken. We have tried on a number of occasions to allow the government to keep the faith with those to whom it had made that commitment and here is another opportunity for that today, to actually ensure that the system does not impose additional financial burdens or administrative complexity on small businesses.

What has changed? Not much, according to a then Labor minister, Jan Jarratt, when she wrote to the previous—two ago—small business minister asking: 'Why don't you embrace what the coalition is doing? Why don't you look at even an opt-in or an opt-out proposal?' That is what Labor in Queensland were advocating, so it is nice to know that even some within the Labor movement thought what was being proposed was a perfectly sensible measure, along with the very long list of industry organisations, particularly small business groups, that want to be cut some slack here and to have the red tape burden reduced. That is exactly what these amendments seek to achieve. The big organisations have the resources and are in a position to carry out a pay clerk role on behalf of the Commonwealth with no change whatsoever to the eligibility criteria or the payments that might be available to eligibility recipients. It requires no change whatsoever, none of the undermining that the minister would have you believe exists. It is about who does the back of house work so that some digits appear on a bank statement. The Commonwealth has done that before and did it well. It used to boast about the success of the scheme. We think that should continue.

And guess what is in the bill we are debating today? Those payments to the dads. And guess who is processing those? The Family Assistance Office at Centrelink. So the machinery that we are advocating should be available to a small employer—the minister argues it undermines the very scheme and then she launches into an attack on the coalition; her argument is absolute nonsense—is the very machinery that is being used to make another payment relating to the Paid Parental Leave scheme. And guess what happens in the event that the employer is insolvent or at some risk and the department secretary chooses not to decree that they be the ones carrying out the pay clerk role? The machinery that we are arguing should be available more broadly kicks in. So this is not some transformational change; this is a sensible, completely pragmatic, very constructive and positive proposal to relieve an unnecessary and unjustified small business compliance and red tape burden in particular.

The government, when in opposition, made a commitment that it would not do this. When in government, Queensland Labor said that what you have done is not helpful for small business so why don't you do what the coalition is proposing. The Productivity Commission said there are a range of things that need to be weighed here but please do not place new barriers in front of employers employing women of a reproductive age such as additional cost and compliance burdens.

There is a shopping list on this flow chart. I will not wave it around again but I will quickly summarise the action steps that are needed in the minister's department's own material about the considerable work that is involved for an employer in these exercises. It says employers are not required to separately identify payments—but they are not required to make a superannuation contribution, so we should decouple that. It says it is not supposed to trigger any payroll action, so decouple that as well. It says there is no need for a separate bank account but you need to make sure you can account for every dollar that comes in. It says there are processes required for ensuring that people are eligible—and so on and so on. So this is not without a considerable amount of burden on an employer at a time when there is quite a lot of mutual adjustment needed in a workplace where one of your team members has the good fortune of looking forward to becoming a parent. That is a time of considerable mutual adjustment for the person anticipating the child and also for the workplace.

So why add to that with this needless, useless and unnecessary red tape burden? Well, there is a reason—and the ACTU belled the cat on it. 'If the coalition amendments got up,' the ACTU warned, 'it would restrict unions' capacity to improve and enforce PPL in workplaces.' So this is not really about the integrity of the scheme. It is not about any suggestion that we are undermining. This is about giving small business employers a break. The only argument that runs against that is the union saying that, with this machinery in place, it is easier for the union movement to fit up employers with additional costs and additional obligations. The objections to these measures should be seen for what they are. (Time expired)

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