House debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023


Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023; Second Reading

7:05 pm

Photo of Louise Miller-FrostLouise Miller-Frost (Boothby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023 is a major investment in paid parental leave. It's the largest in more than a decade. This is the second tranche of the government's paid parental leave reform that was announced in the 2022-23 October budget. It follows the first tranche that we legislated at the start of the year to modernise the scheme to reflect how Australian families and their needs have changed over the past decade. These changes, which commenced on 1 July, give more families access to the payment, give parents more flexibility in how they take leave, and encourage parents to share care.

The bill expands paid parental leave to 26 weeks by: increasing the total number of weeks by two weeks each year starting on 1 July 2024 and reaching 26 weeks on 1 July 2026; increasing the number of weeks reserved for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis, reaching four weeks in 2026; and doubling the number of weeks that parents can take concurrently, reaching four weeks in 2025.

When we announced our paid parental leave reform in the 2022-23 October budget we tasked the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce with providing advice on the best model for paid parental leave to advance women's economic equality. We wanted to ensure that any changes we institute will continue the current growth of gender equity in Australia. The task force recommended reserving four weeks for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis and allowing parents to take up to four weeks of leave at the same time, and we've adopted that advice in the bill. This is important to enable both parents to bond with the child. Childhood attachment is so important to outcomes for older children and for adults.

This bill will continue to push Australia in the right direction on women's economic equality. Starting on 1 July 2024, two additional weeks of leave will be added each year until reaching 26 weeks in 2026. Currently up to 18 weeks are available for one parent, which is usually taken by the mother, with two weeks reserved for the dad or partner. The increase to 26 weeks means that mums can access up to 22 weeks of paid parental leave—an additional month compared with the current scheme. It also doubles the period reserved for the dad or partner from two to four weeks on a 'use or lose it' basis.

Gender experts have been clear about the need for reserve portions to promote shared care and gender equality, because we know that when fathers take a greater caring role from the start it benefits mums, it benefits dads and it certainly benefits the kids—the whole family. We know that when men take parental leave it normalises it, and it will be a step to addressing the 'mummy pay gap', where women lose years and seniority in their careers because they've taken parental leave and they suddenly find themselves on the mummy track.

Crucially, this expansion provides additional support to mums after childbirth, supporting their own and their child's wellbeing while also encouraging dads and partners to take more leave. The changes in this bill send a clear message that treating parenting as an equal partnership supports gender equality.

The government value both parents as carers and we want to see that reinforced in workplaces and in our communities. In that vein, this bill also provides flexibility by increasing the number of weeks parents can take paid parental leave at the same time. Single parents will have access to the full 26 weeks because all families need time to care for their new baby. The bill also includes a minor technical amendment to ensure access for fathers and partners who do not meet the work test requirements but would have if their child had not been born prematurely. This provision is already in place for birth parents. The changes will commence from 1 July 2024 and apply to births or adoptions from that date. Over 180,000 Australian families are expected to access Paid Parental Leave each year and to benefit from these changes.

The October 2022-23 budget measure was widely welcomed by a wide range of stakeholders, including the Business Council of Australia, the ACTU, Minderoo's Thrive by Five, the Parenthood and Sam Mostyn, chair of the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce. The expansion to the 26 weeks is the largest investment in the scheme since it was introduced in 2011, and this reform reflects our continued commitment to improve the lives of working families, improve outcomes for children and advance gender equality. Improving paid parental leave is a critical reform. It is critical for families, it is critical for women and it is critical for the economy. The Albanese government knows this and is acting to ensure all families are able to spend time with their children during this important stage in their lives.

I know paid parental leave is vital for the health and wellbeing of parents and their children. I know this because it didn't exist when I gave birth to my three boys. When I told the staff in my office that paid parental leave didn't exist when I had my children 24 years ago, they looked at me like I was from another century. It's such a normal part of life now. It is such an expected thing that you would not sacrifice your finances to have a baby. I went on unpaid parental leave at 18 weeks of gestation. As a triplet pregnancy, it was, of course, a high-risk pregnancy and, by that stage, I was having difficulty walking. So I went on unpaid parental leave at 18 weeks, which had a significant impact on the family finances. My children were born at just under 35 weeks and I went back to work part time when they were three months old. That's a long time without pay for any family. Paid parental leave would have changed my life.

This is absolutely another initiative by this government to address the cost of living in ways that are not inflationary. When you have a new baby—or, in my case, three new babies—the last thing you need is financial stress on the family. In this day and age, many families have both parents working, and both parents want to keep working. For mothers to be able to remain connected to work and avoid the mummy gap and the impact of being a parent on their career is a really important step forward. Not only is it vital that parents are given time to raise their children; investing in paid parental leave also benefits our economy and is an opportunity to advance gender equality.

Before the last election, my electorate told me that they were concerned at the lack of interest the previous government had in the status of women and the things that impacted women's lives. I am pleased to say that we recently heard we have the lowest ever gender pay gap at 13 per cent. We've still got a very long way to go, but at least we are moving in the right direction. This is a government that's paying attention to that.

Businesses, unions, experts and economists all understand that one of the best ways to boost productivity and participation is to provide more choice and more support for families, and that means more opportunity for women. That is why we made Paid Parental Leave reform a centrepiece of our first budget. We invested half a billion dollars to expand the scheme to six months by 2026. This is the largest investment in paid parental leave in over 10 years. It will benefit 180,000 Australian families each year and it reflects the Albanese government's commitment to improve the lives of working families, support better outcomes for children and advance women's economic equality.

Together, our changes strike an important balance of increasing support to mums, encouraging dads to take leave and providing families flexibility in how they choose to structure their care arrangements. It is critical that our paid parental leave scheme supports modern Australian families and their evolving needs. This is a scheme that is flexible, that is fair and that drives positive and social economic outcomes for both parents and their children. Crucially, our bill gives families access to more paid parental leave, provides parents options in how they take their leave entitlements and encourages them to share care to support gender equality.

This bill is good for parents, good for kids, good for employers and good for the economy. I commend the bill to the House.


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