Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Matters of Public Importance
Paid Parental Leave
I have received letters from the honourable member for Robertson, the honourable member for Chifley and the honourable member for Flinders proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by standing order 46(d), I have selected the matter which, in my opinion, is the most urgent and important; that is, that proposed by the honourable member for Robertson, namely:
The urgent need to assure working families of the continued delivery of Paid Parental Leave and other major reforms.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address this very urgent matter. We do understand the urgency of these MPI debates, and nothing could be more urgent at this time given what has become known to the Australian public in the last 24 hours about the state of disarray in the coalition on this issue of vital importance to all Australian families. Paid parental leave is something women like me—I have a 20-, an 18- and a 15-year-old—could once only dream about having. I always knew that such a policy would only ever be delivered by Labor, and it is Labor which has, in fact, delivered that policy. We have got it done.
In contrast, on the other side there has been a rapid-fire discussion over the last 24 hours. At a party meeting convened in this very place, the member for McMillan made it very clear to his own party that not only should they rethink their proposed paid parental leave program; they should actually ditch it. They are starting to figure out that, because they have this massive $70 billion hole, they might have to throw overboard a few services which are vital to the Australian people. The member for McMillan is on the record in the Australian today saying that we should not have a paid parental leave scheme. But he is not the only one in the Liberal Party who has some concerns. For those opposite, this whole paid parental leave scheme issue is just an aspiration. It has been discussed ad nauseam.
The Leader of the Opposition was practically friendless in his own party yesterday in saying that he is still committed to their paid parental leave scheme—a scheme which would pay up to $75,000 for some people in our community. It is an excessive amount of money to give to a woman who is going to take parental leave and stay at home. Despite his great promise, the reality is he does not have any funding to properly deliver that. We have a Richie Rich parental leave plan from those opposite which was derided in the Liberal Party policy room yesterday, and the reality is they really have no plans to deliver it.
Consequently, the MPI for today is this urgent discussion to make sure that parents who are thinking about adopting a child today or parents who are heading to a maternity ward today or sometime in the near future have the reassurance of this debate in this place today and are reminded that it is the Labor government that have actually delivered this for Australian women.
The facts are that we have, as the minister put on the record today in question time, 140,000 families who have already made application for the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, and 80,000 of those have already received payments as a part of this scheme. That is quite a difference from the pie in the sky, still to be funded, perhaps to be delivered, perhaps not to be delivered offers that we are getting from the other side. The confusion over there actually reveals their very different values compared with us on this side of the chamber. Not only have we decided; we have delivered for Australian families the type of care that they have needed for a very, very long time.
Let us see what our Paid Parental Leave Scheme actually does. It offers families a lot more choice in balancing their care and working arrangements, following the birth or adoption of a child. Many Australian families rely on both incomes. Our economy is going along very strongly and we need a massive level of participation by our own people. As families make this great decision to bring a new Australian into the world and to begin their journey of family parenting, they need real, practical financial support.
We understand that, before the Paid Parental Leave Scheme started, more than 85 per cent of families were eligible for both the paid parental leave and the baby bonus, and that they would really benefit from having paid parental leave. We know from the stories alluded to today by Minister Macklin, the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, that numbers of families are writing in to just describe what has happened to them as a result of this significant Labor reform. One such message:
Dear Prime Minister
I just wanted to write and express my deepest thanks for having been eligible to be paid the new parental leave. If I had not I would already be back at work by now and would have missed so much of my baby daughter's development. Also, because my mother looks after my children while I am at work and has had these six months not having to, she has been able to go to TAFE and become qualified as an AIN and can now enter the workforce after 26 years of unemployment. I am also grateful for having received the baby bonus with my first child but I believe that it has sent the wrong message to parents and women, and we need this new paid parental leave scheme.
Another letter from a very grateful recipient of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme—which is in place because Labor has delivered, Labor has got the job done and made sure that women like this have been able to benefit and manage their working and their family lives from the beginning much more healthily—states:
A big thankyou for the paid parental leave scheme. It is almost halfway through my baby's first year. She is absolutely thriving. Spending her first year full time with her adoring mum has really helped her develop socially, emotionally and physically. She is confident. She is happy, curious and strong. I probably would have had to return to work as a teacher earlier if it was not for the paid parental leave.
This scheme, a Labor scheme, has had such a positive investment in the next generation. That is the story we are seeing with our reforms over and over in his House. The Australian Labor Party, here on the government benches, are making sure that we are delivering the things for ordinary working families that enhance their lives and make the most significant difference.
We know that women have struggled for decades campaigning for paid parental leave and now they have the certainty and not these off-again on-again promises and policies of the opposition that really leave women wondering whether they might be eligible and whether it will be funded. It is absolutely critical that the difference between these two parties is very well drawn.
Our Paid Parental Leave Scheme is changing the lives of ordinary Australians, but it is not the only thing that is changing the lives of ordinary Australians in terms of our significant reform. One of the critical things that is also affecting our families and impacting very positively on their lives are the changes that we are making to the other elements that impact on families, such as family tax benefit. This one has been very popular with families in my electorate. Children are with us for a long time, not just when we need a paid parental leave scheme at the beginning of their lives but all the way through to when they finish school. This Labor government have supported families and increased the family tax benefit A by up to $4,200 for each teenager aged 16 to 19 who remains in school or further study. This is another critical support. Those opposite have no proposed increase. So the contrast is absolutely stark.
In terms of the age pension, again, Labor are supporting families. Since September 2009, we have undertaken absolutely historic reforms that have delivered an extra $148 per fortnight for singles and around $146 per fortnight per member of a couple, and we are delivering an extra $338 and $510 a year under our new carbon pricing scheme. In terms of small business tax deductions, we are making a difference to families as well. Many families are small businesses and we know that they need our assistance as well. So the $6,500 instant asset write-off is another thing that helps families manage their income.
Finally, there is the education tax refund. It is great to have the babies. It is wonderful to stay at home with them. It is fantastic to manage your finances and balance the books as you do that—unlike those opposite, with their $70 billion hole, who cannot possibly give Australian families the essential services that I have been talking about and the essential services that we need. Families can now claim up to 50 per cent of the costs of $409 per year for each child in primary school and up to $818 for each child in secondary school. I know that the people in my electorate are very pleased to receive a little envelope indicating all the things that we are making tax deductive for them, including school uniforms. So, in terms of Labor policy, we are looking at the moment when families have children, when they begin that lifelong journey of looking after the own families, and we support them in that great work they are doing—not just for their families but for our whole community.
But that is not the only change we are making in terms of significant reforms. I want to speak for a moment about the change to carbon pricing and how significant a change that has been in a seat such as mine. Yesterday I was able to put on the record—and I would like to do that here in the main chamber today—the fact that one of our local companies in the seat of Robertson, Licella, has been engaged in improving its technology. It was funded with $2 million start-up funding to support the changes that they were making, and on 14 December last year Minister Ferguson and I went up to Somersby to the opening of the company's new biofuels commercial demonstration facility. This change would not have been possible without the investment of our funding, to make sure that the reforms that this country needs are actually supported. The company's new biofuels commercial demonstration facility was a fantastic sight to see, and the reality is that four new commercial agreements have been signed and it is all based on this new technology that was supported by government funding. We need to support reforms, and the sorts of reforms that we make can not only impact on families but on businesses. It is groundbreaking work that we are doing. The type of change we have seen at Licella could not have happened without the investment of the Gillard government through our clean energy future package.
The area of education is critical as well. We can see those sorts of reforms that are happening that bring about the nature of changes that we believe are possible as a Labor government. Our trades training centres are absolutely vital in giving students in 927 schools across Australia the chance to actually stay at school, do their study in a community they know and be able to then go into the sort of work that they want to do. In terms of skills, we have invested $11.1 billion. These are lighthouse projects that are actually going to make a fantastic difference to Australian families.
The reality is that, with all of these elements I have been speaking about, there is a clarity of purpose for Labor. We believe in Australian families. We believe in supporting Australian families who are at work. We are getting on with the big reforms to which I have generally alluded today. We are delivering reforms for ordinary working people. We are managing the economy to help those working people and their families. We are managing the economy so we can build a nation for the future. And we are helping ordinary Australians manage the economy of their family budgets by providing paid parental leave in historic reforms that we are not still talking about, we are not still squabbling about; we have actually agreed to them and delivered them.
Tony Abbott clearly wants to take this nation backwards, and there is no way we could see that more clearly than through the argument we have seen in the last couple of days about paid parental leave. His is a coalition of the 'noalition'. They are still saying no to vital things that Australia needs and, every time we put reform before them in this House, they continue to deny Australians the opportunities that will help us move forward together—not some Australians, as they would have benefit, with $75,000 in paid parental leave supported by those who are earning $20,000. Not that sort of a change but a change that takes all Australians fairly into the future together. Whatever the question is, Tony Abbott is saying no. He is saying no to the future of a paid parental leave scheme that is realistic and deliverable. Stick with Labor, because we are the ones who get the job done.
Yesterday we saw the member for Moncrieff making the point that, when they have policy discussions on the other side of the House, they are finding that there is not enough fact and evidence to be able to advance anything in a practical way. The member for Moncrieff has said, 'I don't think I'm letting the cat out of the bag to say that people feel we are not being proactive enough in terms of outlining the policies that we would bring into government'. It is absolutely clear that, even while the Leader of the Opposition argues he has an aspiration to bring in paid parental leave, he has no capacity to do it. He does not have the support of the people behind him and he does not have the money—because he has a $70 billion black hole to clear before he can even start any sort of reform that we are already delivering. (Time expired)
That contribution was not even worthy of an interjection. We had the member for Robertson talk about squabbling. Where has she been in the last week and a half! We have seen the ugliest, the cruellest, the biggest blood feud that we have seen in Australian political history. You want to see squabbling? You could not even describe it as squabbling: it was open internecine warfare. And the words are still there, because the players are still the same. George Orwell would be proud by the doublespeak that this current government and its members employ.
The member for Robertson talked about reform and she quite proudly, again—what cruel doublespeak—mentioned the carbon tax, the carbon tax that is going to put a $4 billion black hole in the budget. She did not mention the so-called reform. Whenever you hear the Labor Party use the word 'reform', you should just cross it out and put 'damage'. What damage are they going to cause in a political policy area? Let us look at the mining tax damage. It is going to worsen the budget bottom line by $6 billion. We know that the most important foundation of our society is healthy families. So why is this government pursuing a carbon tax that was only pushed on them by the Greens? If it were such good policy, why did they not say before the election: 'A carbon tax is something we will introduce. A government I lead will introduce a carbon tax'? Because the Prime Minister knew that the Australian people were not going to swallow that one. They would know the damage it would cause to their jobs and to their household budgets. So, when we talk about trying to help Australian families, who are struggling at the moment with increasing energy bills, you cannot look at the carbon tax as some sort of help or some sort of pathetic excuse for a reform. A carbon tax is not a reform. The carbon tax was the price that a Prime Minister in waiting, with poor political judgment, thought she had to give as the price to remain in her job. That is what the carbon tax is.
Looking at increases in electricity prices, we have seen only today that energy producers will be hit with a $4 billion carbon tax bill. How much is that going to push electricity prices up beyond the 10 per cent predicted in the Treasury modelling? That is causing real concern to families out there who are doing it extremely tough.
So, when the other side talks about reform, forgive me for joining the majority of Australians in thinking this government is an absolute joke. The real reform in which they should engage, the one they have not touched, is the reform of their own organisation. If the Labor Party reformed and became a truly representative party they would not have this internecine warfare or the factional warlords pulling the strings of a puppet Prime Minister preventing her even from bringing in the man she thought would best represent Australia as Minister for Foreign Affairs. That is the sting, that is the pain in the Labor Party—they know it. They know that they cannot engage in real reform and in real assistance for Australian families unless those factional warlords, those bosses, give their imprimatur. That is why any talk of real reform and helping families falls on deaf ears. Australian people and Australian families can see that this Prime Minister and this government are absolutely impotent in looking at the real problems and real challenges facing Australian families, and they are very significant.
When you look at starting a family, it is expensive. These days the reality is that most mortgages need to be serviced by a dual income. The financial stress on a young family starting out is increasing, thanks to the increase in regulatory costs to business, to increases in energy prices and to this so called reform of a carbon tax, which will only give less security to so many families, particularly those who rely on the manufacturing sector.
We have these additional costs and pressures and it is the responsibility of a major political party to ask what they can do in a fair dinkum way, not in a tokenistic way and not so they can say, 'Gee, we've ticked the box on paid parental leave. But what can we really do to give mothers and families a real choice in child birth and to spend time with their children?'
The World Health Organisation, Australian National Health and the Medical Research Council all tell us that six months is the minimum period of exclusive care and breast feeding that is optimal for maternal and infant health outcomes. That is why our paid parental leave scheme is for a much longer period. It covers that six month period, those 26 weeks, while the Labor Party's proposal only covers 18 weeks. Why not the six-month period that is recognised as the minimum period for providing those better health outcomes? It is because the Labor Party just wanted a token effort. They cannot bring themselves to go above party politics and say, 'You know, the opposition has actually come up with a better plan than us.' The women on the other side know it is, but they cannot bring themselves to say it. Considering the stresses of modern life, we have chosen to give women the choice of spending six months at home with fair dinkum pay.
The Labor Party's scheme, with a gross value of just over $10,000—we are not denying that it is a help—is really a very marginal net benefit to those who receive it when compared to the baby bonus and family benefits. It is not really likely to lead to a change in behaviour amongst a group of working women who currently feel they cannot afford to stay at home for six months. That is the reality of the financial challenges they face in their household budgets. That is something that is not acknowledged on the other side. One of the increasing burdens of administration of Labor's paid parental leave scheme is to actually have employers act as the paymasters for the paid parental leave scheme, which adds yet again to the regulatory burden on small business, which is doing it tough.
What is the coalition's paid parental leave scheme? It is fair dinkum because it provides mothers with 26 weeks of paid parental leave at a fair dinkum wage. It is not a token wage. It is saying to women, 'We value your contribution in the workplace. We value your need to contribute to your household budget. We value you as part of a productive workforce. We recognise the challenges in increasing Australia's participation rate. We want to make it easier for you to have one or two children and start a family and not be stressed having to run back to work because you are financially required to do so.'
Our paid parental leave scheme is a full replacement wage of up to $150,000, or the federal minimum wage, whichever is the greater. This brings us into line with world's best practice. It brings us into line with our OECD competitors. Countries that offer replacement wages—France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Singapore, Norway and Switzerland, just to name a few—deliver paid parental leave based on 100 per cent of the mother's prebirth earnings. So when we follow what our competitors are doing, trying to do our bit, what does the government do? They are in denial, pretending that their small effort to tick the box is going to solve the problem of choice for Australian families and for Australian mothers. No other country in the world derives its rate of payment from the national minimum wage as Labor's does.
The government also fails to understand the long-term financial security. Our paid parental leave scheme will include superannuation contributions at the mandatory rate of nine per cent, as it should. The coalition believes that the superannuation contributions must be paid while women are receiving paid parental leave, because we do not believe that paid parental leave is some token welfare payment. We believe it is a workplace entitlement and an important part of social reform that understands the society in which we live and the challenges facing young families now and into the future.
We are very passionate about this reform. We will continue to advocate this reform, because what we get told by working mothers and by women who want to start a family is: 'Thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for understanding how tough it is out there. I want to start a family, but I can't afford to take six months off and look after my child, because we just can't manage to pay our bills; we won't be able to pay our mortgage.' This is an absolute reality.
We have heard from the other side, 'They're not really going to deliver it; they're just promising it.' Well, we have actually provided a plan on how it is going to get paid. It will be funded by a 1½ per cent levy on companies with taxable incomes in excess of $5 million. That levy applies to about 3,300 companies out of 770,000 companies in Australia. These companies will also receive the benefit of a 1.5 per cent reduction in company tax. We think this is an important reform. This levy is necessary because of the mismanagement of this government. They still borrow $100 million a day. Do not look at what the Labor Party says—that they are one big happy family, that they will bring the budget back into surplus. Look at what they do and at the fact that they have delivered the four biggest budget deficits in Australia's history.
Look at how they have squandered billions of dollars in failed programs, like the pink batts program, the overpriced school halls and cheques to dead people. This is a political party, in government, so desperate to cover up the opening cracks in the relationship of its frontbench and to cover up its incompetence, its ineptitude and the fact that those on the frontbench are not really the ones in control. They actually take their eye off the ball when it comes to real policy and real reform, so when a problem comes up all they do is throw some money at it: 'Oh, you've got a bit of a problem? Don't bother us, because we're consumed by our internecine warfare. Here, have some money and go away.' The fact that they have squandered billions—that they squandered a budget surplus they inherited—means that they cannot deliver on the very important social reforms that are part of an evolving society and that are the real challenges for our community.
The public knows that in 12 years of good government under the coalition we delivered social dividends. We delivered real reforms. We delivered 20 per cent in real wages. We created more than two million jobs, and it will be our job to eventually clean up the mess that this mob has created to try to give the Australian people some hope for the future, give them the opportunities they deserve and give them the rewards when they work hard, when they make the right decisions, when they try to start a family and make their contribution to Australia. Unfortunately and sadly, those on the other side cannot bring themselves to commend the opposition for coming up with a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme. (Time expired)
I rise to support this important motion on paid parental leave, put forward by the member for Robertson. Before I do, I want to pass a few comments on the contribution by the member for Indi. She certainly has a capacity to clear a room. I have never seen this chamber empty so quickly as when she rose to speak.
Mr Ewen Jones interjecting—
I will take that interjection. The next book is going well, actually. I will tell you about the first book. I remember the launch of the book at a book store in Sydney. Maxine McKew was speaking on the book, but the MC was a senator from New South Wales called Bill Heffernan. In her speech the member for Indi said there was no bipartisan approach to politics. I would like to go on the record and say—and I probably should not tell this to my Labor colleagues—that I had Senator Bill Heffernan come along and host my book launch. And he is a great guy. I know there are people who want to say bad things about him. He has certainly made the odd wrong call in the past, but he has then gone on the record and apologised to the people he made the wrong call about. I am sure that is the spirit that would pervade this chamber and most chambers: that if people say the wrong thing they then apologise. We certainly heard a litany of wrong things said by the member for Indi. She was talking about the stresses put on working families and especially people who are having children. I do remind people that we had 10 interest rate rises in a row under the Howard government. What has happened since the Rudd and Gillard governments came to power? Interest rates have gone down to the extent that, if working families have an average mortgage, they now have $3,000 extra in their pocket. Also, the member for Indi made some contribution about jobs. I note that of the 700,000 jobs created under the Rudd and Gillard governments half of them have gone to women. That is a fair dinkum contribution to women. So, obviously, the contribution of the member for Robertson is important because we all know, especially if you have had children, how important it is to give them as much support as possible. I know the member for Indi has had children. It has certainly been noted in this chamber by other members that she has had children. But for her to stand here today and suggest that—
Opposition members interjecting—
It is ridiculous for her to stand here today and suggest that the cleaners of Australia should pay for her parental leave—because that is what would be the case under opposition leader Tony Abbott's scheme—and that her parental leave pay, if she were having a child today, should also be paid for by the people out working on the roads. It is only appropriate that we should have some sort of indication, like we did with private health insurance and like we did with the baby bonus, of the income that people have when it comes to having children and when it comes to looking after medical expenses. I well remember when we voted on means testing the baby bonus. Do you know how I remember? Because my son was born on 19 January, less than nine months after we changed that in the budget. My wife was pregnant on budget night and we did not have a nine-month lead-in—which might have been a good idea, as I explained to my then pregnant wife.
I am telling you she reminds me of it every year. So I would suggest to the member for Indi, if, heaven forbid, they do bring in a change to the parental scheme, that they have more than a nine-month lead-in, which is a good suggestion. I was not sure of her vote at the 2010 election after we changed that. But, obviously, we should not be handing out money to federal politicians, which is effectively what the baby bonus used to do. Federal politicians should not be receiving money from cleaners, road workers and the like. That is inappropriate. We have seen the contribution from the member for Indi somehow trying to defend the opposition leader's $3.2 billion scheme that she thinks is going to be funded like the magic pudding. But we all know about the opposition's tax on 3,000 companies, the 1.7 per cent tax or levy, or whatever you want to call it, will be passed straight on to the poorer people of Australia, the people that go to Woolies, Coles and the like. They will pay for that. We are trying to give tax breaks to companies and what does the opposition leader want to do? He wants to tax them more.
We heard the contribution about a price on carbon. They really need to wake up and realise that the world has changed. Sure, Kyoto to Copenhagen might not necessarily have been humanity's greatest hour but we are changing and from Durban and beyond humans are stepping up and realising that the world is a place that we need to look after.
Then we have heard their contributions on the NBN, which, as every economist will tell you, is our greatest hope for increasing productivity in this country. It is not just 'work harder and cut penalty rates'—that is the simplistic approach of those opposite. We know about increasing productivity. Productivity was at zero when the Rudd government took office. As every economist knows, that means there is something going wrong with the car's engine but they just said, 'Crank up the music and ignore it' when the reality is we have to do more—and the NBN is part of the way that we are going to address that problem.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme is something historic that is wanted by so many people in my electorate and throughout Australia. But those opposite want to take an axe to that. Then we have the most simplistic of ideas, the mining tax. Our minerals—not Clive's, not Gina's—are being dug out of the ground and once they are sold they are gone forever unless we distribute the profits that come from all that. That is the reality.
I come to the Leader of the Opposition's $70 billion black hole. We have already heard a lot about that in question time today, about the reality that there are some serious problems going on on the other side of the House. I was interested to read an article by the former Treasurer, Peter Costello, in the Age. It was a strange contribution. Talk about people challenging. This is from the eternal bridesmaid. I have seen digital clocks with more ticker than Peter Costello—fair dinkum! But he did make a contribution where he was talking about what Australia needs to do. To his credit, Peter Costello—although there were rivers of gold flowing into the government coffers—did balance the books. I am not sure that he was the most energetic Treasurer in the world and I note that Paul Keating, who was once called the world's greatest Treasurer, said that he was the laziest Treasurer ever. Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition has broken that tradition, that Liberal commitment to actually being prepared to balance the books. That $70 billion black hole is incredible. We hear reported today that his colleagues are telling him he must drop this ridiculous commitment, this paid parental leave scheme. The sort of money that he would be committing would go a long way in Queensland—and I see the member for Capricornia here and the member for Blair and the member for Petrie, who are all Queenslanders who supported doing something sensible. I see the member for Herbert. The member for Herbert unfortunately did not vote the right way when he came to the flood levy. He was one of the 21 Queenslanders who voted against it. Bob Katter, who is not a member of the government, voted, like a true Queenslander, to pour some money into reconstruction.
Yes. Instead, what do those opposite want to do? They want to line the pockets of wealthier families with up to $75,000. That is not generous; that is actually irresponsible. So far we have seen 140,000 parents benefit from the Labor scheme. They just said, 'It's just a tick a box, it's nothing.' The reality is that it is 140,000 parents. I do not know how many kids that is. I am not sure what the percentage of twins or triplets is, but a lot of children have benefited already from our great scheme. (Time expired)
They are so desperate that the Labor Party have to come in here this afternoon and defame the coalition's policy. I say 'defame', because what is their complaint? Their complaint is that the coalition has a better paid parental leave scheme policy then does the government. That is their complaint because that is the reality. They talk about the Paid Parental Leave scheme, but let us take a couple of things into account. Firstly, how did they construct it? They constructed it in part by cannibalising the baby bonus that was put in place by the Howard-Costello government. I note the previous member conceded that when Mr Costello was Treasurer for all of those years he balanced the books. That is more than the current Treasurer of Australia has ever been able to do in the four years that he has been the Treasurer of this country. Each year he promises a surplus. For four years now we have been getting the same statements from the Treasurer, Mr Swan: he is going to deliver a surplus. Yet year after year after year after year, so far, that promise has never been fulfilled. There has not been a surplus. We are getting it again now: 'I'm going to deliver a surplus. The government's going to deliver a surplus.' We will not know for over 12 months whether that is the case or not. But, so far, if you want to go on the record of this government, the promise has amounted to nothing for each of the four years.
But let us get back to the subject matter of this discussion—namely, a paid parental leave scheme. The first thing is that the baby bonus put in place by the Howard-Costello government is being cannibalised, modified, in order to pay for a paid parental leave scheme. But what is happening with the baby bonus? The piece of legislation that is to come before this parliament when this debate is over in a few minutes time is going to do two things to the baby bonus. The first thing it is going to do is reduce the baby bonus from $5,437 to $5,000. So much for helping the families of Australia! So much for helping the men and women of Australia who are having children! But the government are not only going to reduce the baby bonus, which has been cannibalised in the first place in part to pay for the Paid Parental Leave scheme; they are also going to put a cap on the indexation. Instead of the baby bonus going up by an indexed amount each year for the next three years, what is going to happen? It is going to come down to $5,000 and there will be no indexation in place for the next three years. The government come in here with the gall to talk about what we are doing, when the reality is that the actual thing they are doing, which will be in the debate following this one, will be a reduction in the baby bonus. What gall from this desperate government!
There are two problems here for the government. First of all, they take an existing scheme and change it in order to pay, in part, for their Paid Parental Leave scheme. Secondly, they then reduce the amount of money that is available under the baby bonus over the next three years for intending parents in this country. Then they come in and complain that our policy is better. And it is better. We are going to pay parents the actual wage rather than a wage based on the minimum wage. Look at the schemes around the world and make a comparison. Almost every one of the schemes around the world is based on actual wages rather than on the minimum wage. On top of that, we are going to include superannuation. We have the member for Maribyrnong spouting off every now and again about superannuation. Where is the superannuation component of the Paid Parental Leave scheme that this government have put in place? It does not exist. They know in their hearts that it does not exist and they know in their hearts that this is a better proposal than what they have there at the present time, yet they come in here and complain about it.
That is why I called this government desperate. It is now seeking to defame the policies of the opposition in order to somehow make itself look good. Not only have we got that happening here with the Paid Parental Leave scheme, for which a better policy is being proposed; we have also heard in the last few days about how the coalition is not supporting the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Again, that is totally wrong. Again, we have said, 'This is a scheme which we're supporting. Put it in place.' What we have said is: 'Where's the money? No money has been put forward so far. When are you actually going to commit and tell us how that money is going to be put forward?' But of course there is no answer to that, just the imputation that somehow the coalition is not supporting this scheme.
Let us get real about these things, Madam Deputy Speaker. The reality here is that the coalition does support families. It supported families right throughout its term in office. What better thing can you do for families than keep down prices and ensure that people have got jobs? The last speaker was spouting about jobs and employment. Can I remind him and his colleagues on the other side that when this Labor government came to office the unemployment rate in Australia was 4.3 per cent. What is it today? It is 5.1 per cent—and higher in some states.
Yes, they are doing such a good job, as another of my honourable friends behind me says. The reality is that this is a government under which families are actually being treated worse. At the same time, cost-of-living pressures are on families right across Australia. Electricity prices have increased in the last four years on average across this country by 61 per cent. Gas prices have increased on average by 37 per cent. What we know is that on 1 July this year this government will introduce a carbon tax which will further push up those prices. The great lie in this policy debate is that somehow the carbon tax is only going to be implemented for 500 companies. First of all, we cannot be told who the 500 companies are. That is a major secret. Maybe the government does not know itself. But the implication of what is being said here is that somehow the tax will be totally absorbed by these companies and that will be that. The lie to that was given this week by Virgin, who said that they are going to increase the cost of their domestic airfares by $6 because of the carbon tax, following what Qantas had already announced in relation to their airfares. And do you think that the top 500 companies across Australia are not going to follow Qantas and Virgin in relation to this and push up their prices? Of course they will. I said that electricity went up by 61 per cent over the last four years and that gas has gone up by 37 per cent. We are told by the energy producers that electricity prices and gas prices will go up by nine to 10 per cent, in addition to what they might have gone up otherwise, simply because of the carbon tax. And here we have a government talking about its care for families. That is just bunkum when you see what is happening.
But it is not just electricity and gas prices that will be affected. Water and sewerage rates have increased by an average of 58 per cent across this nation in the last four years. Health costs have gone up by an average of 20 per cent, and that is even before the Labor Party has hit on the private health insurance scheme. Education costs have gone up by an average of 24 per cent. So with just health and education—two major items of expenditure for any family in this country—one has gone up by 20 per cent and the other has gone up by 24 per cent, and they are going to continue to rise. If you do not think that a carbon tax is going to flow through into all goods and services in Australia then you must be living in fantasy land, like I suspect some of the members opposite are.
The cost of food has gone up by 13 per cent on average in Australia. Food requires energy to produce. Food requires energy to process. Food requires energy to transport from one place to another, from where it was manufactured to where it is stored and onto the supermarket shelves of shops all over this country. That is going to go up as well. And who is going to pay for that? The families of Australia. So I would say to members opposite: do not come in here and try to pretend that somehow you are doing something which is great for the families of Australia when you are ripping out the costs in terms of what they are going to pay for in the coming years. Also, rent has increased by 25 per cent for families who are renting across Australia. All of these costs have gone up under this Labor government—costs that have been hitting families over the last four years—and we know that they are going to go up even further into the future.
There is a paid parental scheme in place. We acknowledge that. We concede that. The government has put one in place. But we are saying that they can do better than that. They can put a better paid parental leave scheme in place and they do not need to be ripping down the amount paid under the baby bonus at the same time. The reality is that what we have got is a better proposition than what the government is offering at the present time, and it does not need people to come in here and defame that policy.
I rise to support the member for Robertson's matter of public importance today on parental leave and other major reforms by the government and also to reassure women and families across this country that Labor is committed to ensuring that they have a paid parental leave scheme and other reforms that support families into the future. What they would get under a coalition government is nothing more than pain and heartache. They saw it for 11 years.
I cannot believe that I have sat here and listened to the member for Indi and the member for Menzies, who is the shadow minister for families, housing and human services, talking about how the opposition values women and that they give hope to women. 'The government supported families the whole time we were in office' were the words of the member for Menzies. Let us just look at how the Howard government supported families and women when they were in office. Let us forget about the 10 interest rate rises in a row that women and families had to put up with near the end of the Howard government years and the pressure that that was putting on the cost of living. Let us forget about many of the cuts the Howard government made to the health sector and the fact that they completely walked away from education and investing in skills in this country, in apprenticeships and traineeships.
But we have to mention the fact that this was the government that introduced Work Choices. The people who were affected the most by Work Choices were women in low-income positions, in casual employment. They were the ones who hurt the most from that policy. Those opposite come into this chamber and actually argue that they supported families the whole time they were in government. It is just unbelievable. And we are to believe that, if they were back in government, they would put through all these reforms to help women and to help families. We are supposed to believe that, in government, those opposite would put together a paid parental leave scheme that would be more beneficial than what this government has done.
Those opposite are saying that this government would be led by the current Leader of the Opposition—a man who openly said when he was part of the Howard government for 11 years that he would introduce paid parental leave over his dead body. That is how supportive he was of women. That is how much he valued women. The hope that he gives women in the future in this country is: 'Vote for me and I guarantee that I'll go back on my word and probably never deliver it.' But let us assume he actually delivers it. Let us assume that the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party are genuine about introducing paid parental leave should they be in government. How would they pay for this $3.2 billion reform? We have heard them arguing about the carbon price and its impact on households and that they are devastated by this. They opposed the flood levy to support the rebuilding of Queensland. They do not want to impose any new costs on families at all. They are completely opposed to the levy. But, when it comes to Tony Abbott's wonderful paid parental leave scheme, they will fund it by slugging business with a 1.5 per cent tax—but not just for one year; no. We heard the shadow Treasurer during the 2010 campaign say: 'I'm not putting a time to this so-called temporary levy. I'm not going to say whether it would be one year, three years, five years or even 10 years.' What business can expect if the community supports the opposition and wants them in a government led by Tony Abbot is to be slugged a 1.5 per cent tax. This is big business. These are our retailers—Coles and Woolworths. Does the opposition truly believe that those costs will not flow to consumers? So, the women they are helping to stay at home with their children are now going to the supermarket and paying more for baby food, for nappies and to support their family because of the paid parental leave scheme.
We have heard it from the member for Moreton before. I do not believe that those of us in this chamber with our salaries should necessarily have business paying for our paid parental leave scheme. I do not believe that is appropriate. I did not believe that people on wages of up to $150,000 should receive a 30 per cent private health insurance rebate—that is why I supported the recent changes that this government put through in that area. Many policies from the opposition seem to cater for a certain group in the community. It always seems to be those on high wages who do best out of this. Their paid parental scheme says the more you earn the more you benefit from it. If you are a low-income woman, a casual, then you will get the absolute minimum. But it is okay if you are on a higher wage—$120,000, $130,000 or $150,000 a year—because 'we will look after you'. You will get your full wage for the six months.
We have heard from the opposition about valuing women, giving them hope for the future. I acknowledge that the opposition does have one cost-saving measure in relation to paying for its paid parental leave scheme. If there are fewer women in the workforce, it pays less. The fact that the opposition intends to sack at least 12,000 public servants says there will be fewer women in the workforce, so it has just saved some money by getting rid of a bunch of public servants to fund its paid parental leave scheme. That is valuing women, giving them a lot of hope for the future under a coalition government.
We hear about tax cuts but the Leader of the Opposition says if the coalition were in government, 'It depends on whether we can afford them now.' If we try to take the Leader of the Opposition at his word, you have to ask the question: at what time do we trust that word? The Leader of the Opposition has said, 'If I don't put it in writing, don't necessarily trust the words that come out of my mouth.'
The opposition continually puts out policies—I guess it is the pleasure of being in opposition to just throw these policies out there, not really costing them, not caring how they are going to be costed—but the shadow Treasurer cannot explain them and the shadow finance minister certainly cannot explain where all this money is coming from. We are now up to a $70 billion black hole. I am very confident that will continue to grow between now and the next federal election.
I could stand here for the couple of minutes that I have remaining and keep talking about how much the opposition truly values women. The fact is that this Gillard Labor government has delivered for women. It is delivering for families. It was the first government to introduce the Paid Parental Leave scheme. It could have every single member of the opposition stand up in this chamber and say how great their parental leave scheme was but, guess what? For 11 years they chose not to introduce a scheme. They did not even want to talk about it. It was not worthy of discussion; the Leader of the Opposition would rather have seen it introduced over his dead body. That is how much he thought of it. It is hard to give them any credibility on this issue.
This Labor government has delivered, and not just for women who have babies. We will continue to provide assistance for families well into the future. Look at the childcare rebate, which increased to 50 per cent, increases in the family tax benefit and the assistance to families with teenagers. Under the Howard government, as soon as young people became teenagers the family tax benefit dropped. We recognised that they do not become cheaper as they get older. We are providing that support—such as the assistance for teenagers for dental checkups. These are the sorts of things that this government is doing.
Yes, we will introduce action to deal with climate change. We accept that there are cost implications but we as a Labor government will provide assistance for those costs. We are committed to reducing the company tax. We are the ones who are increasing superannuation. The alternative is to increase company tax and oppose increases in superannuation. Everything they want to do will cost the community. The member for Menzies spoke of the cost of living and grocery prices. Does he seriously believe grocery prices will not go up with a 1.5 per cent slug on company tax? This government will reduce company tax. It will help working families by supporting jobs, increasing superannuation, dealing with the environment, investing in infrastructure and looking after education. (Time expired)
I was listening to the contribution made by the member for Petrie and she posited the question: why is it that in government we did not deliver the PPL—the paid parental leave scheme? It is a very valid question but let me pose this question to her: did she realise that the task we were left with in government was incredibly significant? We inherited from the Labor Party $96 billion of debt. This is an undeniable fact, a record of the previous Labor government's mismanagement. With this Labor-Greens alliance, we have seen more of the same. This is a government that cannot manage the economy. This is a government that has reduced $20 billion of surplus to deficits. We are going to have a net debt of $133 billion. This is the record of the current Labor government. It has accumulated four deficits which amount to over $167 billion. Their record is incredibly poor. If government members would like to compare the paid parental leave schemes, let us do that. Let us talk about the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme and the scheme that we on this side of the chamber have put forward. Our paid parental leave scheme is more comprehensive and it is simpler than the scheme that the government has brought forward. Let us go though it bit by bit. We are offering a 26-week paid parental leave scheme, compared to the government's scheme of only 18 weeks. The reason we have done this is based on the research. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the World Health Organisation have recommended that six months is the right amount of time for a parent to bond with their child. It is a recommended time, particularly for mothers who would like to breastfeed and bond with their children. This is very different, of course, from the scheme brought forward by the government.
Another key difference is in superannuation. The government likes to talk about superannuation and yet, when it comes to the crunch, it is only our paid parental leave scheme that is going to contribute the mandatory nine per cent of superannuation for women. The government is not doing this. The government scheme is silent on superannuation. It is not making any superannuation contribution. We already know that there is a big disparity between men and women and their superannuation earnings over their lifetime. On average, Australian women at around 70 years of age have accumulated about $250,000 in superannuation, and this compares to men, with about $450,000. One of the reasons for this disparity is that women leave the workforce in order to have children. This is a fact. And this government wants to make the disparity even worse by not contributing superannuation in its Paid Parental Leave scheme.
The gross value of the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme maxes out at $10,258. Ours recognises that different women are on different wages. Ours is at replacement wage, capped at $150,000, or the federal minimum wage. But it is not just this that makes ours a more comprehensive paid parental leave scheme.
Ours is a much simpler scheme. Ours does not seek to impose additional burdens on small business. Ours does not seek to tell small business that they then need to administer a new government scheme by changing their payroll and accounting practices, which will cost them significant money and also time. No, we will instead administer our scheme through the Family Assistance Office. It will be direct from government to families. It will not seek to impose additional burdens of red tape and regulation, particularly on small business, who can least afford it.
The member for Petrie said that this is unfunded. That of course is not the case. It is a funded scheme, and we have outlined before exactly how it will be funded. If Labor did not get us into such financial trouble, if it did not rack up such significant debt, we would not have to fund the scheme in the way that we have proposed. It is of course our intention that, once we have cleaned up Labor's mess—as we always do when we are re-elected—we will remove the 1.5 per cent levy that will be imposed on companies with a taxable income in excess of $5 million. That is around 3,300 companies out of around 770,000 companies. We note as well that the company tax rate will reduce in 2013-14 by 1.5 per cent, so, while it is not our preference to do this, it is something that unfortunately, given the parlous state of the books, in order to be economically responsible, we have done so, so that the scheme is fully funded.
We on this side of the chamber want to see increased productivity and we want to see increased participation. One of the most effective ways of improving productivity is to encourage wider workplace participation. One of the biggest barriers to wider workplace participation is child care. We know this. It is an unadulterated fact.
The Labor-Greens alliance, through their thought-bubble policies, clearly do not understand this pretty basic fact. We have already seen this government announce the quality assurance framework. Not only has it announced it but it is seeking to ram it through. This will change the ratio of staff to children from five to one to four to one. Why? The government cannot in fact tell us why. There is no research to back this up. The only implication that will flow from this is that it will increase the cost of child care for Australian families. Some parents may in fact choose to send their child to a childcare centre with a better ratio, but this should be a choice for parents. It should not be mandated. It should not be forced upon them. And it should not be forced upon them particularly in terms of the increased cost.
Minister Ellis I think suffers from the same affliction as the Prime Minister. She finds it very difficult to be honest about the real cost that this policy will have. She has tried to pretend that it will only increase the cost by about 57c a day, but that is completely and utterly untrue. The Australian Childcare Alliance has found that three-quarters of all childcare centres are going to be forced to increase their fees. Twenty-five per cent of them are going to be increasing their fees by between $30 and $50 a week. I know that in my area the Glen Eira council has told me that it is going to be increasing its fees for its childcare centres from $91 a day to $116 a day. That is a bit higher than the 57c that the minister has claimed it will cost. That is what it is going to cost to administer the federal government's new mandatory carer-to-child ratios from 2012.
But this government is not listening. It is not listening to Australian families. It is not listening to the fact that they are hurting. And it is not listening about the additional impost that this will have on their daily lives and the potential impact it will have on our participation rate and therefore our productivity.
Our record, of course, is very different to that of the government. We do not seek to mandate these sorts of things. We believe in giving parents choice. But this is not it, because this Labor government has also ripped money away—$12 million—from Take a Break occasional care. There is an occasional childcare centre in Murrumbeena, in my electorate, that I know fundraises around $6,000 a year, which is a huge impost on it. The federal money being ripped out is going to be around $7,500. That centre will need to more than double its fundraising effort just to stay afloat. This is the real impact that the government's policies are having on childcare centres, on parents and on families in this country. The government's record is poor. Our record stands in contrast. We have a strong economic record. We can deliver on our policies, we can deliver on our promises and we want to see more hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians.
A new child is a wonderful addition to any family. It is an occasion that is eagerly awaited and looked forward to by all concerned. Considerable planning takes place irrespective of whether the new arrival is an adoption or a birth from within the family. Part of that planning is for the financial implications of having a new child. As the mother of three children, I can in this instance speak from very direct experience. The costs associated with the arrival of a new child are enormous and they range from additional medical bills through to the purchase of a cot, prams, additional clothing, nappies et cetera. The list goes on and on. These are not discretionary items; they are essentials. As parents, we actually must buy these things. Even for subsequent children, those costs exist, because some of those items will certainly need replacement and there will be the medical costs irrespective of whether this is the first, the second, the third or a subsequent child.
I believe that the family is the foundation of our society. There is overwhelming evidence to support the view that the recommended time for a mother and child to spend together to establish breastfeeding and to bond is six months. While six months is such a short time to share with your child, it is a long time to be without a source of income, particularly when you have been working and earning money in the time leading up to the arrival of your new child.
The Productivity Commission report Paid parental leave: support for parents with newborn children identified a number of relevant factors. It said that around 72 per cent of mothers in paid work take leave around childbirth. That leave is from a number of different sources. There is paid parental leave, unpaid parental leave, annual leave, sick leave and long service leave. Those that cannot access leave generally resign. On average, mothers taking leave from paid work remain on leave for 37 weeks. Mothers with more than one child return to work after childbirth slightly earlier than mothers with only one child. Of mothers with three children, 17 per cent return to work within three months, whereas only seven per cent of mothers with one child do that. The Productivity Commission also reported on the reasons why women return to work earlier than expected. They were: lack of paid maternity leave, lack of money and difficulty in maintaining household income.
Paid parental leave has actually existed under some workplace agreements for some time. The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations estimated that paid maternity leave provisions were present in 15 per cent of workplace agreements. About 24,000 collective agreements and, until recently, 500,000 individual agreements are registered over a three-year period, so the 15 per cent covers about 44 per cent of the total workforce. Around 28 per cent of the workforce had workplace agreements containing paid paternity leave provisions, so there has been quite extensive coverage for quite some period of time. They were paid parental leave provisions, so they were above the minimum standard.
Not all parental leave provisions are actually incorporated into workplace agreements. Some of them are in company policies or human resources policies. The provisions have varied over time, but they generally have provided for six weeks of paid leave for the primary carer and one week of paid leave for the non-primary carer, although there are numerous examples of there being 12 weeks of paid parental leave—and up to 52 weeks in some instances. There are also examples of paid parental leave being made available and payable in two parts—one part of the payment being made when the leave was taken, with a further payment being made when the employee returned to work. Often the breakdown was on the basis of two-thirds of the payment being made effectively upfront, at the time that the leave was taken, and one-third of the payment being paid on the return to work of the employee.
The Paid Parental Leave scheme introduced by the Labor government falls well short of an acceptable scheme. As I indicated previously, the recommended time for a mother to breastfeed and bond with her baby is six months, yet Labor has implemented a paid parental leave scheme of only 18 weeks. Payment is capped at the minimum wage and there is no superannuation paid for that period. It seems to me very much an ill-conceived scheme that does not meet the needs of women and their families. I believe that there needs to be a much greater focus on women's participation in the workforce and positive measures that can be taken to encourage women to return to the workforce, preferably at an appropriate time after the arrival of their new child. I believe that wherever possible there should be a choice available for women to return to work. There are many women who would like to spend time with their new child, but for financial reasons they find that they have to return to work. One of the obvious reasons for this is the ever-increasing cost of living that we have under the current government. Mothers often feel the need and the necessity to return to work much earlier than they wish.
On the Gold Coast, unemployment is at about 5.5 per cent, but this figure does not paint an accurate picture at all of what is happening in our communities. There is a significant level of underemployment. There are people who would be working additional hours but either cannot find that work or it is not available at a time that suits a new mother, for example.
There is also the issue of the cost of child care and the lack of suitable childcare arrangements that form barriers to a return to work. These are issues that must be considered as part of a proper workforce participation model. Of course, we all want to help our new mothers and our babies. We want our babies and our children to be very well looked after. We also want to make the transition back to work as easy and straightforward as possible for the women.
If I turn now to talk specifically about women returning to work, there are a couple of issues that must be raised and that I need to address. Firstly, there is no doubt that there is a cost involved in the arrival of a new child, as I have indicated previously. Clearly, there is the cost of the child care itself. This is an added financial burden that new parents must consider in their planning around the return to work. There are costs in the child immediately going into child care—for example, getting an additional pack for the child to carry their clothing, their drink bottles et cetera. There are costs associated with taking the child to child care. All of these are a financial burden and they take place at the time that the mother, the primary carer, returns to work. This should not be overlooked. There is also the juggling of the drop-off and pick-up times at the childcare centre and making sure that you are dropping the child off in time and you are back to pick them up before the centre closes. I have indicated that the costs associated with that are quite significant.
Then there is the issue of how work is organised. In my view, this needs a major overhaul in light of family responsibilities and striking the right balance between working and meeting our individual family responsibilities. Specifically, I think there needs to be a lot of work done on the way that part-time work is managed. We have had a traditional model where we have worked full shifts. Shorter shifts and split shifts have not been supported by the union movement—they have argued against them—but they are work patterns that suit women who work and they support family responsibilities. We need to start breaking down some of those barriers and getting women back into the workforce because they have a major role to play in our economy.