House debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020


Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

1:13 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020 and move the amendment circulated in my name:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes:

(1) the financial difficulties facing Australian parents juggling young children and work;

(2) the Government’s repeated cuts to family assistance and programs designed to support children and parents; and

(3) that women continue to do a disproportionable share of work in the home and raising children, as well as facing a significant gender pay gap".

Australia's national Paid Parental Leave Scheme is a proud Labor legacy. Its purpose is to allow parents to take time off from work to look after children in their critical early months of development—critical to their health and to the development of both birth mothers and children. Labor implemented this initiative to enable women to continue to participate in the workforce and promote equality between men and women and the balance between work and family life. It provides two payments: parental leave pay; and dad and partner pay.

Through Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme we signal to employers and the Australian community that it is business as usual for parents to take time out of the paid workforce to care for a child. Importantly, it enables the participation of child-bearing age women in the workforce. A high workforce participation rate is important in the context of an ageing population and helps to address the gender pay gap—particularly for those women with low and middle incomes, who have less access to employer funded parental leave.

There are around 300,000 births in Australia each year, with parents of about half of those using Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme to take leave from their workplace and care for the newborn. Almost 150,000 parents a year benefit from the national Paid Parental Leave scheme. Now, in its eighth year, the government has at last recognised the importance of this scheme and moved to improve its flexibility so that more women will finally have the access they deserve—because parents, both mothers and fathers, shouldn't have to sacrifice their careers or their career progression simply because they want to look after their children in the most formative and critical years of their development.

Labor has always believed that paid parental leave is critical to closing the gender pay gap. We know that women are usually the primary carers of children, but it shouldn't just be up to them; men should feel supported, empowered and encouraged to play an equal role in that too. Last year I mentioned to this chamber the KPMG report that found that stubborn gender stereotypes continue to harm the careers of women, especially those who opt to care for children and elderly family members. This is why the gender pay gap continues to persist. I don't need to remind the chamber that women in Australia earn an average of 14 per cent less than men.

We're also very conscious that, in our communications in relation to this particular piece of legislation, we're going to specifically mention stillborn babies as well. I know that's implied in 'newborns', but we think it should be specifically mentioned as a sign of respect, and of practicality as well.

I don't need to remind the chamber—except maybe the Treasurer, who on 9 September last year said that the gap had closed—that the gender pay gap has remained stubbornly high over the past two decades, with any minor improvements attributed in large part to the resources boom. Lasting and sustained progress in closing the gender pay gap requires a fundamental culture change, and it requires genuine leadership. Labor has a proud record of fighting for equal pay for all Australians. When we were last in government this included ensuring businesses with more than 100 employees prepare and lodge a report containing information relating to gender equality indicators. Labor also delivered funding to support the equal pay case for social and community service workers, delivering a pay rise to 150,000 workers.

On the other hand, the Morrison government, after six years, still does not have a genuine or substantive reform plan to close the gender pay gap. If the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were genuinely serious about fixing the gender pay gap, they would oppose cuts to penalty rates. The vast majority of workers who had their penalty rates cut were women. The cuts to penalty rates are exacerbating the gender pay gap as well as making it harder for women to pay the rent and cover the bills.

Paid parental leave also allows mothers and fathers to look after their children in their most critical developing years, not only without sacrificing their career progression or ability to work but also by enabling them to do so without eating into their savings. Parents should be able to care for their children as well as make ends meet. Labor knows that families are doing it tough, especially young families. We know that they are struggling to keep their heads above bills and groceries and rent, yet the government has absolutely no plan to help them. The cost of living is going up, and our young people are worrying about how or if they will start or support a family.

Last year, I mentioned the report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which painted a very anxious and uncertain future for younger Australians. It showed—and this shouldn't come as any surprise, except maybe to the government, who seem oblivious to the struggles of everyday Australians—that homeownership is more out of reach for younger Australians than ever before and one million Australians are now living in housing stress. But there is little wonder that young people are struggling to own their own home: housing prices continue to soar; many haven't seen a pay rise in a long time; and wages are stagnant. As a result, many are seeing more and more of their income being sucked up by rent.

Our young people are also finding it harder and harder to get a job. Youth unemployment is more than double the national average. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, new apprenticeships are at their lowest in two decades. Many Australians, especially younger Australians, are finding that when they do find a job they are simply not receiving enough hours at work to get by. Under this government, two million Australians are looking for work or looking for more work—with one million underemployed. Almost one in five, or over 130,000, Newstart recipients have a job but do not receive enough hours or income to get them off the payment.

This bill will change the paid parental leave rules to allow an 18-week block to be taken as paid leave or to be taken over two years. The bill will change the paid parental leave rules by splitting the 18 weeks of public paid parental leave into a 12-week paid parental leave period and a six-week flexible paid parental leave period. The 12-week paid parental leave period in total will be available only as a continuous block but would be accessible by the primary carer at any time during the first 12 months, not only immediately after the birth or adoption of a child. The six-week flexible paid parental leave period will be available at any time during the first two years and does not need to be taken as a block. Labor will be closely watching the government's implementation of this amendment. These changes will apply to parents claiming for paid parental leave for a child who is born on or after 1 July—and, of course, I once again make the point about stillborn babies.

Labor supports the changes in the bill. We hope they will enable more women to consider careers and roles historically dominated by men. The Paid Parental Leave Scheme is a proud Labor legacy. We will always support improvements to it that increase support for parents who need it. We will always support improvements that close the gender pay gap and make it easier for young parents to raise and care for their families. But the reality is that young families are doing it tough, and they are right to ask: why doesn't the Prime Minister and the Liberal-National government have a plan? Why doesn't the Prime Minister have an agenda or a vision to make things easier for young families?

The Prime Minister is very obsessed with devising new ways to harass and prod younger Australians who are simply trying to enter the workforce and build a life for their families. This government has plans to cut Newstart by doubling the liquid assets test wait time. It has splurged millions on sports rorts but has cut millions from emergency relief. The Prime Minister and the Liberal-National government and their refusal to stimulate the economy are creating an economic environment that is making it so difficult for young Australians to raise and build a life for their families. Of course Labor supports the bill, but we have every reason to be sceptical about the government's competence and ability—the government who brought us robodebt, MyHealth and the 2016 census. We are right to have serious concerns about this government's ability to properly implement and effect these changes, and we will be monitoring it very, very carefully. And, as I said, I have moved an amendment that will be dealt with at a later point.

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

1:26 pm

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the Morrison government's Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020, which will provide more flexibility for working mothers and their families to access paid parental leave by amending the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010. These amendments will allow mothers of newborn or adopted children to use an initial 12-week period of paid parental leave before taking up their remaining entitlement of six weeks any time over the two years after birth or adoption. The bill focuses on increasing women's workforce participation, which was one of the outcomes of the women's economic security package released in 2018. The amendments are in addition to the government's changes to the work test in the Paid Parental Leave Act in October last year. Should this bill be approved by the parliament, parents of children born on or after 1 July 2020 will be able to access the flexible option.

Nearly half of all mothers in Australia are accessing paid parental leave each year. Of those 179,000, it's expected that approximately 4,000 parents will choose to take up this new flexible option. I've long been a supporter of the Paid Parental Leave scheme and the changes the coalition government has made to support working mothers and their employees. Back in 2014 I shared with the House the words of hundreds of business owners in my electorate of Robertson who expressed some frustration with the former Labor government's attempt at a paid parental leave scheme. They told me at the time how it was creating an additional workload for their business and their struggles under the weight of red tape and regulation.

So, today I'm pleased to be part of a coalition government that is introducing amendments to support expectant parents who are small-business owners or self-employed. These measures will provide greater flexibility and more choice for primary caregivers in easing their transition back into the workforce—something this House wholeheartedly supports and encourages. Under the current legislation, taking the maximum 18 weeks off with their newborn in one continuous block could result in a significant financial blow to their business. The bill before the House today will change this system and mean that an initial 12 weeks can be taken to look after their child, and the remaining six weeks or 30 days used flexibly until the child turns two. This flexibility will allow more to return to work and transfer their remaining paid parental leave entitlement to their partner, who will take on the role of primary carer. Alternatively, they may choose to use their remaining paid parental leave to support a part-time return to work. This means that a parent can return to work three days per week and have the option to receive paid parental leave on the two days that they're not working.

As a member of the coalition government I firmly believe in more choice and more flexibility for working families, and this bill will allow for the Paid Parental Leave scheme to be tailored to a family's circumstance and to encourage greater uptake of leave by secondary carers, who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to spend quality time with their children. As a mother myself, I am passionate about giving women and families choices when it comes to returning to work after having children. I'm aware from speaking to families within my electorate that everyone's circumstances are different.

Annemarie is a mother of five and the owner of Night Nannies, which has been running as a small business on the Central Coast since 2005. She told me about the immense pressure of keeping her business open after becoming a new mum and how these policy changes would have benefited her. She even recalls taking a work call on her hospital bed a day after having her baby, highlighting the competing pressures of parenthood and running a small business. Annemarie said that the flexible return-to-work options would help families that use her service in transitioning back to the workforce.

This bill will allow small-business owners to take up their remaining paid parental leave when it suits them and to spend quality time with their child at a different stage of their development. I believe that enabling families, and particularly primary care givers, to have more control over how they use their parental leave will greatly help small businesses, while also helping to relieve pressure on families. I'm proud to be part of a coalition government that is providing more flexibility to ensure that families—

Photo of John McVeighJohn McVeigh (Groom, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.