House debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2020


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

12:03 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak in support of that amendment and as part of the debate on this bill, Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020. Labor supports these changes to paid parental leave, which will make it more flexible for many families to use the scheme as it suits them. This is a good thing.

I wanted to begin by reflecting on the introduction of Australia's first paid parental leave scheme, which was under the Labor government, the Julia Gillard government, and the then social services minister, Jenny Macklin. It is one of Labor's great legacies that we have delivered for this country and something we're very proud of.

At the time when paid parental leave was first introduced in 2011, we were one of only two OECD countries—the other being the United States—that did not have a state provided paid parental leave scheme, so it was about time that we got one, and it was a very good thing. When the scheme was first introduced there were four very distinct objectives of the scheme. These were looked at at the time by the Productivity Commission, and the scheme that was introduced was very similar to what was recommended by that process. These four objectives were: to allow primary carers to take time off work to care for the child after the child's birth or adoption; to enhance the health and development of birth mothers and children; to enable women to continue to participate in the workforce; and to promote equality between men and women and the balance between work and family life. Each of these objectives is very important in its own right, and the scheme serves those objectives. I would like to talk a bit more about that.

Since it was introduced, in 2011, over 1.2 million families have used the scheme. That is almost 150,000 parents each year who have benefited from the Paid Parental Leave scheme. Importantly, at the time it was introduced, many women in Australia had no access to employer funded leave either. This is something that continues. Many women in particular industries and, in particular, lower paid work have no access to anything from their employers. Women in casual work, seasonal work and low-paid jobs are particularly disadvantaged with no access to any paid leave when they have a child. This disadvantages them in two key ways. When they have their child, they have no financial support at a time when they need to take some time off to recover from having a baby and to raise and bond with the baby. Also, in many cases, they find it very hard to return to the workforce; they actually have to leave those jobs. So one of the key objectives of introducing the scheme was to support those women who had no access to support at that time.

An evaluation that was conducted at the time showed that it sparked a conversation with employers and, for the first time, many employers introduced their own scheme in response to the government scheme being introduced—either to augment the 18 weeks provided by the government or just generally introducing their own scheme. And this has continued on since then, which is a great development.

The gender pay gap remains a problem in Australia. Despite the Treasurer's contention in question time in September that it had closed, it does in fact continue. Female workers in Australia still earn 14 per cent less than their male colleagues. It is a fact that the gender pay gap in Australia has remained stubbornly higher over the past two decades, with any minor changes being widely attributed to the ending of the mining boom. 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 are women and the cuts to penalty rates are exacerbating the gender pay gap, not just making it harder for women to pay the rent and cover the bills.

But paid parental leave is also an important part of this. There are many reasons why we have a gender wage gap in Australia and why women face disadvantage in the workplace more generally. As I said, there are many reasons, and those are all things that we should look at. But I do believe that one of the key reasons that inequality continues in our workplace is that it is still primarily seen as a woman's role to take time off to care for children. I feel that we will not really address this gap until it is seen as normal for both men and women with children to take time out of the workforce—be it leave they take after the birth or adoption of a child or the part-time work that can continue in the years after that. I really think that paid parental leave begins that process early.

Labor's scheme also provides dad and partner pay, which is two weeks of leave for dads to take after the birth of a child. And paid parental leave can be exchanged between both parents so that the father can take some time for the primary caring. I think the sharing of this role is not just beneficial for equality in the workplace. For generations, men have missed out on that wonderful time with children in those young years because they have primarily been at work and women have primarily been in the home. I think both men and women have a lot to gain through the better sharing of that role. We are seeing that happen more and more. Many fathers I know who have either gone part-time or have taken full-time leave to be with their children say it is the best thing they have ever done for the relationship with their children and their partners. So it is wonderful thing and, as a nation, I think we could be doing a lot more with paid parental leave to enable that sharing of the roles.

One particular issue that has been raised with me by some of my constituents is the fact that there is a means test of the mother—$150,000 a year. It is quite high. In the case where the mother exceeds that amount but the father does not, they can't actually transfer that leave over to the father because they themselves are not eligible. Whilst there are obviously very good reasons for that means test, I think it is something that could be looked at in terms of enabling fairer sharing between both genders and not assuming that the male partner is always the higher earner.

Paid parental leave signals to employers and the Australian community that parents taking time out of the paid workforce to care for a child is part of the normal course of life. I think this is one of the most important objectives of the scheme. It also enables women to continue participating in the workforce. As I said, many women were faced with the choice of just leaving their job. This enables them to keep in contact with the employer, which is another important aspect of the scheme. And it also goes some way towards addressing the gender pay gap at retirement age, where we see a third of women facing poverty. Again, perhaps the major cause of that is the time taken out of the workforce to raise children over the course of a woman's career.

This bill will enable mothers and families to split their paid parental leave entitlements into blocks of time over a two-year period with a period of work between. Currently the scheme only allows paid parental leave to be taken as a continuous 18-week block within the first 12 months after the birth or adoption of the child, and then only when the primary carer has not returned to work since the birth or adoption of the child. This bill will change the rules by splitting the 18 weeks of paid parental leave into a 12-week paid parental leave and a six-week flexible paid parental leave. The 12-week paid parental leave entitlement will only be available as a continuous block but will be accessible by the primary carer at any time during the first 12 months, not only immediately after the birth or adoption. The six-week flexible paid parental leave period will be taken at any time during the first two years and does not need to be taken as a block.

In practice, this will mean families can split their entitlements over a two-year period with periods of work in between. And, as with the current rules, the primary carer can be changed during this time. It is likely that the most common use of the increased flexibility will be parents returning to work part time and spreading their flexible paid parental leave over several months. This is a really positive change. However, as I said, we could be doing so much more with paid parental leave in this country. Some of the other countries around the world provide much longer leave, better paid leave and, importantly, sharing between fathers and mothers. There is more leave provided for fathers or a 'use it or lose it' policy where there is an amount of leave that must be taken by the father.

Another important issue with paid parental leave is that the current scheme provides 18 weeks. The Productivity Commission had recommended that, for the health of the mother and the child, it is ideal that the mother take 26 weeks off work. Eighteen weeks was based on budgetary constraints at the time and the idea that many women had other leave they could access. Increasing that at some point would be a great thing we could do for families in this nation to enable women to have a full six months of paid parental leave home with their children—and for fathers to have leave is a great thing. Another issue is that there is a gap in superannuation when women come to retire because of the time they take out of the workforce to raise children. Attaching that to paid parental leave is another thing that could one day be considered.

I want to reflect again on the fact that without Labor having introduced this we still would not have a paid parental leave scheme in this country. We have one that many families—almost half of new mothers—are benefiting from, and that continues to grow. It's wonderful to see dads increasingly taking more time off when their children are born and also going part-time. I know in my own family, this is something that my husband and I had always wanted to do, planned to do, when we had a child so that we could both share the time looking after them. And it has been a really wonderful thing, a real richness, for men in their lives to have that one-on-one time with their child that perhaps in generations past they didn't have. As I said, we support these changes.

12:15 pm

Photo of Anika WellsAnika Wells (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to be able to speak on this really important issue today in the House, an issue that is very close to my heart and one of the reasons that drove me to make the decision to spend time away from my toddler and do this important work on the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020. I thank the government for bringing the amendment to the House today. It is a good amendment and it's one that we're pleased to support. I would also like to recognise the contributions of the member for Jagajaga and the member for Perth last night in this debate, and the member for Canberra just now. It is really heartening to be part of a class of 2019—and I acknowledge the member for Stirling across the way—who are parents of young children. We are living the hustle, and we understand the hustle of parents across Australia: we navigate these jobs and have the flexibility required to do them whilst caring for our young children.

This is a bill essentially about levelling the playing field for women and for their working families. I think it's important to note in discussing the detail of the amendments that paid parental leave is just one element within a plan to level the playing field for women and their working families. It's an important one, but it is one of the prongs.

I wanted to use this opportunity today to highlight the thoughts of a constituent of mine named Felicity, who has written to me recently about paid parental leave and her experience within the current regime. She says: 'My experience has highlighted that women in the later stages of pregnancy are at a special disadvantage in that the policies around childcare and PPL are structured around a parent's ability to be able to obtain work should they wish to do so. It is unfortunately the reality that employers are not willing to provide employment to these women. I recognise that policy cannot anticipate all individual circumstances and that the issues I'm bringing to your attention would only affect a small subset of the population. However, that population is especially vulnerable and uniquely exposed to a high risk of mental health issues, which are made considerably worse with these kinds of worries and stress. In terms of suggesting how to resolve the issues, it would be simple enough to introduce an exception to both tests should a pregnant woman cease employment unexpectedly more than halfway through her pregnancy. The second proposal is attractive, as it provides some accountability to organisations ceasing women's employment at this especially vulnerable time.' I think it's a good suggestion. I thought it was worth mentioning in the House today, and I thank Felicity for taking the time to highlight to people like myself how the scheme actually lives and breathes with you as you are navigating it, as opposed to something that we academically consider as we bring it to the House for introduction or for amendment, as we're doing today.

Returning to the topic of how we level the playing field for women and how paid parental leave is an important prong of that, we need to do more than that. We need to lift their wages, because, like the member for Canberra before me spoke about, the gender pay gap can add up to hundreds of thousands of additional wages over a lifetime of work for women doing the same job as their male colleagues. In Australia, the gender pay gap is currently at 14 per cent. The average salary for a woman is $57,168. So 14 per cent of the average salary of Australian women over 45 years is $360,163. What that means in real life for women like Felicity is that as they consider what the impact will be over the course of their career at the moment, today, in real terms, it's $360,000 per child, considering the wage gap. So we need to protect women like Felicity and their right to organise.

We need to provide additional insurance to workers who need to take time off to care for a loved one, whether they are a newborn or an elder, in a way that doesn't financially punish them for doing something that helps us all. We do not value care enough in our society, and that is reflected by how we pay people who do the caring work in our economy. Childcare workers and aged-care workers are some of the most minimally paid people doing the most essential work in our society. We know that from birth to five years of age is the most critically important time for a child's physical and mental development across their lives, yet at the moment the people who work in our childcare sector are paid minimum wages and we can't get them to stay, when it would be in everybody's interests for them to do so.

I note also that currently the House awaits the findings of the royal commission into aged care, where we know that the same problem exists. People doing the work of caring and respecting our elders—at a time when they return to being incredibly vulnerable, like at the start of their lives—face extremely low wages and difficulty around their working conditions. This is all relevant; this all comes together. We need to use opportunities like we have today, even with amendments to help in respect of paid parental leave, to consider what we are doing for working women, particularly those who care for young people and for elders alongside the work that they do to contribute to our economy and the growth of our economy.

I would also note that we need to expand the rules of the road around flexibility, and that's one of the things we're doing today. Our amendment assists with flexibility for the existing scheme, and it's a good thing and I'm glad that we're doing it. But too many low wage earners have little or no say over when they work or how much they work. Too many operate in a situation where they get a text calling them into work the night before or at the last minute in the morning. That is difficult in itself, but it's particularly difficult when you have to arrange care for your child. It is also very hard to run a household budget and to pay childcare fees when you have wages that fluctuate so much as a result of uncertainty and volatility in your hours.

We also need to note that insecure work and casual work are on the rise, and both of these things make paid parental leave, in its existing scheme, more difficult for women and their families to navigate. At the moment, what I see today is a failed opportunity to address that problem.

I also think we should note that, after a lifetime of work, retirement with dignity should be guaranteed to every Australian, particularly to women and to the working mothers who have got us all here. But we know that women over 55 are currently the largest cohort of recipients of the Newstart allowance. We also know that women over 55 are the largest growing group of people experiencing homelessness in Australia. You can draw a line between women who take time out of the workforce or had to leave the workforce in previous decades to care for children and have now come to the point in their lives where they are retiring and women who are in need of the pension and are experiencing homelessness or are reliant on Newstart. We need to address things like paid parental leave—which could make that situation easier, with the resulting impact on superannuation—now, in opportunities like we have with today's amendment, rather than not address them, and we need to consider the problem as a whole.

I would note that, on average, women have 47 per cent less superannuation than men when they retire. That is largely because, when people take leave to care for their children, they do not get paid super. Very few sectors and workplaces pay women superannuation when they are on parental leave. It is far more frequent and common to do so in Europe and in Scandinavian countries. I note again that, whenever we discuss issues around working women, we ultimately turn to Scandinavia to see what the best practice policies are, what we could be doing and how far we have to go to get there.

It has been shown that women who spend time outside the paid workforce have a tendency to hold multiple roles and live on a system of payments throughout their lives, not just wages—whether that be, for example, the paid parental leave payment or the baby bonus, as it was in a previous decade. In this context, having a $450 threshold, not providing superannuation to women of all ages and not accumulating super in periods outside the workforce all bundles together to mean that women suffer an economic penalty from undertaking vital caring roles. That's a penalty that isn't shared equally across the average family, no matter how well intentioned you are and how hard you try.

This is something I talked to Gai about. Gai is a widow who came to parliament in the previous sitting fortnight to talk about this issue with parliamentarians. Gai has just retired, but she still needs to work 10 hours per week to supplement her pension and her super. She has to work to get by, but she's thankful that she owns her own home. Gai is someone who took time out of the workforce to care for her children, who was not paid during that time and who now suffers an economic penalty in her later years. In particular, Gai is concerned about women who are renting, rather than owning their home like her. Her super was hurt by the freeze a few years back. She thinks she lost approximately $4,000, not including compounding interest in rates. She talks about the discussions she has with other Australian women over 55—people who are asking us in this place to do better. They say that in their retirement they can't afford to go on holidays. They feel socially isolated because they can't afford to go out with their friends or take their grandchildren on excursions because, to survive, they need every cent for their existing expenses.

You can draw a line from how we treat paid parental leave and new mothers to how we support them re-entering the workforce, which increases productivity and helps our economy to grow, right through to what those women face three or four decades later when they do not have accumulated salary and superannuation equivalent to that of their male counterparts, and what that means when they are no longer in the same relationship they were in and were perhaps reliant upon when they first had children.

Ultimately, we are falling behind on paid parental leave, which I'll narrow my remarks to today, but it's something we need to do more about. This is a failed opportunity. This is an amendment to make our Paid Parental Leave scheme better. It a good amendment, but it should have been one of 28 amendments. The scheme is now 10 years old. We're still working on the same information and data from 10 years ago, but the world has moved on since then.

Last night, in this debate, the member for Perth spoke about the international comparison and how we have one of the least generous paid parental leave policies in the OECD. Current rates of Australia's paid parental leave entitlement cover only an average of 42 per cent of the previous earnings of participants; it amounts to about 7.6 weeks of full-time pay. In Norway, parents can access 35 weeks of paid parental leave at the full amount. Estonia offers mothers 85 weeks of paid leave, Hungary offers 72 weeks and Bulgaria offers 65 weeks. Finland, with a 34-year-old female prime minister, recently announced that their paid parental leave will be extended to nearly seven months, in line with paid maternity leave. That is paid parental leave in line with maternity and paternity leave. They have listened to UNICEF, who asks: how can we make sure that our kids get the best start in life and how can we give each parent the chance to bond with their children to form relationships that will last a lifetime? We should also value the work that people do when they give up financial reward to care for our little children and to care for our elders. It's really important. We're falling behind.

I would also like to note the member for Jagajaga's comments about this, and her important work over the years, from 10 years ago and right up to today, to try to make this the best scheme we could possibly afford. But it should also be the best scheme that we deserve.

I conclude my remarks by reiterating that this is a failed opportunity to help level the playing field for Australian women and for the families that they work for. We need to lift their wages. We need to fix the gender pay gap. We need to protect women's right to organise. We need to insure and support our workers who take time off to care for loved ones. We need to support them financially while they support the cohesion of our community and the strength and the productivity of our economy. We need to enforce the labour laws that we've already fought so hard to achieve. We need to expand flexibility for all workers, not just those lucky enough to work in best practice workplaces. We need to tackle insecure work; we need to address that. We need to push back against casualisation of our workforce. We need to make laws that allow all workers to retire with dignity. Days like today are a missed opportunity to get to work on these imperatives. Days like today remind me that to change the country, to get us the country that we all want, we're going to have to change the government. I thank the House.

12:29 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Like everyone else in this House, I rise today to support the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020. I'd like to start by noting that this is the sort of legislation that comes before a parliament when we are moving towards having more women in parliament. It is an initiative of the former member for Higgins Kelly O'Dwyer when she was the Minister for Women, and it is a positive step forward for gender equality. It is an example of why it is important that we have diversity in parliament—gender diversity, ethnic diversity, diversity of backgrounds. It allows this parliament to reflect the reality of people's lives.

Gender equality is important because gender inequality is not just bad for women; it's bad for men and it's bad for society. This sort of legislation today, which is aimed towards giving men, fathers, more opportunities to be involved in the care of their children when they are young—and we all very much hope it is successful in its aims—is good for women, as many of my colleagues have spoken about, but it's really good for men. Gender stereotypes harm both men and women because they deny us the opportunity to do things which don't fall within those gender stereotypes. Unlike a number of my colleagues in the class of 2019, I'm not a millennial. I was born in 1973.

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know. Bring generation X back; I think we're the ignored generation, but that's a speech for another time!

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

I hear some 'hear, hear's! I think my campaign is going to get some legs! My parents were married in 1971, and they met when they were both schoolteachers. They were PE teachers at the same public high school. My mother was a career woman in her mind, in her practice and in her intentions. She was in fact going to go off into the department of education and work on policy, but she fell in love and got married in 1971. She said it was at the relatively old age of 27, but we all think that is quite young now. When she got married and wanted to have children, she had to resign from the public service. That's in my lifetime. Things have changed a lot.

My mother, being the woman that she is, had three children—three girls—and raised them but also went back to work as a casual teacher when she could. In effect, during my childhood, she worked almost full-time as a teacher by being that casual teacher who is at school teaching a different subject every day. It was because work was important to her and was fulfilling for her. Like everybody else in this place when we talk about our parents, we're here by and large because of the love and support that they gave us—if we were lucky enough to be brought up in that sort of family. My mother gave everything she could to her daughters and instilled in us the attitude that women can and should do anything they want at any time.

To some extent, she was denied that opportunity, because she had to resign from the Public Service when she was young and got married. But she demonstrated to us how important it is to do what you love, because she kept teaching whilst bringing us up. Had there been a paid parental leave scheme back in 1973 that would have supported my father staying home to look after me and then my two younger sisters when we were young, I know that he would have taken that up.

Fast forward to 2020, and we are in a much better place. Thanks to the Labor government in 2011, we have a paid parental leave scheme. As the member from Jagajaga, the member for Canberra, the member for Lilley and many others in this place have said, that introduction of the Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2011 changed the world for many women, for many men and for their children. But we still have a long way to go, because for too many men the gender stereotype is that they don't take time off to look after their children in 2020, even if they really want to. For too many men, it's not even just the gender stereotype that prevents them from taking the time off; it's the financial reality.

This piece of legislation is welcomed, but I echo the sentiments of my friend the member for Lilley: it's welcomed, but there is a lot more to do. Like so many people, I also look to Scandinavia in particular for a number of reasons and Iceland. Obviously Finland is an inspiration with its current leadership team of all women—although it makes some of us who were born in 1973 feel insecure about how young they are—and the moves they have made towards equality in parental leave for men and women of seven months. I personally am very attracted to a scheme which says: here's a block of paid parental leave—and I think 18 months is a really good block; you must share it between the two partners, and if you don't, you lose six months of that 18 months. We know that where that has been implemented, it has led to a significant change in the number of men taking leave to stay home with their young children. It is also an example of why parliament, why policy and why legislation are important, because they can help with social change and can give the opportunity for social change that people want to experience.

Changing gender stereotypes and bringing about gender equality are also important because it's not just about who looks after the children. As other people in this place have talked about, it is also about financial security, particularly for women who have had to take time out of the workforce and who find it difficult, notwithstanding what the law says, when they go back to work; they find their career path has been hampered that little bit. They find they don't get that promotion or offered that partnership and no-one says to their faces, 'It's because you've got children,' but we know that's the reason. No-one says to their faces, 'It's because you took time off and the men that were in your cohort didn't,' but we know that's the reason. We know that allowing women to have that career is not only going to fulfil them but is going to enable them to have some financial security, if the thing that no-one ever wants to happen happens and their relationship breaks down and they find themselves on their own. But even if they don't, it allows them to keep working.

Until we have that change in gender stereotypes, that sharing of the early years and taking time off, career progression, in my opinion, is not going to improve. It's particularly an issue in white-collar professional jobs, higher paid, well-educated jobs. I have a number of friends who are incredibly smart, incredibly hardworking lawyers who, for some reason, have found themselves just stalled on the progression in their firm to partnership. It doesn't matter how hard they work; there's just something that means that they're not getting that step up and, if everyone is honest, it's the time they took off each time they had their one, two or three children, which their male counterparts didn't have to take. That's not only why a paid parental leave scheme is important but why, in particular, a scheme that encourages and allows both parents to take time off is important.

The other thing I want to talk about in terms of gender equality and changing gender stereotypes is something that this parliament has addressed this week—that is, gendered domestic violence. What's the link between paid parental leave and domestic violence? It is gender equality. It is breaking gendered stereotypes. It is allowing men to understand that it's okay to be a care-giver, it's okay to be caring, to show the traits that sometimes we've talked about as feminine traits—wanting to be a homemaker, wanting to be empathetic, wanting to just be a good role model—and not be a big tough, strong man. It's showing men that women are their equal and deserve respect in the workplace as well as at home. There are so many things that, as a community, as politicians, as parents and spouses and sisters and brothers that we need to do to reduce the epidemic of domestic violence in our country. But one of the things—and I'm not unique in saying this—that we really have to do is not just talk about respect but put in place systemic change and policies that allow that respect to flourish in homes and in the workplace.

I, like everyone else in this place, want to extend my condolences not only to the women who have been murdered recently by their partners but also to every woman—the one a week who is murdered—and their family, and to all of the other women who are living in situations of violence and oppression. They're scared, they're vulnerable and they're subject to financial violence, not physical violence or emotional violence. I want to let you know that, whilst we don't always say your names and you're not always the people who the campaign is about, we do know what is happening to you, and when we talk about wanting to change society we are thinking about you as well.

The member for Lilley, who spoke before me, talked about workplace equality in terms of the conditions of work for women, the gender pay gap and why legislation like this is important in addressing the gender pay gap, and I could not agree with her more. We know that the gender pay gap is still 14 per cent in this country. I represent an electorate, Dunkley, that's named after a unionist feminist activist from the 1890s who campaigned for equal pay for women in the post and telegraph office and succeeded in 1902—one of the first pieces of Commonwealth legislation was the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902—in getting a provision into that act of equal pay for women.

If we fast forward to 2020, I sometimes wonder what Louisa Dunkley would think about the progress we've made in more than a century since her time, because she fought for equal pay for women, but she also, to paraphrase her words, fought for equal pay because it was about the value of the work. If you don't pay people that do the work equally, then you're undervaluing the work. So whilst we've made progress, we still have a long way to go.

The other area, of course, that we have a long way to go in is equal pay for feminised industries compared to male industries. Yes, the work is different, but I'd like anyone who suggests that someone who works in child care or, in particular, someone who works in aged care doesn't have a harder job than someone who works as a fitter and turner or in construction to go and spend a couple of days doing the job of an aged-care worker—lifting; cleaning; caring for people who are vulnerable, who often have Alzheimer's and who are difficult; working shift work. I'd like them to go and spend a couple of days looking after 30-odd toddlers for hours on end, and not just looking after them but providing them with the basic education that they need at that young age of three years old and four years old, and then come back to this place and say that those feminised workforces don't deserve a pay rise, because I really don't think that you will if you take that time.

The other thing we need to look at when talking about workplaces is the fact that, even in feminised workplaces, when you look at the roles of leadership—managerial roles, CEOs, directors—men predominantly hold those roles, even in schools. Those of us who go into schools all the time know that the principals are often men. It is terrific that men are teachers more and more now, particularly primary school teachers, and all of us support that continuing, but you often go into schools and the principals are men.

So what is happening in society that it's predominantly men who are still holding the roles of leadership in feminised industries? Well, it comes back to things like women not having the freedom to not have to take the extended time off to care for the child when the men don't have to. It comes back to making sure women have the same opportunities as men. And I want to end where I started: it also comes back to giving men opportunities to be fulfilled and to have whole lives and great relationships with their children and be able to break the gender stereotypes that hold them back as much as it holds women back. So when those of us who are women stand up and talk about gender equality, we are advocating for women 100 per cent of the time, but, be in no doubt, we are also advocating for men and for a better society.

12:44 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm really pleased to rise to support the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020. It's actually good to have a positive debate in this place about paid parental leave. It wasn't so long ago—in fact, it was on Mother's Day—when then Treasurer Joe Hockey accused parents of being double-dippers when they took the government paid parental leave and, if they were lucky enough, took employment based parental leave. That was a very polarising debate and a very disappointing debate, because we know that even our current scheme of paid parental leave is actually way behind the rest of the world. While the bill here today is a small but important step along the journey of improving paid parental leave, we are behind the rest of the world. Indeed, the government called anyone, but particularly women, who was taking advantage of two paid parental leave schemes—people cobbling together enough time to spend with their newborn baby—a double-dipper. I had just had a baby at that time and I remember the outrage at my mothers group. My mothers group, or parents group—only women were there—was outraged. Those women weren't necessarily political but took great offence when they were trying to balance work and family—trying to work out how they were going to get back to work, how they were going to balance their childcare responsibilities, how their husband was going to get time off and who would do the pick-ups and drop-offs. When they were managing all of that as new parents and new families, guess what—the government basically told them they were robbing the taxpayer. It was absolutely outrageous. I hope that we won't see any movement from this government to, once again, go down the path of ripping away the government paid parental leave scheme if you are lucky enough to have a small amount paid by your employer. That is just outrageous.

It is a really important issue. As I said, we are behind the rest of the world. Even with our current system, the rest of the world is miles ahead of us. It's not just the Nordic countries, which we so often point to as being very progressive; there are many other countries around the world that are doing much better than Australia. I think that, as time goes by, we are not going to see this as a really important issue in terms of gender equality in this country—in fact, it is really important—but we are going to start to see that this is about economics. It is about ensuring that companies don't lose their skilled workers from the workplace after they've put in the training. It makes economic sense to keep the caregiver, predominantly the woman, connected to the workplace. It is really important that women come back to work and don't lose out on the pathway to promotion. That is also important.

As previous speakers have said, it's also important that we have a cultural change in this country so that either men or women take paid parental leave. I feel very lucky that I have just had another baby, and here I have my partner who has taken 12 months of unpaid leave to raise our child. That works for our family, but I want to get to a situation where I am not an anomaly. I want to get to this situation: when a couple is having a baby, the question is, 'Who's taking the paid parental leave? Who's doing the caring? Are you sharing it? Who's taking it first and who's taking it second?' It's only in that type of society that we will really ensure that women and men are equal. Everyone has a free choice. I'm not suggesting the choice that my family has made will work for everyone, but what we need is a scenario where both cultural levers and policy levers are working together to make sure that it is a free choice for families on how they care for their child and stay connected to the workplace.

The bill before the House will enable working families to split their paid parental leave entitlements into blocks of time over a two-year period with a period of work in between. Currently the Paid Parental Leave scheme only allows for leave to be taken as a continuous 18-week block within the first 12 months after the birth or adoption of a child. The primary carer is not allowed to return to work before they take the leave. This bill will change the paid parental leave rules by splitting the 18 weeks of paid parental leave into a 12-week paid parental leave. And a six-week flexible paid parental leave, allowing the primary carer to access a 12-week block any time during the first 12 months and making the six-week flexible block available anytime during the first 12 years and allowing it to be used as required, not as a block.

I think it's important that these changes will introduce more flexibility to the Paid Parental Leave scheme. It's likely that the most common use of the increased flexibility will be parents returning to work, perhaps part time or casual, and spreading their flexible paid parental leave over several months. I think this is a really important thing. We see more and more opportunities for flexible work. While we still have a long way to go, there is opportunity to work at home and do bits and pieces with technology. We do have a situation where those on paid parental leave don't feel that they are breaking the rules or are guilty if they take up some of those flexible opportunities to work at home, work part time and do a little bit here and there so that they can continue to have that connection with the workplace. Indeed, as the secondary caregiver to my child, coming to work sometimes feels like a break! There is no doubt about it. For me, the connection to my work, which I feel very passionately about, was really important. It needs to be recognised that some primary caregivers would want to have that connection.

But I think the key here is making sure that we are listening to what families want. I would like to congratulate the former member for Higgins, Kelly O'Dwyer, for pursuing the changes in front of the chamber today. She was a fierce advocate and a good role model for women in politics. I know that she had an uphill battle with her own party a lot of the time. She didn't tell me that; I just witnessed it. I would like to recognise the work she has done, but I think it's important to recognise that the changes before us are modest. What they don't do—and it's something that many of us on the side of the House feel very passionately about—is make the change to pay superannuation on the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme. The shadow minister for health is here in the chamber. This is an issue that he has been pursuing with a passion—ensuring that we can have superannuation paid on parental leave. While it's important that we are paying women—and men—for the time they have off work, their superannuation balances take a hit when they take this unpaid leave. That has ramifications in the later years, in retirement. And we know that that hit is compounding: for every dollar that doesn't go in early, it compounds so that there are many more dollars that those individuals miss out on when it comes to their retirement savings.

This isn't something that is part of this bill, and I think we need to look very closely at ensuring that we address the issue of superannuation on paid parental leave. I know that many companies pay parental leave as part of their enterprise agreement. They have chosen to do this, and I commend them for it. But let's be frank. Many companies do this not because it is the right thing to do—although they might think that—but because it makes economic sense. They don't want to lose their talent. Especially in specialised industries, where there is a real labour shortage, they need to be competitive and attractive—and they need to be attractive to skilled women workers as well. That's why many of them have chosen to do this. It is time that the government scheme caught up with that. I would certainly be very keen to look at that.

The paid parental leave scheme that we have in this country, the government Paid Parental Leave scheme, is a legacy of the Rudd-Gillard government. This was something that was pursued at the time. It is well out of date. What it did was provide a safety net for many women who were in casual work who did not get a paid parental leave scheme as part of their base employment conditions. It was a very important social reform in this country. But we cannot stand still. I think we need to very much look at both government levers and cultural change where we can do better when it comes to paid parental leave.

The new government in Finland has announced it will provide each parent with more than 6½ months of paid leave, with a further six months to share. Iceland has recently introduced three months of paid parental leave for fathers or the secondary caregiver, making sure that the burden of domestic, at-home, unpaid work is shared with the secondary caregiver. The world is moving. I think we need to have a serious look at how we are doing. When we look at the duration of paid parental leave and the rate of pay, we are now ranked near the bottom of the OECD, only ahead of the United States and Ireland. We need to work as a parliament, as the Australian political class, to do better.

We know that women currently retire with superannuation balances 42 per cent lower than those of men, and so part of that is looking seriously at the time out that they have not just during the paid parental leave period but also during a much broader spectrum of their caring responsibilities. That is something that I know weighs heavily on the minds of many on this side of the House. How do we make sure that women don't retire into poverty? It is a critical question. Of course, we need to also look at how we change and model the culture of dads and partners taking more time out of work. As I started, it would be great to have a situation where a new baby is coming and the question is: 'So, how are you going to split your parental leave? How are you going to manage it? Who's taking the first bit? Who's taking the second bit?' That should be the question. There shouldn't be an automatic assumption that it is the woman, no matter how much they are paid. I've heard many scenarios where it has actually been the woman earning more than the man but the automatic assumption is that the woman takes the time off.

I have to say, I think dads in this country are yearning for this. I probably shouldn't disclose this, because my husband is here in the building, but I will: I think he was very concerned about taking unpaid parental leave off work. He was concerned about how his work might perceive it and how his colleagues might perceive it. I think he thought he would get daddy day care T-shirts left on his desk and things like that. Indeed, many of his friends and colleagues had said to him, 'I wish I could have done that.' I think there is a yearning for dads to want to play more of a role in the caring responsibilities. I think we need to send a clear message as policymakers that we welcome it. We want this to happen. The best outcome that I see for my children is that if one of them gets hurt they are able to go to either mum or dad for comfort. That is ultimately what I want for my children, that we are equal partners in achieving this.

I commend the bill in front of us. It is a modest measure, but we do need to do better. We can do better. I think all of us owe it to the Australian community to put our heads together about how we help Australian families to juggle their care and work responsibilities.

12:59 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020. I join all of my colleagues in supporting this bill, and particularly the shadow minister who has just spoken as a parent, so passionately and eloquently about the need for reform in this space.

We know that the national paid parental leave scheme was introduced by the Rudd government and started on 1 January 2011. The passage of the original legislation was really a landmark reform in Australia. It created a new national standard that gave all women the right to take a period of paid leave, a major benefit to child health and development. Women who need to take time off because of difficulties during their pregnancy, even they didn't meet the work test, could take the leave under this scheme as well.

Every year in Australia there are around 300,000 births, with half of the families involved in those momentous occasions utilising this scheme. Currently the paid parental leave scheme provides 18 weeks of payments at a rate based on the minimum wage of $740.60 per week, a total of about $13,330 a year. We know that this bill seeks to implement changes that would allow for more flexibility for working families, amending the way families can actually receive the payments. The bill would change the paid parental leave rules by splitting the 18 weeks of the public paid parental leave into a 12-week paid parental leave period and a six-week flexible paid parental leave period. The 12-week-period entitlement would only be available as a continuous block, but would be accessible by the primary carer any time during the first 12 months after birth, not just immediately after the birth or the adoption of a child. And the six-week flexible paid parental leave period would be available at any time during the first two years and does not need to be taken as a block. That's good flexibility for families.

For those of us who have gone through the wonderful gift—that is, having a baby born to the family—having that flexibility makes a big difference. It will allow, in practice, greater flexibility for these families so they can split their entitlements over a two-year period, going back to work in-between. I think it would also encourage a greater take-up of paid parental leave by secondary carers, allowing mothers to transfer their entitlements to their partners at a time that suits their family circumstances. There are about 4,000 families that are expected to benefit from these proposed changes.

I'm a dad, and I've got two young kids, a seven-year-old and a four-and-a-half-year old. I know, as I think many of us in this place know, what it means to have to find a way to balance your work—particularly the work of being a member of parliament—and your family life. It is very, very hard. We all know that; we've shared those experiences, especially with the trips to Canberra. With young children, you're away from your kids for considerable periods of time. With my kids at least—I got elected here the first time in 2016—being seven and 4½ they didn't know much else. They were used to me going away: 'Dad's going away again.' They got used to that. Many of us who have younger families will find this, that as they get older they start thinking about it and they start talking about it, saying: 'I miss dad. Why are you going? We don't want you to leave.' It's contracting. It used to be by Wednesday or Thursday that they'd say this. Now it's happening a couple of hours after I leave for the airport on the Sunday, because they know now; they're much more cognisant of time as they get older. It is very difficult for families to balance, especially if your partner is working, and full-time. There is an amount of strain and stress that puts on your partner, having to do those parental responsibilities while you're away for a couple of weeks in Canberra, because it is very, very difficult to juggle all of those scheduling issues and all of the commitments that we might have. And, not always, but often, it is the women in the family who suffer the greatest because the burden is placed on them. We try and share our parenting responsibilities as much as possible. We try and do that in the best possible way. So I'm very encouraged by these changes because they provide much more flexibility for families. They provide them with a way of actually relieving some of that pressure that I was talking about and making things that little bit easier, because we know how young families can struggle in this period. Labor introduced the Paid Parental Leave scheme because we understood that and we wanted to provide that kind of relief and support for young families. The Labor government at the time decided to offer that financial support to new families to remove the detriment of having to take time off work to care for new members of the family and to enable women to continue to participate in the workforce if they wanted to do so. My wife spent a whole year after our son was born, the first time, but with our daughter, our second child, she went back to work within three months. It's a choice, but we want to be able to give women that choice and not have them restricted with respect to their decision to go back to the workforce or not.

It is about promoting that equality, that sharing of responsibility, between the parents. We're all working professionally. It's unusual for us, as members of parliament—we have some strange commitments over the weekends, and travelling to Canberra and so on places a greater stress. But most young families now try to share the burden, and both are usually working. So it's important that these arrangements can give those couples, those families, the flexibility to get that balance between their work life and their family life right. It shouldn't be such a stressful time, with a new child in the family. It should be a joyous time that you can enjoy and cherish. I don't know this yet, but I've been told: 'Just wait until they hit adolescence! That's when you get really stressed.' I'll wait for that.

I'm proud of Labor's efforts in this space. Almost 150,000 parents a year, half of all new mothers, benefit from Australia's Paid Parental Leave scheme. When it was introduced, Australia was one of the two countries that didn't have a national scheme; the United States was the other. In a sense we're playing catch-up. We were playing catch-up back then and unfortunately, in many respects, we still are. According to last year's OECD data, Australia's Paid Parental Leave scheme was ranked among the lowest in terms of duration of leave and rate of pay. This bill does nothing to change that.

In Iceland, fathers are entitled to three months of paid parental leave. I'd move there, but it's a bit cold. In Finland it's even better: the new government just announced plans to give all parents the same parental leave, in a push to get fathers to spend more time with their children. We've heard from previous speakers about the importance of having fathers take more time to help with and be part of raising their children so that the burden is not just placed on one parent, usually the mother. In Finland each parent will receive 6.6 months leave, including a further six months to share. What a paradise that would be—to spend all that time with your kids! Some of us have said that it sometimes feels, given the pressures we're under, like we're taking a break by going to work; I certainly understand that feeling.

It's important for single parents to be entitled to use allowances as well. As a father, I always wanted to be involved in raising my children. I wanted to be able to do so with my partner in such a way that we could share the joy, the experience and the responsibility as evenly as possible, avoiding the stress of one partner having to step in and do all of the work. The Australian scheme still falls short with respect to fathers, and I hope that we look at some of these reforms in the future, to give fathers more flexibility to be able to spend more time with their children.

It is a small step in the right direction, what we are debating today. It's great that this bill allows more flexibility for working families, but, as I said, I think more needs to be done. We can do more. We've got examples, as I mentioned—Finland, Iceland and so on—of improvements in the take-up of secondary carers. We can improve on one of the lowest rates of investments in parental leave, as we're just a third of the OECD average. I don't think the government can ignore this. The gender pay gap also remains a problem; it flows from this as well. Because women have to take time off work, as we heard earlier their super gets hit. The government shouldn't ignore this either.

I know that the Treasurer thinks it's all done; he thinks that the pay gap is closed. That was news to us! Last time I checked the stats, female workers in Australia still earn around 14 per cent less than their male colleagues. So the pay gap is still stubbornly high, despite what the Treasurer would have us believe, and it has been that way for the last two decades. If the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were genuinely serious about fixing that gender gap they would oppose things like cuts to penalty rates, because the majority of workers who have had their penalty rates cut are women. So they're exacerbating the pay gap, the pay gap that they apparently think doesn't exist. I think the Treasurer needs to pay more attention to that and have a look at the statistics we are seeing so he can put some policies forward to address it.

I'm surprised that the government has put forward this bill. I think it's testament to the previous minister Kelly O'Dwyer. The former minister pointed out her work in pushing this forward and the challenges that she faced, so kudos to her. Even though she is no longer in this place, it was a lot of good work by her in that respect. We saw unfair cuts by the Turnbull government which hit families who could least afford them and which reduced access to things like early education for kids who needed it the most. When we talk about stress on young families, these are the things that add up. One in four families are worse off because the then Turnbull government made changes to childcare. There were 279,000 families nationwide, and 2,225 just in my electorate of Wills, impacted by these cuts, the families that have to adhere to a very complex system of subsidies for child care where a fortnightly period of work is used to determine financial relief. What about shift workers? What about casual workers? What about seasonal workers? Don't they exist as well?

In many respects those arrangements are arbitrary and inflexible and discriminate against large swathes of the working population. We have seen this. There are data and evidence from the department of education and training's report on early childhood and child care. In summary, the report shows that hourly fees at early learning facilities have risen by an annual average of 5.4 per cent since 2013. The obvious pressure this puts on those young families we've been talking about, working families with both partners working, trying to juggle their responsibilities, who rely on early learning services and early education services has been echoed regularly when I go on my many visits to childcare centres or early education centres in my electorate. Because it's not just about childcare; it's about early education. Of course access to early education and early learning is more than just about giving flexibility to parents; it is so important for the development of the child at that early stage. It amplifies the child's development, improves school results, boosts economic outcomes and is an investment in our nation's future.

Labor made an election promise before the last election to take pressure off family budgets, to make access to early education and care more affordable and to support parents' return to work. We know the Liberal Party also promised to make child care more affordable for Australian families, but I haven't seen it. I don't think anyone else here has seen it; it hasn't happened. It is just another empty promise.

In my electorate we have families from a vast array of diverse backgrounds—young families, migrant families, same-sex couples, single parents, newlyweds. I find it distressing on their behalf that, particularly in an electorate that has notable financial hardship, we will see some of these problems persist and deepen, and those financial strains become amplified with some of the policies or non-policies of this government. But I do welcome these changes because they are a step in the right direction. Even though we are falling behind internationally and we still need to do more and can do a lot more, these changes are welcome. They're modest, but Labor obviously welcomes this bill because Australian families deserve this and so much more.

1:14 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of this Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020 and in support of the amendment moved by my esteemed colleague, the shadow minister, the member for Barton. I don't propose to give a history lesson to the House but I do think it is fascinating the way the nature of Australian society has changed over the generations. I know that neither of my grandmothers worked after they were married. My mother, who was a teacher, stopped working when she had her first child. My mother-in-law, my wife's mother, was one of the rare breed in her generation who worked full time—as a very esteemed nurse in my electorate—all her working life, including when she was raising three children with her husband, who was a farmer. The nature of Australia and Australian society has changed.

Labor has always been there supporting families throughout all of those generations. As many would recall, Australia's national Paid Parental Leave scheme was first introduced by Labor, commencing January 2011. That was in response to the changing nature of Australian families and Australian society. At that time, Australia was one of just two OECD nations without such a scheme, alongside the United States of America. We sought to fix that in government, creating a scheme that would provide growing families and primary caregivers with financial support upon the arrival of a newborn or newly adopted child.

For many families within my community of Macarthur, this scheme was absolutely groundbreaking and provided them with the financial security and stability they needed in times of great change. I believe and have remarked on many occasions that there's nothing more rewarding than raising a child. However, I know that this period of time can be quite challenging and daunting for new parents in terms of the way their families change, in terms of social circumstances and in terms of finances. In particular, the stresses of parenthood are exacerbated in times of financial insecurity. With more and more people living paycheque to paycheque, and with wages growth stagnating, I'm certain that the scheme provides great comfort to many families across the nation, and certainly in particular to those in my electorate of Macarthur.

This national scheme introduced originally by Labor was groundbreaking in the sense that it provided Australian mums and dads with certainty. It allowed the primary caregivers of newborns and newly adopted children to take time off work to spend with their child. It enhanced the health and development of birth mothers and children. It enabled women to continue to participate in the workforce, and promoted this participation, and fostered equality between males and females. Certainly in my own profession of paediatrics I could see how important gender equality was in retaining the skills of my many female colleagues who were raising families. It has been great. This scheme provided many young families with the ability to balance work and family life, providing two payments: paid parental leave and dad and partner pay.

The scheme created by the former Labor government signalled to employers in the broader community that it was normal and part of life for parents and primary caregivers to take time out of work to share the care of a child, and nothing could be more important than that. It provided for a shift in some attitudes in our nation, signifying to new parents that their careers and professional prospects would not and should not have to be sacrificed in order to raise a child. If you wanted to do both, the government would be supportive of this aspiration. I think it's a general view across the House that these aspirations should be supported, that the care of a child should be the responsibility of both parents. Labor's scheme promoted the participation of women in the workforce and enabled our workforce and our economy to prepare to adapt for an ageing population, for which a high workforce participation rate is essential. That's certainly true today and will be more important in the future as our population ages.

The Paid Parental Leave scheme also sought to improve the gender pay gap, particularly for those women who live on low to middle incomes and who tend to have less access to employer funded parental leave. While it is true that many Macarthur residents have benefited from this scheme, the same can be said for those in many other communities across Australia, with around 150,000 parents benefiting from Labor's Paid Parental Leave scheme each year. It's also important that this scheme should apply to those who have stillbirths. Nothing could be more distressing for families than suffering a stillbirth. The fact that this scheme can be applied or should apply to parents who have lost a child to stillbirth, and also to those who've had a neonatal death, is very, very important. This is a very important part of their coming to terms with and coping with such a traumatic event, one which affects the whole family. So this scheme is very important for all those families.

Nearly half of all the benefits from our national Paid Parental Leave scheme benefit young mothers. The bill before us today seeks to amend the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010, further building on amendments made in 2019 as well as introducing elements from the women's economic security package as announced in the 2018-19 MYEFO. It's very important that we will need to continue to adjust this scheme in future, as our society changes.

I want to acknowledge the contribution in this field made by the former member for Higgins and the minister—amongst many other roles—for women, Kelly O'Dwyer, because she was certainly a primary driver of this, and recognised the importance of using skills across the community throughout our workforce, and the importance of the scheme in allowing women to do that. This bill implements many changes announced by her and the government through the women's economic security statement.

The bill before us seeks to improve upon the Paid Parental Leave scheme's flexibility—and flexibility is certainly what we need. Many families are involved in very flexible lifestyles. My own family certainly has benefited by it. My grandchildren have benefited by it, as have my children, and I can see benefits for the future for them in this as their lives continue.

This bill will amend the Paid Parental Leave rules through splitting the 18 weeks of paid parental leave into a 12-week paid parental leave period and a six-week flexible paid parental leave period. Under these amendments, the 12-week paid parental leave period entitlement will not only be available as a continuous block but will 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 or a stillbirth.

Additionally, 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 single block. This is certainly very important for mothers who are involved in flexible work or who are still also studying and who are working part-time.

In short, the amendments will provide young and growing families with flexibility, providing mothers and fathers with the ability to split their paid parental leave entitlements into separate units of time, allowing for leave to be taken over a two-year period or the period of work in between the blocks. Under present arrangements, the paid parental leave accessed through our national scheme must be taken as a continuous block of 18 weeks, to be taken within the first 12 months after the birth or adoption of a child. So these new amendments are very important for the flexibility of work for many families. As we know, many families work in very flexible periods, often in different areas around the country or even overseas. So, importantly, not only will parents be able to split their entitlements over this two-year period under the amendment before us, but parents will be able to alter who the primary caregiver of the child is during this period. We know that, in many families, the primary caregiver varies between husband and wife, according to their circumstances. It is anticipated that this will encourage parents to use this increased flexibility by returning to work part-time and giving their skills back to our economy and by spreading their flexible paid parental leave out over a period of months.

I want to reiterate my and Labor's support for these amendments and the flexibility that they will provide for young families. I would stress that Labor understands about the needs of families and will continue to support young families in the future.

These changes are relatively modest, compared to some of the schemes provided overseas. They will hopefully enable Australian parents to share parenting and work responsibilities in a way that is deemed suitable to themselves. This flexibility will benefit many families who seek greater flexibility in our Paid Parental Leave scheme. However, while there are certainly positive aspects to these changes, it's important we note the bill does not increase the paid parental leave entitlements for Australian families. While there is more flexibility, there's no increase in entitlement. The reality is that Australia is falling behind internationally in the support it provides for new parents and for growing families. This bill does very little to change that.

Over the Christmas break, I was fortunate enough to spend time with my daughter, my son-in-law and my latest grandchild, Frankie, who came to visit my family from Germany.

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I can't claim all my own work. The system of support that's made available to young and growing families in Germany is quite extraordinary compared to the Australian system. New parents in Germany are able to take paid parental leave for up to 24 months and can use this flexibly between either parent. While the German system in part can be quite confusing and complicated, it certainly fosters equality in the sense that it is gender neutral. Now without going into full details of the German scheme, Australia's expenditure on paid parental leave per child is significantly lower. In fact, according to OECD data, Australia's paid parental leave scheme ranks amongst the lowest schemes of other developed nations in the duration of leave and the rate of pay it provides. The trend is clear—other nations are expanding on their parental leave schemes to increase the support they provide to fathers and partners, with the goal of enabling them to spend more time at home during the first year of a child's life, while also fostering their ability to provide their skills to the workforce and economy.

Iceland affords fathers up to three months paid parental leave. Finland is expanding its scheme, having announced plans to provide each parent with over 6½ months of paid parental leave and an additional six months to share between them. Finland also allows parents to transfer part of the leave to their spouse, and single parents are even able to receive both allowances.

Australia has one of the lowest rates of investment in parental leave at a third of the OECD average. I think we can do much better than this. The gender pay gap also remains a problem in Australia and that is why I support these flexibility arrangements that will help to close this gap. While the Treasurer may assert the gender pay gap is closed, female workers in Australia still earn 14 per cent less than their male colleagues and it is a folly to deny it. The gender pay gap has remained unclosed in Australia and has been stubbornly high over recent decades. Minor changes have even been attributed to the end of the mining boom; hence, there is a long way to go. The vast majority of Australians who have suffered from cuts to penalty rates have been women. Not only are these cuts making it harder for already-struggling families to pay the bills, put food on the table, pay rent and service their mortgages, these cuts to penalty rates are exacerbating the gender pay gap as they disproportionately affect women. Now if those opposite were serious about addressing inequality and disparity in our society, they would cease their attacks on people's incomes and reverse their cuts to penalty rates. They would expand the paid parental leave scheme and provide better support for the things that Labor stands for such as health care and education. Their actions speak volumes. Those opposite have made consistent and deliberate attempts to attack penalty rates, attack families and slash the take-home pay of many women.

A government member interjecting

I don't know to what end. The economy is still floundering as evidenced by the recent employment rates. People now have less disposable money to spend, and trickle-down economics, which those on the opposite side support, absolutely does not work. Labor stands up for young families. Labor stands up for young people. Labor will stand up for those being attacked by those opposite. You can hear by the wining from the opposite side, they have no credibility in this space. Labor stands to support women. Labor stands for the basics of education. (Time expired)

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker, Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43 and may be resumed at a later time.