House debates

Tuesday, 6 February 2024


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

5:28 pm

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier today in the House, I talked about unicorn times in parliament. Sometimes in this place we have the opportunity to do speeches over separate days, weeks, months and even years. Occasionally, you get to do your speech during three separate sessions, which is my lucky moment today. The thing that I would say is that this policy on paid parental leave is not a unicorn moment; this is deliberate design by the federal Labor party. It's deliberate design. This is because we recognise that working families need more help and support, and we need to make sure that there are more choices available for working families, and that's exactly what this policy does.

One of the things I recognise with working families is that previously people needed to think about different arrangements to work out 'Do I care, or do I work?' Particularly when there's a new child in the family, this is a really challenging time. One of the things we want to do is give families more choice to work out what's the right option for them. For some people who have been in Australia for multiple generations, they have access to things like family members to help support them working. But not everybody has access to that. The thing that we want to do is provide people with more choices, and we should make sure that our systems help facilitate the balance for all parents and children. What this does is it leads to better outcomes for families, better outcomes for parents, better outcomes for children, but also better outcomes for the whole economy.

Working should not be a barrier to parenting, and similarly parenting should not be a barrier to working. What this bill does is it helps break down those barriers. It extends paid parental leave by increasing the scheme to 26 weeks by 2026. These reforms are another example of the Albanese Labor government delivering on its commitment to improving the lives for Australian families. The government is committed to providing each parent four weeks or reserved leave from 2026 when the scheme is fully implemented. This is a policy that will encourage shared care. It is a strong signal that both parents play an important role in caring for their children. These changes will benefit mums, benefit dads and benefit kids.

One of the things that we recognise is that absent fathers are challenging and make it difficult for children, and they can actually cause long-term relationship problems. It's really important that we give fathers and male carers the opportunity to be present during those early stages of a child's life. It's an important time where we see bonding happen, and it is also a really fascinating stage because children grow up so quickly. That's why this bill also introduces concurrent leave, and so from 2026 both parents can take four weeks of leave at the same time if they choose to do so. When I had my second child I ended up having a caesarean and needed care for a six-week period. I was lucky enough for my husband to have carers leave during that time. It was a really special time, and the thing I'd love to do is to not do this by chance or choice but give this opportunity to all families. It's about choice. It's about flexibility. It's about autonomy.

It's also a really challenging time, as well, when someone's learning how to feed their baby, change their nappies, and it is so much easier if you've got two parents who can run the show. What it also means is that families can choose how they arrange care for what is best for them and their circumstances. It means increasing flexibility for families and supporting both parents to take time off work together.

Earlier in this House, I talked about other government measures that are addressing gender inequality and economic disadvantage. These are complex issues, and that's why we have an integrated and holistic approach across government to achieve the change. This is about a government that consults and listens; it's not a top-down approach but one that's bottom up. It's an approach that feeds insight and expertise into decision-making processes. That's what works. We know it, and that's how we make better decisions.

Reforms introduced by this bill reflect the advice from the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce. The taskforce report identified that Australia relies on women to carry the greater share of unpaid work in homes and families. It also identifies the participation of women in the labour force and workplace is typically worse than their male counterparts. Why is this the case? The report highlights several reasons, from disparity in paid working hours to the undervaluation of traditional feminised work, discrimination, disrespect and insecure work. It's a system that traps women in cycles of poverty. Withdrawing from the workforce stunts women's careers, their earning capacity and their future security. Periods of unpaid work also mean no superannuation contribution. This leaves older women seriously vulnerable.

Women's economic inequality is an issue raised through the Jobs and Skills Summit and the employment white paper. Feedback that had been provided to the government during this process was that more support for families to balance their care was needed and, as a response, the changes that are introduced in this bill better address the needs of working Australian families. The changes provide greater security as they adjust to life as a parent, whether it be for the first time or welcoming a new addition to their family. The government has listened, and that's why it has been supported by advocates and representatives from the social services sector. The CEO of the Australian Council of Social Services, Dr Cassandra Goldie, welcomed the changes. She said:

We're pleased that single parents will be able to access 20 weeks of Paid Parental Leave. This is long overdue …

Businesses, unions and economists have also all agreed that providing more choice and flexibility and supporting working families is great for the economy. The reason for this is that boosting productivity by boosting women's participation in the workforce is great for the economy. That's why it's important that we have a scheme that complements other parental leave programs offered by more and more employers each year.

When the paid parental leave scheme was first introduced by the Gillard Labor government in 2011, it was groundbreaking. It was a critical milestone for women, because, until then, many women had not had access to any paid parental leave. It was a progressive step for gender equality. For working families, the 2011 reforms made an enormous difference to their lives.

This is what Labor does. It advances the lives of working families and advances gender equality. The reforms to the scheme that will be enacted by this bill will add an additional two weeks of payment each year from 1 July 2024, increasing the overall length of the scheme by an additional six weeks by July 2026. Each year, 180,000 families will benefit from this policy. It's a massive $1.2 billion investment towards making the lives of working families better. It's making it better for parents, making it better for children and making it better for the economy.

That's what we're here to do. It was Labor that created Medicare. It was Labor that created the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. It was Labor that created the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And now we're making changes to reform and improve the scheme that was neglected for a decade by the opposition.

The Liberal Party prefer to distract, divide and demean rather than to govern—or, as Turnbull said of Dutton, they destroy. The Liberal Party prefer to scapegoat and demean vulnerable people, as they did with robodebt. Instead of supporting Australian families, they made things harder.

Under a Labor government, we have policies, as we see, coming out of this bill, that create a better Australia, a better future for our children, by supporting the health and wellbeing of parents, by fostering an environment that will provide choice, flexibility and autonomy, not an environment based on fear and division.

While the Liberals are doing that, Labor's getting on with the job. We're back in 2024 with a packed legislative agenda to keep Australia safe, create a better environment for all families and create a sense of belonging for all Australians.

5:38 pm

Photo of Kate ChaneyKate Chaney (Curtin, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Like so many of my colleagues, I rise to support the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023. The measures introduced are intended to bring more equity and flexibility to parental care roles, to increase workforce participation for women and to enhance the health and development of parents and children. I welcomed these changes when they were announced as part of the October 2022-23 budget, and I welcome them again today.

This bill creates a pathway to increase paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2026. It also increases the number of weeks of paid leave reserved for each parent, so that, by 2026, each parent will have four weeks of use-it-or-lose-it leave. It also extends the eligibility for paid parental leave to include surrogacy arrangements. All these things are good things.

Adequate paid parental leave is essential if we want to support children and carers to get their best start in life and parenting. The month after a baby is born is pretty overwhelming. Paid parental leave gives essential time for birth parents to recover, bond with their baby and learn the new skills needed to parent, but adequate and fair paid parental leave is also essential if we want to give birth parents the best opportunity to continue to be part of our workforce and part of our economy. That means ensuring that partners also have an equitable share of paid parental leave. Chief Executive Women is an organisation that represents women leaders from corporate, public service, academic and not-for-profit sectors. In their submission on the bill, they said:

Paid Parental Leave (PPL) is not a form of welfare. It is a critical lever to enable parent's, particularly women's, workforce participation. It connects parents to the workplace and allows businesses to attract and retain exceptional talent.

The long and the short of it is: we need more partners taking more parental leave if we want more equity in the home and in the workplace. We need more dads doing more of the early primary-caring role. In Australia, despite 92 per cent of employers offering parental leave regardless of the gender of the parent, only 12 per cent of those who take up the offer of primary carer leave are men—only 12 per cent. A major factor, if not the major factor, for the gender pay gap is the unequal division of unpaid caring labour, which includes caring for children. The Australian Institute of Family Studies produced a report which shows that the average number of hours worked by fathers doesn't change significantly after the birth of a child but the number of hours a mother works falls by around two-thirds on average. This is one of the major drivers of the motherhood penalty, which is the 55 per cent reduction in women's earnings once they become mothers. This is not good for an equal society, not good for the economy and, really, not good for mums or for dads.

This is consistent with my own personal experience. I'd been earning a similar income to my husband before our first child. My employer offered decent maternity leave, but his only offered a week. So I took extended time off, returned to work part time and watched my earnings stagnate while his continued to grow. It made sense at the time, financially, but it had longer term consequences for me. Even though we had every intention of sharing the care of our children equally, structural differences embedded traditional gender roles.

The Parenthood, an organisation that represents more than 80,000 parents, carers and supporters nationally, has rightly said:

Ensuring that some paid parental leave is specifically available to dads represents a big step towards a more gender equal society where work and care can be more equitably shared.

This bill goes a small way to try to rectify this issue. In this bill, the reserved period for partners has been extended from 10 days to 20 days, which means that dads spend more time with babies. The likelihood that fathers will share care when their child is three years old is significantly higher if the father shared care in the first nine months after birth. Research by the Grattan Institute shows that shared paid parental leave boosts mothers' earnings and boosts our entire national GDP. Its modelling suggests that increasing the entitlement to 26 weeks, shared between parents, would cost the government some $600 million per year but would add $900 million to GDP per year as well as boost mothers' lifetime earnings by $30,000. Equity Economics has estimated that the cumulative impact of proposed changes to expand paid parental leave could increase GDP by 4.1 per cent, or some $166 billion, by 2050. If Australia could lift female participation in the workforce to that of men, it would increase GDP by 8.7 per cent, or some $353 billion, by 2050.

As many have said before me, I think that we can aim to do better—that we can make future changes to ensure paid parental leave is more equally divided between parents. I hope that this is only the first step and that there will be many more towards that end. But increased engagement by partners, or men, taking paid parental leave is not just about economic gain. Engaged fatherhood is linked to positive outcomes for children, such as higher school achievement, higher self-esteem, fewer behavioural problems and increased stress tolerance.

The organisations that have worked in this space for many years have innovative and forward-thinking ideas about how we can reduce the motherhood penalty. The Business Council of Australia says that a future paid parental leave system should embed design features that promote a more equitable distribution of care in the longer term. They want to see a system that enables and incentivises both parents to share responsibilities for caring, which will help shift traditional cultural and gender norms and see more women participating in the workforce and able to advance in their professions. The Parenthood advocates for a phased approach towards a 52-week paid parental leave scheme paid at a replacement wage rate equally shared between parents. I have also seen suggestions from KPMG for an equality supplement, where bonus paid parental leave weeks are provided if it can be shown that the responsibility for care is shared more equally. The Australian Centre for Future Work recommends extending the 'use it or lose it' component of paid parental leave to eight weeks and bringing parental leave pay up to a full replacement wage level or to the average wage. So many organisations advocate for paid parental leave to include superannuation so that the primary caregiver is not disadvantaged in retirement.

These are some great ideas, some important ideas, that should be considered carefully as the paid parental leave framework continues to evolve. I love this quote from the Productivity Commission:

If untapped women's workforce participation was a massive iron ore deposit, we would have governments falling over themselves to give subsidies to get it out of the ground.

In conclusion, I support this bill for the positive impact it will have children, families and women's workforce participation. I look forward to seeing more reform in this space and to seeing Australia working towards the paid parental leave standards we see in countries such as Sweden and Norway. I'm glad that, as a society, we're starting to recognise the inequality in parental leave and the long-term impact that extended leave can have not only on women and men but on our economy. I hope our sons and daughters and grandchildren will only know a reality where parents share the caregiving load and where all adults who wish to participate fully in the workforce can do so.

5:47 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I think when we come to this debate about ensuring that more Australians can get more benefit out of the huge changes that have happened since Labor introduced the universal paid parental leave scheme for Australia, you start by reflecting on your own experiences of benefitting from previous parliaments that made the right choice. For me and my wife, Jess, we welcomed our son Leo into our world in 2017. I was very fortunate. I was then working for a branch of the Australian Labor Party in what continues to be its most successful era. I was fortunate enough with the support of then Premier McGowan and the party president, Carol Smith, to be able to stop and have time on paid parental leave with my son. At the same time, my wife was working at Fortescue Metals. She was, with the support of then CEO Nev Power and Elizabeth Gaines, able to take time, again, to have that moment that you only get once in your children's lifetime to be with your family. I really appreciate the normalisation that has happened in this country over the last 15 years. Paid parental leave is something that every parent should seek to take and, indeed, that we seek to support every working parent to take.

I did the same again when our daughter Ruby was born at the end of 2020. I was able with the support of the new Prime Minister to take some time off from this place—something that many people now do—to again, be there with my wife, our then three-year-old and our little new baby Ruby, who is now, thanks to the wonders of early childhood education and much love from me, Jess and her grandparents in both Brisbane and Perth, a very feisty, confident three-year-old.

I share all of that because we are still on the journey of normalising that parents—men and women—should take paid parental leave and that we in this place should take further steps to support it, which is what we seek to do today, recognising that paid parental leave is about having more time with family. It's time that you only get once and it's an opportunity to bond with your children, to be there for your partner and for parents to support one another. So it is great that we celebrate the evolution that Australia has been on when it comes to paid parental leave and continue to invest in that with the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023.

I'll start with the history of the Paid Parental Leave scheme. It was obviously introduced in 2011, and every year about 180,000 families rely on that support, which is a very good thing. Since that time, there have been a lot of plans put to this place—and I'll get to that later—but what we are debating today is the biggest investment in paid parental leave since the commencement of the Commonwealth scheme back in 2011. This is a $1.2 billion investment, and it's a $1.2 billion investment in families, which is something that we should all be proud of. It's investing in those next generations of Australians who will learn more and be able to spend more time with the parents that we always hope they will grow up to love—that's not a guarantee; that's on the parents to ensure that is how it turns out.

But it is a massive investment because we're doing something really big. We're expanding paid parental leave to 26 weeks, increasing the total number of weeks that parents can access by two weeks each year until we get to 1 July 2026. So, with the support of this chamber and the other place, we'll get up to 22 weeks this year, 24 weeks next year and 26 weeks in 2026. It's something that will also assist employers who can plan for a half year, or, where families choose to stretch it out over one entire 12-month period, it gives that support as well and also gives more flexibility. I think many people who've engaged with the scheme as it currently stands have recognised that there could be more flexibility in the scheme, and we seek to do that.

I think even what is described as a minor technical amendment will make a huge difference to some families, ensuring access for fathers and partners who do not meet the work test requirements only because their child was born prematurely. We've fixed that. It's a small thing, but something that makes a huge difference, particularly for families when they're going through something like an unexpected early arrival, often with children who need extra support and partners who need extra support. Again, I'm pleased that we'll do that for those few families who need that support, in addition to expanding it for the 180,000 families across Australia who rely on this scheme each year.

I also think it's worth noting that this is just one part of the government's plan to help Australians with the cost of living and help families with their household budgets. We've talked a lot in this place today—and it's good to be back in the parliament—about how you support middle Australia, how you support working families and how you make sure that people get a tax cut and get the support they need. If you think about what we're doing here with 26 weeks of extra paid parental leave and if you look at the modelling from when we released the details around the tax cuts for middle Australia, one of the examples that was used in some of the documents put forward was of Matthew and Alice, who have two kids and are working full time. Matthew's a truck driver, and Alice is a primary school teacher. In 2024-25, Matthew will expect to earn $80,000, and Alice will expect to earn $90,000. That family will get a tax cut of $3,608, supporting their household's budgets. Should they choose to have another child, they'll now have access to 22, 24 or 26 weeks of paid parental leave.

We know that many people now very carefully plan their budgets in the years before they choose to have children. If you think about someone who might be thinking about, in 2026, once this scheme is fully up and running, putting away that little bit of extra money to make sure they're ready for the arrival of a new bundle of joy—let's take someone who works at Woolworths. Not only, thanks to this government, have we not seen 200,000 Woolworths workers lose their job, but let's take the example of someone who works at Woolworths on $75,000 a year. That's an annual tax cut of $1,554 under the middle Australia tax plan, combined with the knowledge that, when we get to 2026, should they be fortunate enough to be able to have the child that they wish to have, they'll have 26 weeks of paid parental leave, plus the partner pay. That's the other piece that we continue to expand in this. If I think about what that means when you're trying to make all of those household budgets fit together, it makes a huge difference.

I've got to say: I've had strong support from my electorate for the changes we're making to paid parental leave. Equally, I've had strong support from people writing to me in my electorate, supporting the changes that are being made for a fairer tax cut for working families.

I think that it's also important noting for the House that this plan that we put forward comes at the end of a thorough policy development process. It was the Albanese government that established the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce to prioritise advice to government on issues facing women in the Australian economy. We asked the taskforce to look at the available evidence to see what was needed on the Paid Parental Leave scheme and whether or not it needed to be expanded. This reflects the consultations that that taskforce had to not only expand economic equality in Australia but also expand the support provided by government to families in those precious early months.

I also note that there was a parliamentary consultation on this; the Community Affairs Legislation Committee examined the first tranche of this legislation. Again, there was strong support in the submissions received. If I think about going home to Perth and whether I will be happy on how I voted on this bill that's before us: last financial year, 1,635 parents in the Perth electorate received paid parental leave. It will be good to be able to say to them, if they choose to have another child, that they'll get more support should this pass. It'll be good to be able to say to them that, because we've seen how much of a benefit it has in our local communities all across the country, we're expanding the scheme.

Too often we've seen people come forward with proposals to cut things back, and I can only contrast what we are seeking to do with the last time we saw someone trying to make a big change to paid parental leave policies. I note that we've seen a lot of commentary in the last few days from those in the coalition around what they think of one another. Some in the chamber right now had a starring role, and I congratulate them on that, but it did make me go back and look at the debate. Internally, at the time, there were those who now sit on the opposition benches trying to tear down not just Tony Abbott but his—

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll just remind the minister of relevance.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll bring the minister back to—

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I was about to quote from ABigger Picture, a book written by Malcolm Turnbull, a former prime minister who served in this place. He said:

Meanwhile, Abbott's paid parental leave policy was languishing in the Senate; apart from Tony, not one member of the cabinet wanted it to pass.

Not one—and we know that there was one person who was in that cabinet who still is in parliament today, and that is, of course, the Leader of the Opposition. There were policies promoted and promised to the Australian people by those opposite when they came to power in 2013, and I can confirm, having gone back and looked at the factual records, that the Leader of the Opposition, who was obviously trying to undo his own leaders' policy proposals at the time, does have a starring role in Our plan: real solutions for all Australians.

I appreciate the ABC. I think they do a fantastic job. I think many in this building enjoyed the contributions they made last night to the national political discourse, but I did think they probably were a little bit soft when it came to the history of the paid parental leave saga that happened when those opposite were last in government. But, obviously, where you had people—including the current Leader of the Opposition—not supporting the paid parental leave proposals, you also had the then Prime Minister—and it does get confusing because there were so many—delivering a 'thinly veiled rebuke of Peter Dutton over the former health minister's handling of the GP co-payment'. So it's all happy families on that side.

This piece of legislation is just one part of our plan for further closing of the gender pay gap and further investment in making sure that we do have gender equality in this country. I want to note the achievements of the Minister for Women, who has very proudly and rightly noted that the national gender pay gap, under this government, is at the lowest level on record, something of which I hope everyone who has contributed to that can be proud.

In my final two minutes, I want to reflect on someone who enabled me to be in this place today, Pamela Day, who passed away on 5 December 2023. Pam was a well-known fixture of the Bassendean community. She campaigned in all three of the elections in which I have stood. I could not be here to vote for fairer paid parental leave if it weren't for Pam Day. She did countless days on various prepolls and she was one of the thousands of women who have campaigned across their lives for gender equality, equal pay and paid parental leave.

Pam was born all the way back on 4 March 1931. She grew up on a farm. She married her, now also late, partner, who was in the Air Force. They travelled around and they had a shared commitment to service. When he was out serving in the Australian Air Force, she was out on the ground campaigning, advocating for and supporting so many different causes.

In her professional career, Pam was a nurse and a social trainer, helping her fellow Western Australians wherever she could. It was no wonder that she campaigned for things she truly believed in, like paid parental leave. She campaigned for issues that were important to her, like voluntary assisted dying, the Uluru statement and, indeed, the sorts of measures we've been talking about today, like cheaper child care and paid parental leave, to make sure that we have more fairness for working women in this country.

I know that Stephen Smith would be appreciative, if he weren't in the employ of the government right now and unable to talk about such things, of the support that he received from Pam. I know Alannah MacTiernan and Tim Hammond also appreciate support from Pam, and I know myself and the member for Hasluck appreciate her support to be here and to vote for this piece of legislation. Vale, Pam Day.

6:02 pm

Photo of Jenny WareJenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was in the chamber to hear the member for Perth's speech, and I would just remind him that, on various occasions, the ABC has applied an equal blowtorch to those on the other side of this chamber. Other than that, I will leave that commentary to the ABC.

I rise to speak on the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023. I am always very happy to rise to support and speak about measures that will improve the lives of Australian women, Australian mums and Australian families overall. Therefore, I do support this bill, which builds on the existing Paid Parental Leave scheme that has been implemented since 2011. It will expand paid parental leave by an additional six weeks of government paid leave, overall increasing the scheme to six months by 2026.

However, there is one impact of this scheme—and that's the administration of it only—where there is a disproportionate burden placed on small business. I think that needs to be acknowledged and I note that the coalition has moved some amendments to support small business. That change applies only to administrative support. Overall, the fundamental principles behind this legislation are, of course, supported by the coalition.

As a preliminary point, the benefits of a government paid parental leave scheme are well known. As I said, the scheme has been in place since 2011, and numerous studies have shown that paid parental leave provides invaluable assistance to Australians—Australian parents, Australian workers, Australian employers and the Australian economy overall. Without doubt, paid parental leave is one of the most important economic measures that governments can adopt to support Australian women. When Australian women do well, their families do well, the economy does well and our country does well. The coalition, therefore, remains committed to supporting Australian women's participation in the workplace.

At its highest level, the clear benefit of paid parental leave is to increase female workforce participation. However, the benefits for mothers cannot be overstated. These include assisting with bonding with a newborn baby, breastfeeding and recovery from childbirth. Studies have also shown it can assist with lowering postnatal depression rates and improving new mums' mental health. Paid parental leave can also lower infant mortality.

Paid parental leave ensures that women are not disadvantaged in their employment by their intrinsic role in childbearing. It supports economic security for women throughout their lives. It supports the health and welfare of mothers as well as their newborn children. It assists Australian parents to manage their work and parental responsibilities so that the needs of children and families may be met in the context of a modern Australian society. It also supports dads and partners, which is also very important.

This amended scheme will go some way to ensuring that working women do not unwillingly delay or avoid having children because of the financial ramifications that will occur or because of difficulties that they may experience if they take a career break. The scheme particularly supports first-time mums by assisting childbirth recovery and perinatal and postnatal health challenges, including premature birth. Most importantly, paid parental leave supports fundamental Liberal Party principles that the role of government is to facilitate an environment to enable Australians to have choice and to make decisions that are right for their individual circumstances. It helps Australian women decide when they will have children.

The drawback to this scheme at present is administrative in nature only. The scheme disproportionately and adversely impacts smaller businesses—and by that I mean businesses of 20 or fewer employees. It imposes an additional red-tape burden on small businesses by making them the pay clerk for the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme. Small businesses—those with under 20 employees—do not have a human resource department, and they are drowning in red tape, ill-equipped to administer these payments. At present, there is a situation where Services Australia administers these payments in circumstances. Therefore, the coalition proposes amendments that enable small businesses to allow Services Australia to pay those instalments direct to the employee. It will still be possible for small businesses to have an opt-in provision, where they can pay those payments themselves.

These amendments have been proposed following consultation with various stakeholder employer groups, including the Motor Trades Association of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the National Electrical and Communications Association. Small businesses reported to these organisations that when administering the payment they had an increased administrative burden and an increase to their payroll processing time. The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, as part of the consultation process, stated:

For many small and family businesses, the costs associated with administering the scheme are magnified as they do not have the existing organisational capability or internal expertise to implement complex processes.

Look at just how many payments there are currently under Australia's Paid Parental Leave scheme: in 2022-23 there were over 170,000 parental leave pay claims and more than 88,000 dad and partner pay claims. In 2021-22, of the more than 31,000 employers that provided paid parental leave to their employees, 38 per cent were small businesses. That means around 15,000 small businesses were administering this scheme in one year.

At present, the Paid Parental Leave scheme includes a mandatory employer role, which requires employers to pay government-funded paid leave payments to eligible long-term employees. However, employers are only required to provide parental leave pay that is taken by their employees in a continuous block of at least 40 consecutive weekdays at the beginning of their entitlement. Services Australia provides any parental leave pay dates taken outside of that block. Therefore, Services Australia—one of our largest government agencies—already has the processes, staff and resources in place to administer this scheme. In those circumstances, it is strongly recommended that the process payment of paid parental leave move from burdening small business to the appropriate government department. This would be compatible with strengthening and insuring the scheme into the future.

I've spoken in this place on paid parental leave on a number of other occasions. On all occasions, I had asked the government to consider, in any future amendments to this scheme, that superannuation guarantee payments be placed on parental leave pay. Disappointingly, this has not been included in this legislation, and I say that this is a missed opportunity for the Albanese Labor government. It's a missed opportunity in bridging the disparity between the superannuation balances of Australian men and women, where women—even in 2024—still lag substantially behind our male counterparts. Working Australian women should not be financially disadvantaged for their choice to have children and for their innate role in childbearing. Furthermore, as a mother of twins, I would also draw to the government's attention recent submissions made by the Multiple Birth Association around the cost of raising multiples and the need, in many cases, for more flexible arrangements with periods of parental leave.

These two issues, however, are not before this place at present. They are not for this current legislation, disappointingly—particularly in relation to superannuation. However, both of these are major issues for women and families across this country, whether they are parents of multiple births or they are seeking to have superannuation paid on their paid parental leave.

To conclude, this is a good bill overall. Paid parental leave is vital for Australian mums and vital for Australian dads. It is integral for women's workforce participation, for mothers' physical and mental health and for giving fathers the opportunity to be more fully involved in their children's early care. We need to support Australian families, but we also need to support Australian small businesses—many of which are family businesses. For all the reasons I have mentioned, I commend this bill to the House.

6:13 pm

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to the debate on the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023. Times are tough for many in Australia right now. This is the case for people in all sorts of situations, but it is especially tough for working families. When we were first elected, we made a commitment to create a better future for all. We said there would be no-one left back and no-one left behind.

Soon after being elected, we followed through on this commitment by helping families who may be struggling, through implementing the first part of our paid parental leave reform. Paid parental leave reform was so high on our list of priorities that it formed the centrepiece of our first budget, where we invested half a billion dollars to expand the scheme to six months by 2026. This shows exactly how committed this government is to improving the lives of working families, supporting better outcomes for children and advancing women's economic equality.

Today, we are getting on with the job of creating a better future and helping working families even more by implementing the second part of this reform, which will further help to make the scheme more accessible, flexible and gender equitable.

There are a lot of people in the Hunter doing it tough, but, because of our changes to paid parental leave earlier in the year, more than 2,000 people are better off. As of July this year, 2,155 parents will be receiving paid parental leave in my electorate.

I am the proud father of two daughters. I have been through the early stages of parenting twice. I know what it's like to bring home a new baby and to have to adjust. It can be tough. I'll be honest: my wife did most of the work, and she did a great job. Thank you, Alex; I really appreciate what you do. But it can be tough. That's why it is good that over 2,000 people in my electorate are able to get a little bit of extra help at a time when they need it more than ever.

I have great news for the parents in my electorate and across Australia. We are doing our bit to ease their pressures even more by increasing the total number of weeks of paid parental leave by two weeks each year, starting on 1 July 2024 and eventually increasing it up to a total of 26 weeks on 1 July 2026. We are also increasing the number of weeks reserved for each parent to use on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, up to four weeks as of 2026, and doubling the number of weeks parents can take concurrently, so that it will be four weeks in 2025.

Currently, families are allowed to take 20 weeks of paid parental leave. This number will increase to 22 next year, 24 in 2025 and 26 weeks in the year 2026. That is an additional six weeks that parents will be able to spend with their newborn child without the added pressures of returning to work and without the stress of not having a secure income. This will make a huge difference to so many parents and, most importantly, will give our youngest Australians valuable extra time with their parents before their parents go back to work.

The increase to the number of concurrent weeks that will be able to be taken will also be a massive help for parents. Parenting isn't easy, and having two around to help definitely makes a big difference. Right now, parents can take two weeks of concurrent paid parental leave, but, as of 2025, this will double, meaning that parents will be able to have four weeks of concurrent leave.

Mothers should not be expected to do all the hard work of caring for a newborn child themselves. It is great that this bill opens the door to make it easier for dads to do their bit. When fathers take a greater caring role from the start, it benefits mums, dads and their kids. Fathers should be able to take on a greater caring role, knowing that they have the financial support that will come with the increased amount of paid parental leave that will become available to them due to the changes we are making with this bill.

When my daughters were born, my wife was amazing—but this doesn't mean she should be left to do all the hard work of caring for a newborn by herself. The changes in this bill send a very clear message. This message is that treating parenting as an equal partnership supports gender equality. This bill also sends a message that this government values men as carers too. We want to see that reinforced in workplaces and in our communities. This is a message that I support, and I am glad to see this outlook now being reflected in our paid parental leave system. These changes will make a huge difference to the lives of so many parents and families, with over 180,000 families expected to access the Paid Parental Leave scheme this year.

The changes will commence on 1 July 2024 and apply to births or adoptions from that date. These changes are a result of our government seeking advice and listening. The 26-week scheme comes after we sought advice from the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce, or WEET. The WEET recommended reserving four weeks for each parent on a use-it-or-lose-it basis and allowing parents to take up to four weeks leave all at the same time. This bill reflects exactly what this advice was.

We in the Labor Party are proud to be members of the party that first introduced paid parental leave in 2011. Today I'm proud to be able to stand here as a member of a government that is delivering the largest investment in the scheme since it was introduced in 2011 by expanding the scheme to 26 weeks.

We also know that there are times that parents miss out on being able to access this scheme for technical reasons which are completely out of their control. We want to fix these issues and make the system fairer and more accessible to all. That is why it is important that this bill also includes a minor technical amendment to ensure access for fathers and partners who do not meet the work test requirements but would have done if their child had not been prematurely born. This provision is nothing new, as it is already in place for mothers, so it just makes sense that this provision should equally be applied to and used by fathers as well.

Everyone is on board with what we are trying to achieve by introducing this bill. Business, unions, experts and economists all understand that one of the best ways to boost productivity and participation is to provide more choice and more support for families as well as creating more opportunities for women. Increasing the amount of paid parental leave available and making changes to the way in which it can be taken does exactly this. It boosts productivity, helps families by providing more support and gives more opportunities for women to participate in the workforce because having a child should not come at the cost of a secure income.

This bill is really simple. To summarise this bill, it is aimed at helping working families by expanding paid parental leave. It expands the paid parental leave scheme in three ways. It increases the length of the payment from 20 weeks to 26 weeks. It increases the period of reserved leave for each parent from two to four weeks. It doubles the period in which parents can take paid parental leave at the same time from two weeks to four weeks. These changes give more families access to the payment, give parents more flexibility in how they take their leave and encourage parents to share the care.

The bill improves the lives of working families, supports better outcomes for children and advances women's economic equality. It is also about creating a balance. Our changes help to strike an important balance of increasing support to mums, encouraging dads to take leave and providing families flexibility in how they structure their care arrangements. This bill helps to deliver a better future, and I know it will be well received by the working families in my electorate of Hunter. It is good for young citizens, good for mums, good for dads and good for the economy. For all these reasons, I commend this bill to the House.

6:22 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course I support the member for Deakin and his amendment to the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023. Certainly I know the coalition has thought long and hard about this, as we do about every bill. That is why the member for Deakin's amendment needs to be adopted. I know that we all want to support working families. We do. Families are the backbone and the building blocks of our nation. Whether it's in a small business, a medium business or a large business, we want people to have the ability to work, to look after their children, to contribute to the economy—it all works in cycle; it all works in tandem.

Whilst the coalition will support this bill, more needs to be done to make sure that small businesses aren't burdened by exhaustive red tape. I do earnestly and honestly worry about the impositions placed on small business by this government—the industrial relations impositions and the difficulty of trading in what already are difficult times. The ability to not only attract new customers but retain the customers you have is an age-old question for small business. Cutting through some of that red tape is so important. We used to have red tape days when we were in government. To be fair, they indeed reduced some of the onerous, unnecessary responsibility on small businesses particularly, who are already under a mountain of pressure and bureaucracy just to keep their doors open.

The coalition calls on the Labor government to amend this bill to ensure paid parental leave payments are paid directly to the employee. To start a business in the present day is a challenging task. There was a story in the Daily Telegraph just last week about 80 businesses failing every week, and many of those were in the construction sector. This is a huge burden to bear, particularly as we have a housing crisis. This is such an onerous responsibility on builders, who are weighed down by federal law, weighed down by state law and weighed down by local councils. This story in the Telegraph, headed 'It's a big business bust', mentioned that more than 80 New South Wales businesses are failing every week. In the very first paragraph, it said that this was a jump of nearly 40 per cent in a year. Paid parental leave is important. Making sure workers are paid the right amount for their labours is absolutely necessary—no question—but, when you have businesses failing at the rate that John Rolfe's article indicates, it is a concern.

I approached a businessman in my electorate, a home builder by the name of Wayne Carter, and he indicated his concern. He said that a heavy percentage of where the building industry is on its knees—they're my words, not his—has been 'caused by the government-backed fringe requirements to increases to BASIX levels along with changes to the National Construction Code, adding extra costs to a build'. We've had many discussions in the past, and red tape is one of those things which he has mentioned regularly and consistently when talking about how difficult it is to keep the doors open. Already established businesses have a better chance to adapt, as changes to them are incremental, but when you start a business the years and years of red tape built up and built in often proves to be an insurmountable obstacle. It crushes innovation and it prevents what could potentially be great businesses from ever having a chance to evolve.

Government should be seeking to ensure it is as easy as possible for our best and brightest to start businesses. Young people, not-so-young people, metropolitan people, remote people, city people—it doesn't matter. We need to provide the building blocks, the foundation, the starting point—call it what you like—to encourage businesses to take out that first loan, to try to attract that first customer. That is so vital.

The Motor Trades Association of Australia, a peak body for many small and medium-sized businesses in the car trade, held a survey on the matter of red tape stifling competition in the market. Interestingly, this survey found that 96.1 per cent of respondents would prefer Services Australia to pay paid parental leave directly.

If we want to support families and aspiring parents, we must also address what many would argue is an even bigger issue, and that is the affordability and availability of child care. I talk about this in relation to child care because it is a huge issue in regional, rural and remote electorates. It's one thing to have affordable child care—fantastic—but it also needs to be available child care. Unless you have that childcare centre in a rural area, it doesn't matter how cheap, how inexpensive, it is. They have to conform to all the necessary regulations, naturally, but availability is a massive issue.

According to an ACCC report, childcare fees outpaced inflation with increases of between 20 and 32 per cent. For families on low incomes, the news gets even worse, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission finding that the lowest-income households spend up to 21 per cent of their household income on child care. So when you think that is nearly a quarter and then you put on top of that rent or, indeed, paying off a home mortgage and then you put on top of that grocery bills, in rural, regional and particularly remote Australia, you put on top of that the price of fuel going up and up and up—I don't see it coming down anytime soon. I had a letter from a constituent just yesterday complaining about the high price of fuel in West Wyalong—It all amounts to more and more and more pressure on the household budget, and that is particularly so in regional Australia.

In regional Australia, I know the member for Page, the shadow minister for trade at the table and the member for Wide Bay understand all too well because we are in touch with our constituents. They tell us about the difficulty of finding childcare places. They tell us about the difficulty of cost of living, and that is not to say there were not pressures when we were in government, but we addressed them. The cost-of-living has gone through the roof under those opposite, who, to my way of thinking, are not doing enough to address these issues. And it is not just my way of thinking; it is Mr and Mrs Average. It is people who regularly send me emails, regularly stop me in the street, regularly see me at all sorts of social and sporting events. I know they are seeing the member for Page because we talk. I know they are telling the member for Wide Bay because we talk about these things regularly, because we care and we do care. We care about child care. We care about paid parental leave. We care about the rising costs that people are trying as best they can to meet and to combat.

According to the Care 4 Kids website, the average daily childcare rate in Wagga Wagga is $133 before subsidies. In Parkes, the average is even higher—$151. That said, there are many families—innumerable, you could almost argue—who can't even get their child or children into child care because there are simply no places. I talked earlier about availability. Affordability is just as important in this particular debate when you, as I said, factor in Labor's cost-of-living crisis, and it is Labor's because it is on Labor's watch. It is Labor's responsibility to address the cost-of-living crisis and they are not; they are talking about everything but. We are seeing childcare costs and the cost of paying off a home or even getting into the market getting out of reach of so many. You can understand why some couples, sadly, are hesitant to even start families because they want the best for their child, as any parent would and should, but they are delaying it and that also creates difficulties later on. They simply can't afford it in the present dire circumstances.

More needs to be done to support Australian families who are raising kids to ensure we remain a society built upon strong families and not to discourage those aspiring to have children. We can look across the globe to see what can happen if we don't support families enough. In some countries, the birth rate is well below replacement and that is a concern. It is a concern for Western civilisation. Indeed, in Japan, things have become so desperate that families are being offered a million yen to move out of Tokyo in order to reverse population decline and to enjoy a more comfortable life in rural municipalities.

I have to say that there's nothing wrong with living in rural municipalities. We found that during COVID, when many people chose to leave the big bright city lights and move to regional Australia where there were more freedoms. It was a safer place to live when the global pandemic was at its worse. Indeed, it was open. People could move about freely without being largely kept to their local government areas, which was the case in Sydney and other capital cities. They're still suffering PTSD from the lockdowns in Melbourne, quite frankly. And Western Australia just shut itself off from the rest of the country.

But we addressed the global pandemic very, very well. I pay credit to the then Prime Minister and member for Cook, Scott Morrison, and the then Treasurer and former member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, for what they did to keep this country safe and people in jobs and even alive in those terrible times.

As I say, paid parental leave is important. It's a necessary and good part of modern living, to the point where parents can go out and work—and not just women. It is a whole new world in which we live, and we want to encourage women and men to be able to have a good work-life balance and to be paid paid parental leave. But we also want to make sure that we encourage businesses to be able to afford to offer every right workplace condition in this day and age. What we don't want to see is businesses particularly not employing women as a result of any onerous thing that is put in place, because we want to encourage women in the workforce. I was proud of the fact that, while we were in government, the incentives we put in place led to a number of women in employment, and that is fantastic. There was a record number of jobs for women who were mothers and men who were fathers. We want to support this paid parental leave amendment bill. We want to support the provisions within it, but I very much support the amendments put forward by the member for Deakin.

6:37 pm

Photo of Carina GarlandCarina Garland (Chisholm, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm proud to be part of a Labor government with a strong history of improving the lives of Australian families, and I'm proud to rise in support of this bill, the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023. It has always been Labor governments that have implemented the critical and nation-building reforms that this country has relied upon. From Medicare, the 40th birthday of which we have just celebrated, to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the single mothers benefit and the child support system, it has been Labor that has put these important reforms into play in Australia.

It was a Labor government, of course, the Gillard government, that introduced paid parental leave in this country. As the Minister for Social Services has already stated, when paid parental leave was introduced in 2011, it was a major milestone for Australian families. For many parents, the 18-week payment, fully funded by the government, was the very first time they could access any paid parental leave. This provided a material advancement in workplace and economic equality for women—a change that was so important, given that we know that it was and still is women who carry a disproportionate share of unpaid care—and this has long-term consequences for their economic security.

We know, too, that paid parental leave is essential and good for families. It's not only good for women and families; it also plays an important part in the broader economy and in our communities. We know that, by investing in paid parental leave, there are enormous benefits for our economy.

We heard this on many occasions throughout our Jobs and Skills Summit, which we held upon our election in 2022. We heard loud and clear that gender equality and economic reform go hand in hand, and, more than just hearing that, we listened to what we heard. We know that one of the best ways to improve productivity is to provide more choice and more support for families, and that includes more opportunities for women. This was roundly supported at the Jobs and Skills Summit by business, unions, experts and economists. This is why paid parental leave featured so prominently in our very first budget. As the Prime Minister said, 'A parental leave system that empowers the full and equal participation of women will be good for business, good for families and good for our economy.'

In practical terms, the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023 increases the current scheme to six months by 2026. This bill also makes minor and technical amendments relating to the eligibility for paid parental leave, including in relation to those who claim paid parental leave in exceptional circumstances and to the application of the work test for fathers and partners when a child is born prematurely. This bill implements in full our commitment from the 2022-23 budget and represents a total investment of $1.2 billion over five years.

I'm really proud to stand in this place and support legislation that delivers the largest expansion of paid parental leave since the conception of this scheme. This means that, from 2026-27, the government's total investment in paid parental leave will be approximately $4.4 billion a year and, through this amendment, 180,000 families who receive the payment each year will benefit from a more generous scheme. It's a scheme that supports maternal health and wellbeing, encourages both parents to take leave and gives parents and families flexibility. In addition to helping families better balance work and caring responsibilities, this bill also supports participation and productivity over the longer term by providing a dividend for the Australian economy.

As mentioned earlier, there are many who can see the benefit of these reforms; it's not just our government. This includes employer groups, such as the Business Council of Australia, who said that the expansion does not just help make a fairer society but is also a major economic reform leading to greater workforce participation and productivity. Unions also agree. The Australian Council of Trade Unions have said the increase to 26 weeks is 'a great step forward for Australian parents, particularly working women', and is a stark contrast to the policies and attitudes to women that we saw under the previous government. The Parenthood, a leading parent advocacy group, are on the record as stating that this is a significant improvement after no meaningful change to the policy during the last wasted decade.

It's important to note, too, that under the current rules a working family can access up to 20 weeks of government funded paid parental leave and, to encourage shared care, two weeks are reserved for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis, leaving 16 weeks for parents to share however they choose. Now, starting on 1 July of this year, the bill will expand the scheme by two weeks each year until it reaches 26 weeks—so a full six months—in 2026. This will mean that, by 1 July 2026, the scheme will be 26 weeks long, with four weeks now reserved for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis. That then leaves 18 weeks that parents can choose to share care however they wish. For example, in a fifty-fifty shared arrangement, that would allow both parents to utilise up to 13 weeks each. Importantly, single parents will have access to the full 26-week entitlement. Coupled parents will also be able to take up to four weeks of paid parental leave at the same time. Currently, parents may take up to two weeks together, but we know that enabling parents to take parental leave together has really positive effects for maternal recovery and bonding as a family. This provides the birth parent with extra support as they recover, and it's also a factor in reducing parental stress.

I note the minister's appreciation for the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce, who provided important advice to the government on the optimal model for the 26-week scheme. The setting in this bill reflects that important advice from the taskforce. This amendment strikes an important balance of increasing support for families while also providing flexibility in how they structure their care arrangements to suit their families. We know that's what families want—they want support, but they also want flexibility.

Additionally, supporting maternal health and recovery from childbirth is an important objective of this government's Paid Parental Leave scheme. The bill strengthens this objective by extending the length of the scheme, which we know has long-term health and wellbeing benefits for children and their parents.

Another key objective of the scheme is encouraging fathers and partners to take leave, which, in turn, helps balance work and family life and promotes greater gender equality. The evidence is clear that when dads take a more active role in looking after kids and participating in home life, mums feel more supported to return to work. This is great for the family. As I mentioned before, it's also great for our communities and for the economy. When dads take a greater caring role earlier in the parenting journey, evidence shows that there is a more even distribution of household responsibilities, which persists through a child's life.

The changes in this bill send a clear message that the government supports shared care, and we want to see that reinforced in workplaces and in our communities. We are doing a lot to break down gender stereotypes, as a government, for better outcomes for everyone in our communities. This is part of that work.

While the Commonwealth provides critical support through the taxpayer funded Paid Parental Leave scheme, employers also have a really important role to play here. We know that data collected by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that the proportion of businesses providing their own paid parental leave scheme has increased over the last decade.

Ultimately, the Commonwealth payment is a minimum entitlement designed to complement employer provided leave. Whilst it's encouraging to see an increase of reporting employers who offered employer funded paid parental leave, from 48 per cent in 2013-14 to 62 per cent in 2021-22, we know that there is, of course, more to do. This is a positive trend demonstrating an appetite from employers who see themselves as playing a really significant role in our communities, alongside government.

I'm really pleased to be part of a government that's leading the way with these important reforms. It is in all of our interests—it's in the national interest—for paid parental leave to continue to be recognised and celebrated as not only a great social policy but also a valuable workplace investment. We know that the material benefits for parents, employers and the broader economy are so significant, and an investment in paid parental leave is an investment in our communities and an investment in the future.

It's essential that our Paid Parental Leave scheme supports modern Australian families. I echo the comments of the Minister for Social Services when stating that Australian families deserve a paid parental scheme that is flexible, that is fair and that has social and economic benefits for both parents and children at its heart. This bill provides just that.

Paid parental leave, like so many other major reforms in this country, is a proud Labor legacy. I know how much this will mean to my community and I'm proud to be part of a government that will always seek to strengthen, protect and support our communities. I commend this bill to the House.

6:48 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens welcome the extension of the Paid Parental Leave scheme. Increasing the availability of leave to 26 weeks is a positive step in ensuring that parents are adequately supported in those crucial first few months of parenthood. Parents should have access to a minimum of 26 weeks of paid leave to allow recovery from birth, maximising options to establish breastfeeding and allowing parents to spend time with their infants. Extended leave provides the best chance of a good start for children in the early years and healthy patterns of shared care.

But parents shouldn't have to wait another two years to get the 26 weeks that are accepted as an international minimum standard. There's no reason to delay the implementation of good policy. This bill presents a critical opportunity to move towards best practice, and should start with an immediate increase of 26 weeks paid leave and include a pathway to 52 weeks of paid leave by 2030. Australia has one of the weakest parental leave schemes globally. The experience in other countries puts beyond doubt that more equitable parental leave, coupled with free child care, improves women's workforce participation and helps shape the long-term sharing of care work. The reintroduction of 'use it or lose it' provisions in this bill to encourage shared parenting is a welcome change. We have seen time and again in Scandinavian countries how this provision causes a huge jump in the number of dads taking leave. And that fairer sharing of care has then been sustained for more than a decade.

But Labor can, and must, do more than make the PPL scheme fairer. and immediately. We've fallen behind other countries in the rate of pay and how leave is allocated between parents. Continuing to pay parental leave at the minimum wage forces difficult decisions about who can afford to take leave and for how long. For some people, full-time minimum wage is an increase on their previous earnings. But for many parents the minimum wage is well below their normal wage. The Greens support full wage replacement, including incentivising employers to top up the government's scheme. Last year the government's own Women's Economic Equality Taskforce recommended expanding paid parental leave to 52 weeks; to pay superannuation on PPL; and, eventually, to pay PPL at replacement wage. That was the government's own taskforce. The Greens will continue to push Labor to implement the taskforce's advice and, particularly, to pay super on PPL. That's a way of helping to prevent women retiring into poverty. It is time out of the workforce and taking on more unpaid labour that contributes to the gender pay gap and the super gap. By failing to pay super on parental leave, the government is increasing the risk that more women will retire into poverty.

Women deserve fairer paid parental leave; it improves their economic security, reduces the gender pay gap and increases the likelihood of mothers returning to work. Fairer paid parental leave is a no-brainer that benefits everyone: parents, children and the economy.

6:52 pm

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

This morning in parliament we marked the 40th anniversary of Medicare. Minister Mark Butler talked about remembering what it was like before Medicare was introduced and how it is important to reflect on how critically important some government reforms have been in changing the lives of Australians. Clearly, before Medicare a lot of people didn't have the access that they then gained to health care. Healthcare costs were actually the leading cause of bankruptcy, which is just shocking to hear now. But it was the result of an action of government, a Labor government, and it was a really critically important social reform. Paid parental leave is another of these. It's a very proud Labor legacy and a gamechanger for Australian parents.

I think it's really important that we reflect on that—that before this was introduced under the Gillard government, not that long ago, many, many women had no access to leave when they had a baby. If they didn't get it from their employer, which was not the majority in any sense—particularly for casual and low-paid workers—they had nothing. This government scheme was a gamechanger in allowing mothers to have that time to bond with their babies and to recover from birth and pregnancy. It was a very, very important reform of the Gillard government and by Jenny Macklin, the social services minister at the time. This amendment builds on that. Here in 2024 under the Albanese Labor government, we are building on our paid parental leave scheme. That's why I'm very happy to rise this evening to speak on this landmark Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023.

This bill has far-reaching implications for the lives of Australian parents and the Australian economy. The amendments proposed in this bill mark the most significant expansion of paid parental leave since its inception under the Gillard government. By 2026, claimants will be entitled to 26 weeks of paid parental leave, with 20 days reserved for the partners of the claimant within the same time line. Concurrent leave periods will increase to four weeks, providing families with unprecedented flexibility and choice, which is another really key element of these changes. The eligibility criteria, which for some has been a source of confusion and limitation, will be addressed. This reform is in direct response to the clear and sensible advice from the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce and other stakeholders. Businesses, unions and economists have all voiced their support and emphasised the need for flexibility and choice for families at this really special and vitally important time in their lives.

In 2009, when the Productivity Commission first released the report on which the scheme was based, the aims were clear: to identify the economic, productivity and social costs of providing paid parental leave, to explore employer provision and to assess models accounting for various factors. It was a response to the fact that, excluding the USA, Australia was the only OECD country without a national paid parental leave scheme. When it was introduced, it changed the lives of Australian families. Today we are building on this and taking the recommendations of that same report as a guide. The paid parental leave amendment bill 2023 is a step towards ensuring that paid parental leave entitlements are accessible to all working parents, regardless of gender. This $1.2 billion investment into the wellbeing of working families will provide much-needed relief for around 180,000 families, improving outcomes for children and advancing gender equality.

Currently, of the 179,000 recipients of the paid parental leave in Australia, a staggering 99 per cent are women. That is unsurprising for obvious reasons. But these changes aim to enable both mums and dads—both parents, both genders—to access more leave at the really important time of welcoming a new baby into the family. The bill encourages both parents to take this up, and that is important not just for supporting families but for changing attitudes more broadly in our society and economy. These changes are an investment in our nation's economic prosperity. Business leaders, including Bran Black of the Business Council of Australia, estimate that such flexibility can potentially unlock an additional $128 billion annually.

This is not just about family support; it's about redefining societal expectations, encouraging men to play a more active role in parenting, and fostering true gender equality. The evidence is clear that, when fathers take parental leave, society does better. Fathers taking paid parental leave means there is a higher chance of the gender equality gap closing, and fathers, mothers and babies benefit. It has long been my personal belief that, to truly address gender inequality in the workplace, it has to become normal for both parents to take time out and work part time when they have children. It has to become normal that this is not something that just women do—that it's something that both men and women do as a normal part of life and career. I think this is a really important step in encouraging that.

It is no surprise that it is a Labor government introducing these reforms, because it is only Labor governments that actually stand up for Australian women. As I've already said, it was a Labor government that introduced this landmark scheme in the first place. It was a Labor government that introduced no-fault divorce. It was a Labor government that appointed the first ever Minister for Women, the late Susan Ryan. It was a Labor government that started the practice of releasing a women's budget statement, and we have proudly picked that up again this time in government. It was a Labor government that established the first ever National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and it's this Labor government that centres gender equality as a key economic issue.

In this parliament's first sitting week, we introduced legislation to publish the gender pay gaps of large Australian companies. We have already legislated cheaper child care, and we have made gender equality an object of the Fair Work Act. It was this government that introduced paid family and domestic violence leave, again as a very early priority in coming to government. We have funded and are implementing all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report. We've introduced the new National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032, and we are reintroducing gender-responsive budgeting. We established the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce that is working on a strategy to achieve gender equality.

Our government was elected on a platform of gender equality, and we've worked tirelessly to bring this issue back to the forefront. Since our government's election, Australia has already risen from 50th to 26th in the World Economic Forum's Global gender gap report, and this bill continues that progress. One of the core values of Labor is equality, and equality is what Labor governments will always seek to achieve. These important changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme are part of a broader agenda for families by supporting them to have choice, supporting their decisions about family and work and investing in making our economy stronger. I commend the bill to the House.

7:01 pm

Photo of Monique RyanMonique Ryan (Kooyong, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak in support of the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023 today. About 180,000 Australian families access paid parental leave every year, and it's important that both parents can spend time with their children in those crucial first years of life.

Australia's paid parental leave allowances are now amongst the least generous in the First World. For instance, the average length of paid parental leave in the OECD is 55 weeks. In Australia, it's currently only 20 weeks. Australian men or supporting partners currently receive only two weeks of paid parental leave. The PPL scheme currently provides support payments for up to 18 weeks. It is primarily aimed towards mothers, with dad and partner pay providing only up to two weeks of payment to fathers and partners. A recent Grattan Institute report highlighted the fact that we have one of the least generous paid parental leave schemes in the First World. Paid parental leave is something that we clearly need to get right. Australian research has shown that increasing shared paid parental leave allowances increases mothers' earnings across their lifetime and also increases national productivity.

I'd like to acknowledge the important steps of the recent work in that direction by both this government and the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce. At the last federal election, many Australians expressed, at the time that they voted, their deep and real frustration with the treatment of women in this country. I applaud and thank them for doing so. I ask them to continue to do so and I assure them that, with this and similar legislation, this parliament will continue to work towards greater gender equity in both the workplace and the home.

This amendment improves several aspects of the current provisions of legislated paid parental leave. Firstly, over the next three years, it expands the total leave entitlement for partnered parents to 26 weeks—up from the current 20. It also increases the amount of reserve weeks—that is, the leave that can be taken only by the second parent—from two to four, and it does the same for concurrent leave. These improvements are all worthwhile, but they are not as generous as they could be. A 2022 KPMG report found that the gendered impact of years not working due to career interruptions, part-time employment and unpaid care together account for 33 per cent of the gender pay gap. The impact of this pay gap accumulates over a lifetime. It means that women retire with less savings than men and that they're more likely to live in poverty in their old age.

Recently, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency reported on the many indirect forms of discrimination that limit women's earning capacity. These include conscious and unconscious discrimination and bias in both hiring and pay decisions and in career progression and promotions. Women in female dominated industries tend to have jobs attracting lower wages. They often have a lack of workplace flexibility to accommodate caring and other responsibilities. But the other challenges include the high rates of part-time work for women, women's greater time out of the workforce with caring responsibilities which impact their career progression and opportunities, and women's disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work.

So, what are the issues with this current legislation? Firstly, it continues to offer minimal support for fathers to enter the PPL scheme. The effect of limiting men's access to the PPL scheme is an inevitable perpetuation of the notion of women as primary carers and the men as breadwinners. We think things have improved in this country, but the primary rate of care undertaken by the male partner is less than two per cent. This is in stark contrast to countries like Sweden and Iceland, where the male partner is the primary carer of children in 40 per cent of cases. This disparity costs women and it costs children but it costs men too. It costs us all. The government needs to now own some of that cost as well.

When fathers are more involved and more engaged in the care of their children, they have greater life satisfaction. My husband has told me this as I have left the kids with him yet again this week. I am pleased to see that this bill replaces the previous parental and dad and partner leave pay with a single 20-week scheme, with two weeks reserved for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis. It is also appropriate that many limitations of the current regime have been lifted or modified. The current eligibility criteria restrict access for non-birth parents. They restrict parents' choices in how they structure leave days in the transition back to work, and these eligibility criteria disadvantages the families where the mother is the primary income earner.

This bill shifts to a gender-neutral framework, removing the concept of primary birth parent and secondary claimants. It enables leave to be taken in a variety of smaller periods, even a single day, as well as blocks of time that can be interspersed with periods of work. Both parents can take the same period of leave for up to 10 days, and the bill includes a new $350,000 family income limit under which claimants, including single parents, can qualify if they do not meet the individual income tests.

Our understanding of the importance of shared care is growing. Patterns of care established in the first year of life for a child persist. The underutilisation of parental leave from fathers entrenches gender differences. The gap between how mothers and fathers work, care and earn after a baby is born is more pronounced in Australia than in comparable nations. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that the average number of hours worked by fathers does not change significantly after the birth of a child, while the number of hours worked by mothers generally falls by about two-thirds. Research by the Grattan Institute has shown that, on average, female parents do approximately two hours more unpaid care work per day than male parents, while male parents do two hours more paid work; hence, the so-called motherhood penalty—the 55 per cent reduction in women's earnings once they become mothers. There is no doubt that we need to support all policies that encourage both parents to take leave, and there are important aspects of this bill which recognise the value of and encourage shared care. Every man who takes paid parental leave makes it easier for those who follow.

This improvement on paid parental leave should be just a step on our path. The WEET report recommended PPL entitlement be extended to 52 weeks. The AIST noted our leave entitlements are very limited compared to other OECD countries. Women are left at a significant disadvantage, as families will always inevitably restructure their work and household duties to favour that partner with the higher income, which is typically the man, and current tax and childcare policies decentivise full workforce participation. At present, paid parental leave is the only paid leave which does not attract compulsory superannuation; although many employers voluntarily make superannuation contributions.

I strongly encourage the government, as I have before, and as many of my crossbench colleagues have on many occasions, to further increase the number of weeks of paid parental leave it offers to families, to increase access to better funded child care, and to acknowledge the importance of paid parental leave by heeding another recommendation of the WEET report that legislation be enacted to ensure that superannuation is paid on all forms of paid parental leave.

More than 99 per cent of parents accessing the government's current paid parental leave schemes are women. Inevitably, women are most impacted by the superannuation gap. By taking time out of the workforce to care for their kids, women are penalised with less financial security on retirement. Industry Super has reported that 1.45 million women in Australia have missed out on $1.6 billion in super over the last 10 years because super is not currently included on the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave scheme. Women retire with about one-third less super than men—on average, $67,000 less. They're overrepresented on the pension, and women aged over 55 are the fastest growing cohort at risk of homelessness.

The Australian Public Service Commission has also recommended that, to help reduce the gender pay gap and to improve women's long-term economic equality, the employer component of superannuation should be paid on all forms of paid or unpaid pregnancy and parental leave regardless of the superannuation scheme type or the contribution method. The AIST made the interesting observation that, consistent with the government's intentions to move towards a wellbeing budget model, it would be apposite of the government to address inequality and financial disadvantage created or facilitated by structural policy issues like this. In that sense, government policies that entrench gender roles and which ignore the contribution of women to the workplace and the economy need urgent attention. Policies that financially disadvantage women by limiting their earning capacity due to caring duties following childbirth further exacerbate the gender super gap. As the WEET said, in 2023, if we eliminate negative gender biases from our system, we could unlock $120 billion that's lost each year to inequality.

We face numerous key economic challenges in the next decade. These include decarbonising our industries, adjusting to the economic impact of climate change, managing an ageing workforce and dealing with increasing intergenerational inequity, geopolitical challenges, the rise of artificial intelligence and other technological advances. This is the ideal time to unlock the value of women's full economic participation. Apart from the economics, it's only just and only fair to give women an equal voice in our society. So I encourage the government to enact legislation requiring superannuation on paid parental leave as soon as possible. And, as the WEET suggests, I would encourage all employers who offer paid parental leave to do the same.

In the words of the taskforce chair, Sam Mostyn:

Women want the same opportunities as Australian men, to better utilise their education and their skills and not be held back by having to take the burden of care, often unpaid or underpaid.

And they want the persistent barriers that hold women back removed very purposefully, until we get on with the job of building a fairer economy for all.

I commend this bill to the House and look forward to further progress in this very important area.

7:13 pm

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

Of all the duties a government has towards the people that it represents—and there are a lot of duties and obligations that it has—one that's very important is the obligation to look after working families. Those who take part in the labour force while also raising children face what at times can seem to be an impossible balancing act. I know this for a fact, and I'm sure many members on both sides understand the juggling act that parents raising children have to struggle with. Giving adequate attention to both our professional lives, which can be very busy and time consuming, and our family lives, trying to have a rewarding career and having the privilege of raising children should not be, in my view, mutually exclusive, although it tends to be that way for so many parents.

Our party, the Australian Labor Party, has long sought, through some of the policies that we've put in place over many different governments over decades, to ensure that that is the case—that you can actually try and work through those challenges as best as possible. That's why Labor governments in the past have a history, of implementing Paid Parental Leave schemes. It's why we made paid parental leave reform a centrepiece of our first budget—the first budget of the Albanese Labor government—where we invested half a billion dollars to expand the scheme to six months by 2026. For those who are keeping track, and I'm sure there are many parents who are, this was the single largest investment in PPL—or the Paid Parental Leave scheme—since Labor established it in 2011. It benefited more than 180,000 families each year.

But we are not done yet. This government is going to build on the current scheme to make sure it is serving the public even better than before. We do this because we know that maintaining and improving paid parental leave benefits our entire country in a number of ways. For one, it bolsters our economy by ensuring increased workforce participation and labour productivity. It also helps advance gender equality, ensuring that women are able to be provided the same professional opportunities as men. It's also a driver of things that are hard to quantify—like the joy and contentment that a parent feels when they know they can spend some precious, intimate time in those formative moments in their child's life, and can do so in relative peace. They're not pressured by the fact that they have to worry about the money coming in and keeping a roof over their head, and these are really important elements which are not so tangible.

As a whole, the improvements that are being proposed today are some of many examples of the Albanese Labor government's commitment to helping working families. It's about supporting childhood development. It's about ensuring economic equality for women. Most members of this chamber need only look around their electorate in order to see why we need to keep building on the Paid Parental Leave scheme. In my own electorate of Wills in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, I hear constantly from constituents who work hard to provide for their families. They desperately wish they could have more quality time with their families. Further still, I know a lot of people in my electorate who have already done the hard, rewarding work of raising children and they're always under that pressure and stress to put food on the table. Work means they can't be around their kids when they're young in those formative years.

There are a number of those who already benefit from a generous Paid Parental Leave scheme. I want to see that expanded and made more widely available so that future generations can enjoy the same comfort that people who are benefiting from the scheme do now. Those voices are a few of the tens of thousands in my electorate alone whose lives are impacted by paid parental leave. According to the 2021 census, the electorate of Wills has roughly 23,000 families who are raising children. Across the entire nation, that rises into the millions. For many of those families and those who will have children in the future, we can ensure that their lives are made just that much more stable and secure. By enacting these changes we are not just ensuring that these constituents are heard but also making life better for all Australians in the process.

With respect to the bill, exactly what are we proposing? As I mentioned earlier, these changes build on the existing improvements made by the Albanese Labor government. More specifically, they represent the implementation of the second half of our paid parental leave reforms that we announced in our 2022-23 October budget. The first half of these reforms, as you might recall, started on 1 July last year, and gave more families access to paid leave, granting parents greater flexibility and encouraging them to share child care. Today, we build upon that commitment by making the program even better for working families. We are expanding it to 26 weeks—six weeks up from the previous 20 weeks. This is a change that even the Leader of the Opposition described as reasonable—thank you, Leader of the Opposition.

The bill will also increase the period reserved for each parent from two to four weeks, while also doubling the period where parents can take leave at the same time from two to four weeks. Starting on 1 July 2024, two additional weeks of leave will be added each year until reaching 26 weeks in 2026. Currently, up to 18 weeks are available for one parent—these are usually taken by the mother, with two weeks currently reserved for the dad or the partner. The increase to 26 weeks means mums can access up to 22 weeks of paid parental leave—an additional month compared to the current scheme. It also doubles the period reserved for dad or partner from two to four weeks. At the same time, single parents will also have access to the full 26 weeks.

The changes will commence from 1 July this year, and will apply to birth or adoptions from that date. Crucially, this expansion provides additional support to mums after childbirth, supporting their and their child's wellbeing, while also encouraging dads and partners to take more leave, which is very important. When fathers and partners take a greater caring role from the start, it benefits everyone, the entire family—mums, dads and the kids. The changes in this bill send a message that treating parenting as an equal partnership supports gender equality. The government values men as carers too, and we want to see that reinforced in workplaces and our communities more broadly. Together, our changes strike an important balance in increasing support to mums, encouraging dads to take leave and providing families flexibility in how they structure their care arrangements.

This amendment ensures sufficient financial supports are in place for new families, because Australians should not be disadvantaged by having to take time off work to care for new members of their family. Having children should not be a stressful time, it should be a joyful one—although we know there are some stresses and tensions involved. But the beginning of life should be enjoyed and cherished. There is plenty of stress awaiting parents when their kids hit their teen years—some of us would attest to that, as we know!

The improvement of paid parental leave under the Albanese Labor government is but one of many, many instances of this government going into bat for working families. I am very proud, really proud, of the part that has been played by this government, which is willing to make real substantive changes to make the lives of our constituents better every day. Families all across the country will be able to benefit from the changes that are before us today. All told, over 180,000 families are forecast to make use of these improvements when they go into effect next year—that's a fantastic result. As complex as policy-making can sometimes be, all of this, at its core, is really quite simple. Guaranteeing paid time off for parents to spend with their children is good for parents, it's good for kids, it's good for our economy and for our society. So let's pass the bill.

7:22 pm

Photo of Zoe DanielZoe Daniel (Goldstein, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

The second recommendation of the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce states in big, bold print:

The Australian Government must invest in policies and programs that recognise the economic importance and value of care work in Australia and help families to better share caring responsibilities.

For many families, the household division of caring responsibilities starts the moment a child is born. This triggers a pattern of unequal care and work during prime working years for both parents, with the responsibility of care falling more heavily on women. This results in women's participation in the workforce sitting well below that of men. To quote the Business Council of Australia:

Increasing the workforce participation of women is one of our nation's biggest economic and social opportunities.

It is an opportunity, and it's one we cannot squander by tinkering around the edges. We have done too much of that in the past. As leaders, we need to grasp this opportunity now and make the right decisions that remove the structural barriers for women who want to participate fully in the paid workforce. This will make Australia not only a fairer country but a stronger one, because increasing women's participation is good for the economy.

To achieve this ambition, we need to shift the dial; what we need is systems change. In their 2021 report, Back of the pack: how Australia's parenting policies are failing women & our economy, Equity Economics reported that Australian women fall behind in the labour market when they have children and never catch up. They estimated that as a result women retire with 47 per cent less in superannuation savings than men. Their modelling found that if an average Australian woman had the same workplace participation patterns after having children as an average Swedish woman, she would earn an additional $696,000 over her working life and retire with an additional $180,000 in superannuation.

One lever that can drive women's workforce participation is a fair and equitable paid parental leave system. The burden and joy of caring for young children should be more evenly shared between mothers and fathers, enabling more women to participate consistently in the workforce during their career. Quite seriously, I am sick to death of repeating elements of this speech over and over again in this chamber, but I will continue to do so because half of our potential economic advantage is locked up and we need to unlock it. The Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023 is another small step towards a fairer system, and I commend the government for building on the changes to paid parental leave that came into effect on 1 July last year.

The key measures of this bill include extending the scheme by two weeks each year from July 2024 to reach 26 weeks by 2026—currently, a working family can access up to 20 weeks of paid parental—and extending the reserved period for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis by one week each year from July 2025 to reach four weeks by 2026 to encourage shared care. Currently, two weeks are reserved for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis. Coupled parents will also be able to take up to four weeks of PPL at the same time from 2025. Currently, parents may take up to two weeks together.

The 'use it or lose it' element is a critical piece and will help foster a culture where men's role in caregiving becomes accepted and encouraged. The importance of this cannot be overstated. We know from international experience that the key to men taking parental leave is a 'use it or lose it' component for an extended period—that is, more than two weeks. In Denmark, 'use it or lose it' provisions saw a significant increase in men's uptake of parental leave, and men were subsequently more likely to continue shared care of their children throughout the early years. The use of parental leave by fathers in Australia is very low by global standards. Fathers in Australia take less than 20 per cent of the parental leave their international peers take, and, because caring patterns are established in the first year of a child's life, that entrenches stereotypical gender roles.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global gender gap report 2020, the gap between how mothers and fathers work, care and earn after a baby is more pronounced in Australia than in comparable nations. We should be encouraging men to take up parental leave to normalise flexible work and shared care responsibilities and to strengthen women's workplace participation and financial security. But it's not only good for women; it's healthy for men. When fathers take parental leave, they, their children and their partners benefit from stronger relationships. This is why I would have liked to have seen a more ambitious non-transferable six-week 'use it or lose it' provision when paid parental leave entitlements grow to 26 weeks by 2026 to incentivise men to access the scheme.

The evidence is clear. Accessible and well-funded paid parental leave is crucial if we want people to stay connected to the workforce, but it's also vital to support the health and wellbeing of women, men and children and to improve wider gender equality outcomes. We need to talk about paid parental leave from an investment model, not a deficit model. We need to be bolder.

I would like to finish where I started, with the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce ten-year plan. Getting to 26 weeks of paid parental leave by 2026 is only one piece of the plan. As the WEET report outlines, 52 weeks of paid parental leave is where we need to be, and this should be phased in and achieved by 2030. Payments should be at replacement pay level to incentivise men to use it. We need to also legislate the payment of superannuation on all forms of paid parental leave. We also need to legislate to establish and invest in universal, high-quality and affordable early childhood education and care. We need to abolish the childcare subsidy activity test, and, more broadly, we need to elevate the status of care work and attract a diverse and skilled workforce by valuing and adequately compensating care workers.

Only when we have all these reforms will we unleash the full capacity and contribution of women to the Australian economy. The evidence is clear, and the case for change is powerful. According to Deloitte Access Economics, removing the persistent and pervasive barriers to women's full and equal participation in economic activity will add $128 billion to the Australian economy. As has been said before, if that were a minerals deposit, everyone would be rushing to get it out of the ground. As Sam Mostyn, the chair of the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce says, women 'are tired of waiting for action to feel safe and valued and have equal access to economic prosperity'. Women's economic equality is one of my key platforms, and I will continue to repeat myself on this issue in this chamber. This bill is another step in the right direction.