Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Paid Parental Leave Bill 2010; Paid Parental Leave (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010
by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (5), (7), (10), (11), and (15) to (20) on sheet 6134:
(1) Clause 63, page 62 (lines 3 to 8), omit subclauses (1) and (2), substitute:
(1) Parental leave pay must be paid to a person by the Secretary in instalments.
(2) Clause 64, page 62 (line 16) to page 63 (line 18), omit the clause, substitute:
64 A person’s instalment period and the payday for an instalment
(1) A person’s instalment period is the period of 14 days starting on a day the Secretary considers appropriate for the person (or a class of person in which the person is included) and each successive 14 day period
Note: Sections 93 and 94 affect when an instalment period for a person starts and ends in certain circumstances.
(2) The payday for the instalment is a day that the Secretary considers appropriate that occurs after the instalment period to which the instalment relates.
(3) Clause 67, page 64 (line 22), omit “An employer or the Secretary”, substitute “The Secretary”.
(4) Clause 67, page 64 (lines 26 to 31), omit the note.
(5) Clause 68, page 65 (line 13), omit “An employer or the Secretary”, substitute “The Secretary”.
(7) Clause 69, page 65 (line 22), omit “(2)”.
(10) Clause 83, page 76 (lines 3 to 16), omit the clause, substitute:
83 Guide to this Part
This Part is about the payment of instalments to a person by the Secretary.
The Secretary is required to pay instalments directly to a person on the payday for the instalment.
In certain circumstances where the Secretary becomes required to pay instalments to a person, the Secretary is also required to pay the person arrears for instalments that had previously become payable, but not been paid, to the person.
(11) Clause 84, page 77 (line 2) to page 78 (line 26), omit the clause, substitute:
84 When the Secretary pays instalments
The Secretary must pay an instalment that is payable to a person on the payday for the instalment.
(15) Clause 117, page 103 (lines 15 and 16), omit paragraph (c).
(16) Clause 117, page 103 (line 19), omit “;”, substitute “.”.
(17) Clause 117, page 103 (lines 20 to 25), omit paragraphs (e) to (g).
(18) Heading to clause 133, page 112 (lines 3 and 4), omit “or PPL funding amount”.
(19) Clause 133, page 112 (lines 8 to 15), omit paragraph(1)(b), substitute:
(b) order the person to pay the Commonwealth an amount equal to any amount paid to, or in relation to, the person by way of an instalment of parental leave pay because of the act, failure or omission that constituted the offence.
(20) Clause 138, page 113 (lines 21 and 22), omit “or a PPL funding amount”.
The opposition will be opposing clause 69, clause 70, part 3-2, clauses 85 and 86, clauses 93 and 94, and part 3-5 in the following terms:
(8) Clause 70, page 66 (lines 5 and 6), subclause (2) and the note TO BE OPPOSED.
(9) Part 3-2, page 67 (line 1) to page 75 (line 9), TO BE OPPOSED.
(12) Clauses 85 and 86, page 78 (line 27) to page 80 (line 12), TO BE OPPOSED.
(13) Clauses 93 and 94, page 84 (line 1) to page 85 (line 1), TO BE OPPOSED.
(14) Part 3-5, page 87 (line 1) to page 101 (line 8), TO BE OPPOSED.
In moving these amendments, the opposition are not in any way seeking to impede the passage or introduction of the government scheme. As we have flagged in the second reading debate, the opposition are concerned that the government is seeking to give business in effect the role of being the PPL paymaster. We are therefore seeking these substantive amendments to extend the role of the Family Assistance Office in administering the Paid Parental Leave scheme indefinitely. This measure would make ongoing use of the taxpayer investment in the establishment of the necessary payment and operating systems beyond the initial six months. We urge the government to embrace the coalition’s amendments in order to avoid the imposition of unnecessary and unjustified cost, additional regulatory burden and the compliance risks to the small business community.
I think anyone who has been watching the debate in this chamber about the PPL legislation would be well aware that the opposition have been very responsible in the approach we have taken to amendments that have been put forward. Where amendments have been put forward which may have given effect to part of the coalition’s own policy but where it is clear that there was no prospect of the government agreeing with such amendments in the House, we have not supported those amendments. We have been at pains to do everything we possibly can to facilitate the passage of this legislation. However, the Senate, and the opposition in particular, has an important role to scrutinise legislation, and where we see what we feel to be a genuine problem that can easily and readily be addressed then we think it is the responsible and appropriate thing to move an amendment to that effect. It is the opposition’s hope that the government will seriously consider the amendments we are putting forward.
In moving these amendments I want to acknowledge the ceaseless advocacy in this area—that being the impact of the government’s legislation on business—of Mr Billson, the shadow minister for small business, and Senator Boswell, who is also a ceaseless advocate in this place for small business. We genuinely hope that the government will consider these amendments.
I was hoping a quorum would have been called as a common courtesy. These amendments are similar to the amendments Family First put to this chamber. This is all about making sure that small businesses and businesses are not inconvenienced. The Family Assistance Office is already involved in handling paid parental leave payments for people who have worked fewer than 12 months in one business. They are already handling it, they are already taking care of it, and they are already doing this sort of stuff, so why would you duplicate and have another set of people worrying about how to make these payments? The Family Assistance Office is already going to have to do it for some. I think it is unnecessary red tape that will be placed on businesses, especially small businesses. These amendments obviously make sense and, seeing as they are Family First amendments, and the opposition’s ones are similar to ours, I am hoping common sense prevails. These amendments make sure that the Family Assistance Office is doing the hard work and not leaving the burden and red tape to small businesses. I think it is an impost that we can certainly do without placing on them. The Family Assistance Office is the right place for it to take place in.
Senator Fifield, can I just reaffirm with you that, in moving amendments (1) to (5), (7), (10), (11), and (15) to (20) on sheet 6134 together and moving to oppose the clauses and subclauses you indicated in (6), (8), (9) and (12) to (14) on sheet 6134, we will need to split the question in terms of making sure they stand as printed?
I thank Senator Fifield and Senator Fielding for their contributions. Unfortunately the government does not support removing employer involvement in the Paid Parental Leave scheme. We want to ensure that women maintain a strong connection with the workforce by receiving their government funded parental leave pay through their employer, as they would receive any other work entitlement. Only nine per cent of all businesses will be involved in Paid Parental Leave in any given year and only three per cent of small businesses. To help employers prepare for the scheme, the role of employers in providing government funded parental leave pay will be phased in over the first six months to align with the new financial year. Parental leave pay will be paid in accordance with an employer’s normal pay practices and the employees’ usual pay cycle. The design of the government scheme as recommended by the Productivity Commission sends a strong message that taking leave from work around the time of a birth is a normal part of work and family life.
It is disappointing that the government did not take a moment, even, to consider the opposition’s amendments. The opposition is serious about these amendments and about the need for them, but in supporting our amendments I want to indicate that we will not be seeking to imperil the legislation.
That subclause 69(1), subclause 70(2) and the note, part 3-2, clauses 85 and 86, clauses 93 and 94 and part 3-5 stand as printed.
I move government amendment (6) on sheet AF249:
(6) Page 86 (after line 29), at the end of Division 2, add:
99A Payment of paid parental leave does not affect other employer obligations
An obligation of an employer to pay a person parental leave pay under this Act is in addition to any other obligation the employer may have in relation to the person, however that other obligation might arise (including, for example, under another law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory, or an industrial instrument (however described)).
This amendment seeks to address a question raised at the Senate inquiry as to whether the government scheme was offering entitlements that were additional to those that already exist or whether employers could use the government funding to offset their own schemes. This amendment removes any possible uncertainty over the issue. It makes it clear that an employer cannot use parental leave pay under this bill to meet their obligation to provide employer funded paid parental leave under an industrial agreement. This amendment simply confirms that the government’s PPL payment—
Opposition senators interjecting—
Thank you. I am happy to start again. This amendment removes any possible uncertainty over the issue. It makes it clear that an employer cannot use parental leave pay under this bill to meet their obligation to provide employer funded paid parental leave under an industrial agreement. This amendment simply confirms that the government’s PPL payment cannot be used to satisfy any other employer obligations as they may exist from time to time.
The opposition is quite perplexed by this amendment on sheet AF249. The amendment which was circulated today was, in fact, drafted on the 11th of this month, so I am just wondering at the outset if the minister could explain what the delay was between the drafting of this amendment on the 11th, as is printed at the bottom, and its circulation today, the 16th—some five or six days later.
That is not particularly illuminating but, given the delay and our concerns about this amendment, this amendment really gives rise to a fear that we had, which was flagged in the second reading debate, that the government would ultimately try to set up small business to pay for and fix up the shortcomings of the government’s own flawed scheme—that this is the top-up amendment, if you like, to try to top the scheme up. As indicated, we do not want to be difficult on this but, as there were five days between the drafting of this and its circulation, and it was only circulated today, I ask the minister if this particular amendment could be pushed down the list and a briefing provided for the opposition so that we can get a better understanding as to the working of these proposed amendments.
There were discussions today with ACCI and AiG and my understanding is that they were both very comfortable with this amendment. This amendment simply confirms that the government’s PPL payment cannot be used to satisfy any other employer obligations as they may exist from time to time. It is no more complex than that.
It was Tony Melville from AiG.. I do not have the information on ACCI on me at present, but those meetings did take place and, again, this is simply confirming that the payments cannot be used to satisfy other employee obligations. I do not think it should hold up the progress of the legislation.
I was not in those discussions, but my understanding is that the minister responsible had discussions with them some time today; I do not have the time.
It may surprise you to know that as far as I understand it ACCI has concerns about the amendment, and had concerns at the time that they had the amendment relayed to them just before lunch time today. I find your reassurance somewhat at odds with my understanding of ACCI’s position. I look forward to hearing with whom the minister did consult at ACCI and the basis of the minister’s reassurance that ACCI and, indeed, AiG are not concerned about the amendment.
Has the government consulted with the union movement in respect of this amendment, and if so, who with?
The government is happy to withdraw the amendment. This amendment was put in place to provide certainty to employers. It came out of the recent inquiry, but it is not legally required. So if coalition senators wish to oppose it then we are happy to withdraw it.
If the government takes up the coalition’s request that the coalition be briefed about the amendment we may be in a better position to deal with it. Senator Fifield may wish to comment at this stage. I have further questions pending that.
I did indicate earlier in this committee process that the Greens would withdraw our amendment relating to these issues because the government had subsequently adopted their own solution to the issue and put forward their own amendment. If the government are now going to withdraw their amendment then I will recirculate the Greens amendment. This is a very important issue and I do not want to see the government backtrack on this. This is a clear indication—it was spoken about in the Senate inquiry, and it has been spoken about since by the minister—that there needs to be a much clearer direction given in this legislation to ensure that employers do not cut their existing entitlements simply because this parental leave scheme is coming in. Please, Minister, I would urge you not to withdraw; otherwise, I will put mine back on.
As I indicated previously, we are not looking to cause a difficulty here. This amendment was only circulated today. There may not be an issue with it, but I think it would facilitate the deliberation of this chamber if the government were prepared to agree to a briefing for the opposition on this amendment. If this amendment can be pushed down the list then I think that would expedite matters. There is only another five minutes before we finish dealing with PPL tonight, so I think if the government could agree to that, that might be a way forward.
I get the feeling that we are heading towards a filibuster from coalition senators which I think government senators find disappointing, especially given some of the earlier comments from Senator Fifield. Considering the comments from Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Fifield, we are happy to leave the bill on the table, provide a briefing to coalition senators tomorrow at 9 am and continue with the debate.
I would like to respond to the minister’s suggestion that the opposition is filibustering. In case there be any concern about that I am happy to take whatever time is provided to ask the minister questions of substance about this amendment if he needs to be reassured of our genuineness in wanting to be briefed about it.
I thank the minister for offering a briefing and I want to indicate that if this amendment had been circulated in good time or a briefing had been provided previously then we could have avoided this situation. If the opposition were seeking to cause difficulty here then we would have said that we would oppose and divide on the amendment until such time as a briefing was provided. We are not doing that. So, Minister, thank you for the offer of a briefing and we look forward to that tomorrow.
I move Greens amendment (11) on sheet 6111:
(11) Page 233 (after line 7), after Division 3, insert:
Division 3A—Review of Act
301A Review of operation of Act
(1) The Minister must cause a review of the Act to be conducted by an independent panel.
(2) The review must:
(a) start not later than 1 October 2012; and
(b) be completed within 3 months.
(3) The review must report on:
(a) the operation of the Act; and
(b) the options for extending the PPL period; and
(c) the options for including concurrent paid partner leave; and
(d) the options for payment of superannuation in connection with PPL; and
(e) the impact of the Act on pre-existing entitlements; and
(f) collective bargaining outcomes as they relate to paid parental leave schemes; and
(g) any other matters considered relevant.
(4) The panel must give the Minister must a written report of the review.
(5) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving the report.
I was going to announce that I would be withdrawing this amendment based on the fact that the postponed amendment from the government deals with it. The third issue that the government has picked up on that the Greens have been talking about is the importance of having a legislated review of the scheme. I am thankful that the government has taken this on board. I hesitate to withdraw this amendment because I would hate to think that tomorrow morning we might come back and the government’s amendment has changed. I seek leave to postpone Greens amendment (11) on sheet 6111.
I move Greens amendment (12) on sheet 6111:
(12) Page 233 (after line 7), after Division 3, insert:
Division 3B—Data on the impact of PPL
301B Publication of data on the impact of PPL
(1) The Secretary must publish information on the following:
(a) the number of people receiving PPL instalments;
(b) the number of people paid instalments:
(i) by employers; and
(ii) by the Secretary;
(c) PPL periods.
(2) The Secretary must routinely consult with Fair Work Australia on bargaining outcomes in enterprise agreements with respect to paid parental leave schemes and publish a report on those consultations, including information about the extent to which enterprise agreements contain additional paid parental leave entitlements and changes to those bargaining outcomes over time.
(3) Information required to be published under this section to must be:
(a) updated at least every 6 months, not later than 31 December and 30 June each year; and
(b) published on the department’s website.
This amendment goes to the fact that we want some data collected through this process so that once the review happens we have access to data to see how this scheme has impacted on workplaces, women who have taken the leave and parents who have access to the scheme, and we ensure that we can track how the scheme is rolling out. There have been a lot of comments made about the fact that this scheme is not perfect; that it is a block which needs to be built upon. The best way of us ensuring that we get that right is to have an audit of the issues it faces.
Ordered that the committee have leave to sit again on the next day of sitting.