Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 February 2020


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

6:31 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020 (the Bill) introduces changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme aimed at better supporting working mothers and families to access their payment more flexibly.

There are around 300,000 births in Australia each year, with nearly half of all new mothers accessing Paid Parental Leave. The scheme provides eligible working parents with 18 weeks of payment at a rate based on the national minimum wage, currently $740.60 per week - a total of $13,330.80 over 18 weeks.

The Australian Government understands the important role of Paid Parental Leave in supporting the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies and in encouraging workforce participation. To this end, the measure in the Bill introduces greater flexibility to support working women, including self-employed women and small business owners, who cannot afford to leave their businesses for 18 consecutive weeks.

The measure will help thousands of new parents who currently return to work before they have used all of their Parental Leave Pay and lose valuable time with their young children.

Currently, Parental Leave Pay can only be taken as a continuous 18-week block, within the first 12 months after the birth or adoption of the child. From 1 July 2020, families will be able to split their Parental Leave Pay into blocks over a two-year period, with periods of work in between.

Parents will be able to use an initial 12-week block of their entitlement any time within the first 12 months after the birth or adoption of their child, without returning to work during this initial block. This gives parents a period of recuperation and bonding in the months immediately following the birth or adoption.

Parents will be able to take their remaining entitlement of up to six weeks any time before their child turns two years old and can return to work any time during this period. This totals the 18 weeks currently allowed, but with greater flexibility.

Pending passage of the changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme, the Government also intends to make complementary amendments to increase the flexibility of the existing unpaid parental leave entitlement in the

Fair Work Act 2009. This will help ensure that parents who wish to access their Parental Leave Pay flexibly, will have access to a corresponding flexible unpaid parental leave entitlement.

For many small business owners and self-employed women, 18 weeks is a significant amount of time to be away from their work. Under these changes, mothers will be able to take an initial period of 12 weeks Parental Leave Pay before returning to run their business. They will then be able to choose when to take the remaining six weeks of their entitlement, at a time that suits their personal and business needs, for example over the Christmas and New Year period if their business is quiet at that time.

Some mothers may choose to use their Parental Leave Pay to support a part-time return to work. For example, after returning to work following an initial period of parental leave, parents could negotiate with their employer to work a four-day week and receive a day of Parental Leave Pay for the fifth day they are not working, for up to 30 weeks.

The increased flexibility will also make it easier for mothers who are eligible for Paid Parental Leave to transfer entitlement to eligible partners who take on the role of primary carer, where it suits the family's circumstances.

For example, a mother may choose to take 17 weeks of her Parental Leave Pay entitlement to recuperate after the birth of her child, and transfer the remaining week to her partner, who may choose to take a week off work when the child is transitioning into childcare at 18 months old.

The changes to Paid Parental Leave will give parents more choice and allow them to tailor their payments to their family's needs and situation. Increasing the flexibility of Paid Parental Leave may encourage greater uptake of Parental Leave Pay by secondary carers, contributing to changing social norms around sharing care and encouraging men to take parental leave.

The Bill helps to expand on the important safety net for working families who do not have access to an employer scheme, or who only have access to a few weeks of funded leave. It also ensures mothers, particularly self-employed and small business owners are better able to facilitate choice and flexibility when balancing work and family.

It is expected around 4,000 parents will choose to take their Parental Leave Pay flexibly each year.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of this bill be adjourned to 23 March 2020, in accordance with standing order 111.