Wednesday, 7 October 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Abetz for his question and acknowledge his ongoing interest in this area, particularly in support of Australia's families, and his very thoughtful op-ed in The Examiner yesterday, which I'm sure everybody here has read.
Sadly, like so many Australian families, women, expectant mothers, have faced significant job losses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic through no fault of their own. That's why we announced yesterday a package of $130 million over 12 months to support those parents who were previously employed but found themselves unemployed and, as a result, did not meet the work test for paid parental leave within the allocated time limit. Under normal circumstances, the work test requires a parent to be in work for 10 of the 13 months prior to the birth of a child in order for them to qualify for paid parental leave. As of the announcement last night, women who give birth between 22 March this year and 31 March next year will be able to have a change in terms of the arrangements—that is, instead of 10 months in 13 months it will be 10 months in 20 months, recognising the difficulty of the pandemic. That will affect around 12,800 families and maintain their connection to the workforce.
But we also understand that many couples had probably made decisions in relation to starting a family before the devastating impact of theCOVID pandemic and therefore had made their arrangements in relation to their finances and structured their lives believing they would be eligible for paid parental leave. This temporary change recognises that we understand that those 12,800 families would otherwise have qualified for paid parental leave, and now they will be able to get access to it.
Earlier this year, we passed legislation to provide increased flexibility around how new families use their paid parental leave entitlement. Previously, mothers were required to take the full 18-week entitlement block in the year after their baby's birth. Under the changes that were passed earlier this year, the first 12 weeks of leave is taken in the first year but, in order to provide flexibility for the other partner, the remaining six weeks can be taken at any time in the two years succeeding the birth or adoption of a child. As I said, importantly, mothers can now transfer their entitlement to the other parent or the other partner in order for them to be able to have access to this leave as well. These new arrangements mean dads are able to share in the support of the newborn. We also understand that not all families are the same, so we want to make sure we've got greater flexibility.
I am pleased to be able to inform the Senate that, as part of the budget process, we've improved access to bereavement payments for parents who suffer the tragedy of a stillborn or whose child passes away before the first birthday. When I came into this place—and I acknowledge Senator Keneally for her work in this area—it became obvious to me that, in some instances, there were lesser payments for bereaved parents, depending on the circumstances of their family, for their child's death. So we have said the new stillborn payment will be up to $3,600 for parents on low incomes to support them with the personal and financial impacts of this tragedy. This will support about 900 families every year. We clearly understand that no amount of funding can make up for the grief of losing a child, but we hope in some way this will support parents through that grieving period.
My question is to the finance minister, Senator Cormann, regarding the budget. Tax relief for most Australians who earn less than $90,000 a year will disappear after one year, but millionaires and people like Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart will get tax cuts of $2½ thousand a year permanently, increasing further to $11,000 a year in 2024. Tax cuts mean nothing if you don't have a job, and yet unemployment support is on the chopping block. Why has the government chosen the millionaires over the million unemployed Australians?
I completely reject the premise of the question. Senator Waters is false. We have baked tax relief for low- and middle-income earners into our tax system through legislation passed by this parliament. They say it's just for one year—no, no, no. What they're referring to here is the fact we have extended by another year the low- and middle-income tax offset. We are in fact doubling the income tax relief available for low- and middle-income earners. You have completely misread the announcement.
What we have done here is bring forward income tax relief that was due to come into effect from 2022 and instead is going to come into effect from 1 July 2020. For those who have already benefited from this income tax relief because they were first cab off the rank when it came to providing income tax relief in our previous legislation, we have effectively doubled their income tax relief for this year.
With a gas-led recovery that goes against recommendations from scientists and economists, and taxpayer handouts to the Vales Point coal-fired power station, which just happens to be a generous Liberal Party donor, why has this government chosen to prop up climate-destroying industries rather than support a jobs-rich transition to a renewable energy future?
Colleagues won't be surprised to hear me say I completely reject the premise of the question. Yes, we are committed to maximising the strength of the recovery, but we are also committed to do so in an environmentally efficient fashion and we are committed to supporting renewables. In fact, our investment in renewables across Australia is higher than that of countries like Germany, France and across the European Union as a whole.
I see them shake their heads. If you look at what we're investing in renewable energy in Australia on a per capita basis, it's about triple what is invested by Germany, for example. But of course gas is going to be an important part of our economic recovery. If we want to ensure that our manufacturing sector can be internationally competitive, and we do, gas is going to be an important transition fuel as part of that journey. Of course it is. And any reasonable—
Given that women have been hardest hit by the COVID crisis, compounding existing gender inequality, and domestic family violence is at epidemic levels, why has the government chosen to invest only 0.035 per cent of the budget in measures to address women's economic security and provided no new money for frontline domestic violence services? None.
Under a succession of outstanding Ministers for Women in the coalition—from Senator Cash all the way through to Senator Payne now—we have made very substantial investments in terms of measures to prevent and address domestic violence, including in this budget. There's another $150 million worth of support specifically—
Order, Senator Waters! That's a matter for debate. You know better than that, Senator Waters. There's an opportunity after question time to debate the merits of answers.
Senator Waters interjecting—
Senator Waters, I ask you to please respect the ruling. That's not the appropriate way to raise a matter of substance in an answer. Senator Cormann.
As a result of the contributions of successive outstanding coalition ministers for women's interests, from Senator Cash through to Senator Payne, we have made a substantial commitment to the prevention and addressing of domestic violence—including through additional investments in the wake of the COVID pandemic, given some of the concerning consequences that that brought with it in this space. There is $150 million worth of additional support— (Time expired)