Anika Wells MP on ABC Brisbane with Rebecca Levingston


SUBJECTS: Gender pay gap; paid parental leave.

On money. But not in the property market. The difference in money that men and women are paid. The gender pay gap. Youve been hearing about it for years. Doesn’t it seem unreal that in 2021, in Australia, men and women still aren’t paid the same. And despite this issue getting more attention than ever, there’s dedicated days for goodness sakes where we talk about addressing the gender pay gap, the problem is still getting worse. New data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency puts the gap between men and women at just over 14 percent. That is up nearly a full percentage point from six months ago. So how do we fix it? And what role does paid parental leave play into this conversation? Well Anika Wells, member for parliament, wants to have a chat. Hello Anika.

ANIKA WELLS, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Good morning Rebecca, how are you?

LEVINGSTON: Well thanks. Last time I spoke to you I think you’d maybe just given birth to twins and were heading back to parliament. How’s life as a politician and as a juggling mum.

WELLS: Well they’re crawling now so it is increasingly hectic. Hectic on an exponential scale. I’m doing virtual parliament this week because of the quarantine requirements for Queenslanders coming back from the ACT. It means coming and going from the house to the office and it seems to be, I’m going to guess, people who don’t have caregiving responsibilities who schedule the debates in the House don’t think about working parents. Because we constantly have these debates about important legislation like paid parental leave, like childcare, that happen during the witching hour. Which you know is the worst possible time for working parents to be trying to make a contribution to public policy. There’s a name for it, that’s how bad it is – the witching hour!

LEVINGSTON: Yep and every parent knows that. In terms of the gender pay gap, are male and female MPs paid the same Anika?

WELLS: We are. We have the same base rate. Though that shouldn’t be the end of the policy line as far as government MPs are concerned, their own pay. Though I would…this is a much broader topic for us to open at another date. But it does cost more to be a female MP than a male MP. And if you look at the costs of being a female MP with young children and what it costs a female to pay for the care and logistics {inaudible} , whilst being pregnant and looking after newborns. The salary is the same.

LEVINGSTON: I’m going to assume that one of Anika Wells’ toddlers just grabbed hold of her phone. Stay with me, we’ll get Anika Wells back. Anika hello?

WELLS: Hello

LEVINGSTON: Was that…hoping that was a small child’s hand that just reached up and hung up?

WELLS: The secret will remain between you and me Rebecca, and your many listeners.

LEVINGSTON: But I take your point. There are different expenses for female MPs. Have we lost Anika again? I think we have. Maybe we’ll just try on a regular phone line, we’ll see if we can get Anika Wells back on the line. Anika, the member for Lilley, Wayne Swan’s old seat here in Brisbane. Of course the former treasurer of Australia. She wants to talk money this morning. Gender equality, the gender pay gap and also specifically around how paid parental leave plays into this conversation. Let’s see if the phone connects us a little better. Anika? You there?

WELLS: I’m back. We’re all back.

LEVINGSTON: Alright. I just mentioned you’re of course the Member for Lilley which is Wayne Swan’s old seat, the former Treasurer. The other thing that strikes me before we get to paid parental leave is there’s never been a female federal treasurer in Australia. Why do you think that is?

WELLS: Because of the way that parliament is structurally and culturally engineered towards supporting men to do that work, and not women. I don’t know if you were watching or listening to the Ms Represented episodes and podcasts that Annabelle Crabb made recently. She talks about how even the doors in the building are heavy and the airconditioning degrees set to what would be comfortable for a male in a suit. Its that kind of, the bias that people don’t even think about, it all impacts. But lets get into the meat of structural and cultural change that we need in the parliament. Because I’m lucky enough to have made it there. I get to sit in the seat and I have limited time to make a difference. But like you were talking about, the gender pay gap is getting worse. It’s going to take us 26 years to close it at this rate in Australia. 26 years. There’s just no impetus from this government about doing it. So when we have opportunities to debate paid parental leave in the parliament like we did last night in the House, it’s off to the Senate tomorrow. They just seem to scream out to me as missed opportunities for us to do more for our Australian women. Can I give you an example?


WELLS: We were making amendments last night about exemptions to the work test. Now that’s the test that women have to work 10 out of 13 months in the previous year to qualify for the paid parental leave scheme. We needed some more exemptions because we didn’t have for example any exemptions for if a woman would otherwise qualify for the work test except for the fact she was affected by family violence. And we know that’s so important. It’s the leading cause of death for women in Australia between 15 and 44. But I had so many women contact me because they don’t qualify for the work test. A lady named Amanda who lived in Nudgee Beach – she failed to qualify for the work test by two days because she’d been laid off because of the pandemic. So she was going to miss out on the entire scheme by two days. So I said to her ‘What are your skills?’ and I got her in and paid her for two days out of my office so that she would qualify.

LEVINGSTON: Oh my gosh! Really? Wow

WELLS: I did. But it shouldn’t come down to a lawmaker who gets it, like me, helping another fellow mum like Amanda. We have to have much bigger structural change so that everybody that needs to access paid parental leave can do so. Because we know that other dads and partners out there want more time with their kids. And we know that’s better for the family unit. And we know that’s better for the kids themselves. It really doesn’t cost that much in the scheme of things. You know, you’re talking about JobKeeper today and the $13 billion that the parliamentary budget office has said went to companies that profited, that didn’t need it. I mean to expand paid parental leave you could do it 20 times over with that $13 billion. It costs five COVID safe apps, it costs one carpark rort, it costs nothing in the scheme of what this government spends. We just don’t seem to have the impetus or the get-up-and-go or the moral imperative to do it. So we’ve got to keep pushing.

LEVINGSTON: You’re listening to Anika Wells the Member for Lilley. Would like to see structural change around things like paid parental leave to address that gender pay gap which at this stage would take 26 years to close. That actually sounds optimistic compared to some of the conversations that I’ve had over the years. So paid parental leave is means tested for women but not for men currently? How does that system work.

WELLS: Well! The scheme is now more than 10 years old. And when it was introduced by Jenny Macklin and Julia Gillard it was meant to be a base starter that we could expand upon. But here we are more than 10 years on now and it hasn’t been expanded at all. But I guess what it means is it really supports a traditional and now sort of outdated family unit where the male is the main breadwinner, the woman stays home with the kids. Maybe does a bit of part-time work when they’re at school. That doesn’t reflect the diversity of what modern Australian families look like in any way, particularly here in modern Brisbane. So it means ultimately that a woman can’t earn more than $150,000 before she is excluded from the scheme entirely. But if she earns…it pays no attention to what her partner makes. So her partner might make a million bucks and she might make $149,000 and so they qualify. But a woman who earns $151,000 as the primary breadwinner and her partner might not work because he is looking after the kids at home, they don’t qualify at all. So we’ve just got to reflect modern Australia with our laws. And every time, it just drives me crazy, every time we put these debates into the parliament we make these minor amendments that the government are prepared to push through and we just don’t address the structural changes. If we want cultural change, it needs to start in the nation’s parliament and if we can’t do it there, then God help us all.

LEVINGSTON: So what’s going to happen then. You’re very passionate, clearly, about this. I mean there’s plenty of women on the opposite side of politics and mothers as well. Why isn’t there a similar appetite Anika Wells?

WELLS: Because they are not in positions of leadership Rebecca. They do have some women. I think the Coalition has something like 15 percent women in their House party room. Which isn’t a lot. We’re at 48. And when you look at the kind of women that we have in leadership positions in the party. People like Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally in the Senate. We have people like Tanya Plibersek as our Shadow Women’s Minister and people like me are coming through on the backbench.

LEVINGSTON: Yeah but the Prime Minister Scott Morrison pretty much very publicly says he sees everything through the prism of family. Through Jenny, through the girls, thinking of things as a father.

WELLS: Well I think there’s deeds and words isn’t there Rebecca? Because that’s not reflected in the policy decisions that he makes.

LEVINGSTON: Let’s see what happens next, Anika Wells, good to talk, appreciate your time. Thank you.