02 February 2023

Paid Parental Leave Amendment

Ms Wells:  I can't begin to describe how empowering it is for families in my electorate of Lilley to finally have a government who recognises paid parental leave as the critical social and economic policy it is. Paid parental leave is a proud Labor legacy, introduced by the Gillard government in 2011. In 2011 this policy made history for mothers and fathers, their employers and their children. More than 10 years on, the Albanese government knows that paid parental leave is still vital for the health and wellbeing of parents and children. Simply put, it allows women to stay connected to their jobs. It allows fathers and partners to spend more time with their children and create a lasting bond. We know that investing in paid parental leave benefits our economy, and that gender equality and economic reform go hand in hand.

Modernising paid parental leave was one of the most frequent proposals raised at the Albanese government's Jobs and Skills Summit in September. Businesses, unions, experts and economists all agree that one of the best ways to boost productivity and participation is to provide more choice, more flexibility, more support for families and more opportunity for women. A decade since paid parental leave was introduced in this place, it is well past time to re-evaluate how fit for purpose the scheme is. The current scheme does not do enough to provide access to fathers and partners, and it limits flexibility for families to choose how they take leave and transition back to work. Flexibility is crucial for modern families functioning well in today's economy. The eligibility rules also make it unfair to families where mothers are the higher income earner. The Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Improvements for Families and Gender Equality) Bill 2022 introduces a range of important structural changes that many expectant mothers and fathers in my electorate of Lilley have been asking for for a very long time.

From 1 July this year, the Albanese government is delivering six key changes to modernise paid parental leave. This bill combines the two existing payments into one single 20-week scheme; reserves a portion of the scheme for each parent to support them both to take time off after a birth or adoption; makes it easier for both parents to access the payment by removing the notion of primary and secondary carers; expands access by introducing a $350,000 family income test, under which people can qualify if they do not meet the $156,647 individual income test, which increases flexibility for parents to choose how they take paid parental leave days and transition back to work; and allows eligible fathers and partners to access the payment irrespective of whether the mother or the birth parents meet the income test or residency requirements.

Nationally, 181,000 families will benefit from the changes in this bill, including around 4,300 parents who will gain access who would have been ineligible under the current scheme. With 2,206 families in Lilley receiving paid parental leave in the last year, I know that these changes will be very welcome to the north side of Brisbane.

For too long, our society has not valued care enough. We have not placed enough value on the role of care in our community and the work of those that provide care, both paid and unpaid. Our failure to place a high enough value on care can be seen in our homes and in our workplaces. Aged care is an industry where more than 85 per cent of workers are women who perform demanding and skilled work in a high-pressure environment, yet have been historically underpaid. The pay rise our government fought for will mean, for the very first time, that aged-care workers on an award wage will be able to earn more than $30 per hour—a pay rise that will help close the gender gap.

The Albanese government values both men and women as carers, and we want to see that reinforced in workplaces and communities throughout the nation. The Productivity Commission found that incorporating paid leave for fathers and partners in paid parental leave schemes can help reduce the pressures on parents of caring and working. The changes in this bill send a clear message that treating care responsibilities and parenting as an equal partnership supports gender equality. Last year, Emma from Geebung wrote to me:

I currently earn approximately $160,000 a year, and my husband earns approximately $70,000. When we have a baby and go on leave, we will not qualify for paid parental leave. But if our salaries were swapped, and I earned the lower salary, then I would qualify.

This policy is outdated and unfairly impacts families where the mother is the primary breadwinner for the family.

I am appreciative of having paid parental leave in our country, but I think we could improve on what we have in the name of equality.

Well, Emma, we hear you and, more importantly, we are taking action.

These paid parental leave reforms will help women across Australia, like Emma, who are thinking about having a family but are worried about the financial roadblocks ahead. They will help women, like Emma, who need economic security in a changing environment. It will help to close the gender pay gap by levelling the playing field for unpaid care. It modernises the paid parental leave scheme to reflect how Australian families and their needs have changed since it was established over a decade ago. It's good for parents, it's good for kids, it's good for employers and it's good for the economy. The Albanese government is delivering on our mandate to renew Australia's economy and the social infrastructure that supports it. We are improving our health and aged-care system, making child care more affordable and tackling the rising of cost-of-living so that families aren't scraping by and living from pay cheque to pay cheque.

Today, we are modernising the paid parental leave scheme to reflect how Australian families and their needs have changed since it was established over a decade ago. Labor has never stopped fighting for Australian families, and today we have the power to make the change that we have been fighting for.

I congratulate the Minister for Social Services for her tireless advocacy and work on this bill, and I proudly commend this bill to the House.