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FOR – Bills — Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023; Second Reading

Helen Polley

I rise to speak to the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023. This bill implements the second tranche of the government's paid parental leave reform announced in the 2022-23 October budget. It follows changes commenced on 1 July 2023 to make the scheme more accessible, flexible and gender equitable. This legislation is even better news for families struggling with the cost of living and juggling all the expectations of a modern life. I spoke in this place during the debate on the first tranche of these plans. It was, after all, a proud Labor policy that we took to the last election.

The Albanese government is committed to Australian families and to the Australian workforce as our country evolves. Industrial relations policy changes must take into account our changing world and the demands on our families, which is why this policy expands paid parental leave to 26 weeks by increasing the total number of weeks by two weeks each year starting on 1 July 2024 to reach 26 weeks on 1 July 2026. This is a landmark policy, and I'm proud to be part of a Labor government that is setting the standards for paid parental leave entitlements. It is wonderful to be part of a political party which thinks big and implements policies that change the lives of Australians for the better such as sick leave, Medicare, superannuation, the NDIS, the NBN, cheaper child care, just to name a few, and now the extension of paid parental leave.

The bill will increase the number of weeks reserved for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis, reaching four weeks in 2026 and will double the number of weeks parents can take concurrently, reaching four weeks in 2025. The bill also includes a minor technical amendment to ensure access for fathers and partners who do not meet the work test requirements but who would have if their child had not been born prematurely. This provision is already in place for birth parents. This historic change commences from 1 July 2024 and applies to births or adoptions from that date.

Over 180,000 Australian families are expected to access paid parental leave each year. What this means to families is everything. It will help them to juggle work and caring responsibilities with greater ease, and this is exactly what governments are supposed to do. Governments are supposed to make laws to create a better and fairer society. The expansion to 26 weeks is the largest investment in this scheme since it was introduced in 2011. Crucially, this investment will increase support for both birth parents and partners. Up to 22 weeks of leave will be available for one parent, which is up from 18 weeks, with four weeks reserved for the other parent, which is up from two weeks. Single parents can access the full entitlement, which is great news for single mums and dads across the country. We understand that women lose out financially where caring responsibilities are concerned, so we're acting decisively to level the playing field and help the women of Australia. As well as increasing the reserved period to encourage shared care, which is crucial for women's economic equality, the bill gives families more flexibility by doubling the period parents can take concurrently, from two weeks to four weeks.

The Albanese government's reform reflects our commitment to improve the lives of working families, improve outcomes for children and advance gender equality. The government's 2022-23 October budget measure was informed by sustained calls from a wide range of stakeholders across the country to improve and expand the scheme, particularly to encourage shared care, so we stand by this important policy reform and are rightly proud of it. I'm really proud to be part of a government that supports gender equality and supports women to thrive personally and professionally. Women—particularly women of my generation—often retire with not enough super. We know this. If we can level the playing field at different times in women's lives while they have the major caring responsibilities, we will do something about it, and this bill is another step towards trying to level that playing field.

This bill is crucial reform. It's great for families and great for women, but it's also great for our economy. It's good for productivity in the long term, and it's good for future generations. As I said from the outset, it's crucial for families, it's crucial for women, and it's crucial for children and our economy. The Albanese government understands that paid parental leave is vital for the health and wellbeing of parents and their children. We understand that investing in paid parental leave benefits our economy and we know that, implemented correctly, paid parental leave can advance gender equality, which is core business for our government. We know that our policy of providing superannuation on paid parental leave is going to be so much better for Australian families and so much better, in particular, for women. It just stands to reason: superannuation is the cornerstone of a better retirement, if it is supported and if you make your contributions.

Businesses, unions, experts and economists all understand that one of the best ways to boost productivity and participation is to provide more choice and support for families and more opportunity for women. This is why the paid parental leave reform was a centrepiece of our first budget. We invested half a billion dollars to expand the scheme to six months by 2026. This is the largest investment in paid parental leave since Labor established it in 2011, benefiting over 180,000 families each year in this country. Once again, this crucial piece of policy was introduced by a Labor government. When the community is looking for reform to improve the lot of women and children and families in this country, you can always rely on a Labor government. But, as I said from the outset in this speech, this policy initiative reflects the Albanese government's commitment to improve the lives of working families, support better outcomes for children, and advance women's economic opportunity.

Together our changes strike an important balance of increasing support to mums, encouraging dads to take leave and providing family flexibility in how they structure their care arrangements. So many more men are staying at home and being home dads. We respect this. We understand that care arrangements are more flexible than they used to be, and this is supported through this legislation. When my husband was a home dad, it was a long time before it was made easy by having paid parental leave. But I was fortunate enough to have a husband that was prepared to take on the major role in caring for our children once our youngest had started school and I was able to return to the workforce.

This paid parental leave bill is revolutionary in the way it's going to assist women and families. What we need to do as a government, as do all governments, is have policies that provide flexible and agile opportunities for families to be able to return to the workforce while managing their responsibilities as carers. As a nation, it's critical that our Paid Parental Leave scheme supports modern Australian families. This is why we have devised a scheme that is flexible and fair and that drives positive health, social and economic outcomes for both parents and their children. The bill encompasses all of these ideas and commits resources to Australian families.

Crucially, the bill provides more families with greater access to more paid parental leave, provides parents flexibility in how they take their leave and encourages them to share the care responsibilities, which I think is essential to creating that very strong family unit. This bill is good for parents, good for kids, good for employers and good for the economy. It's great for my home state of Tasmania—and if it's good for Tasmania, then, of course, it's good for the nation. I commend the bill.

(Quorum formed)

Long debate text truncated.

Summary

Date and time: 11:26 AM on 2024-03-18
Senator Pocock's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 5
Total number of "no" votes: 35
Total number of abstentions: 36
Related bill: Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023

Adapted from information made available by theyvoteforyou.org.au