PAID PARENTAL LEAVE AMENDMENT
Sometimes in this place, there's a beautiful synchronicity. I was looking back at the last tranche of paid parental leave that I spoke on, which happens to have been a year ago —on the same day that we marked International Women's Day with the UN in this place. Here we are, 12 months on, doing exactly what we said we'd do: introducing and debating our next tranche of paid parental leave improvements with this Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023.
These improvements are about a lot of different things, like modernising this scheme so that it really meets the needs of 21st century families. It's doing something that empowers women and provides them with more support than they've ever had in caring for a newborn, but it supports both parents, whether they are a mum and a dad or they're any other combination. Whether a child is their natural child or a child is adopted, we're recognising that these are the sorts of families who have been overlooked as changes have been made but not to this particular policy area until we came along. So I'm very proud to be here, 12 months on, to talk about our next tranche.
I think it's worth remembering what the first changes were that we made under the paid parental leave amendment, which were to expand the maximum entitlement of parental leave pay from 18 weeks to 20 weeks by absorbing the dad and partner pay which had previously provided up to two weeks of pay to eligible working fathers or partners. That first tranche also replaced the requirement for the birth parent to claim parental leave pay first with gender-neutral claiming to make it easier for the partner to claim and both parents to share the entitlement. We also removed the requirement for 12 weeks of parental leave pay to be taken in one continuous block, to increase the flexibility of how claimants receive parental leave pay. As someone who spent all the early years of my children's life running a small business, I know that flexibility is absolutely essential for mums who are small-business operators to be able to go in and out of work so they can keep their business going, in a lot of cases, and not have to walk away from the primary care that they might want to provide. There have been a whole lot of people who've benefited enormously from that.
A year ago we also introduced the reserve 'use it or lose it' period of two weeks of parental leave pay for each parent, and we allowed eligible claimants to take up to two weeks of parental leave pay concurrently in relation to the same child so both parents could be together, with genuinely shared parenting able to happen, at a time when both parents can, if it's their first child, get used to a very different and new situation. Importantly, we expanded the scheme eligibility by introducing the family income limit, which can apply if a person doesn't meet the individual income limit. I think that recognises that you can't always assume that, perhaps in a male-female relationship, the mum is going to be the lower income earner. All those things start to recognise the realities of life and the things that we as a government should be looking to support.
This next tranche of changes is really important. It was emphasised to me, just this week, after an email from a constituent where we assisted in getting some of the leave entitlements sorted, and she summed it up beautifully by saying, 'I just want to spend my whole maternity leave enjoying and witnessing the milestones of my son before I go back to work.' This next tranche of changes is going to make that even more possible. So let's talk about this latest round of changes. They are absolutely critical for families. They're critical for women, and that means they're critical for the economy. We know this, and I think that's worth saying to people who may not be in their child-bearing years, may not have their own children or might about to be grandparents and who might go, 'What's in it for me?' But this is good for the whole economy. We also know that, when it's done right, paid parental leave can really advance gender equality. That's something that has been on people's minds in this place for many years, and this is tangible stuff. It's one of many things we have done to assist with gender equality.
It is worth saying that business, unions, experts of all sorts and economists all understand that one of the best ways to boost productivity and participation in the workforce is to provide more choice and support for families and more opportunity for women. That's why this has been a central part of our policy agenda since our very first budget, where there was that 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 the Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2011, and it will benefit around 180 families each year. In Macquarie, when I look at the figures, the number of people who will benefit from this and from our changes for cheaper child care runs into the thousands. I think it's around 6,000-plus who will be supported by this.
This change to paid parental leave is the natural successor to our first tranche of changes, and it lays a strong
pathway forward. The length of the payment will increase over time from 20 to 26 weeks. There's an increase in the period reserved for each parent, from two weeks to four weeks, and there's a doubling of the period where parents can take paid parental leave at the same time, from two weeks to four weeks. So, starting on 1 July 2024, two extra weeks of leave will be added every year until we reach 26 weeks of paid parental leave in 2026.
Right now, up to 18 weeks are available for one parent. It's usually taken by the mother, with two weeks reserved for the dad or the partner. The increase to 26 weeks means that mums can access up to 22 weeks of paid parental leave, so that's an additional month compared to the current scheme. My recollection of the very first year of a child is that every week makes a difference. It might not always make a difference for the better in the way you are sleeping, but your ability to think and understand how to coexist with this new child changes and evolves. Probably, in reality, every day makes a difference. So that extra month that we're going to achieve is really significant.
It also doubles that period reserved for the dad or the partner from two weeks to four weeks, and I encourage dads and non-birth partners to make the most of that opportunity. It might not be fun. It might have its own elements. Sometimes there's something to be said for being able to escape to work. But it is such a crucial time, and that extra support can make all the difference for the whole family. Crucially this expansion provides additional support to mums after childbirth—that is really what it comes down to—and it allows the partner to do that as well. It supports them, and it supports their child's wellbeing.
The changes in this bill send a very clear message that when you treat partners as equals, where each has a role and an equally important one, it supports gender equality. We really value men as carers and we want to see that reinforced in workplaces and throughout our communities. I also want to stress that single parents will have access to the full 26 weeks, and that's one of the key parts of this tranche of changes.
When we announced our paid parental leave reform back in the 2022-23 October budget—so this is going
back to not last year but the year before—we tasked the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce with providing
some advice on the best model for 26 weeks that would advance women's economic equality. That's where the recommendation of four weeks for each parent on a 'use it or lose it' basis and allowing parents to take the four weeks at the same time came from. That advice is adopted in this bill.
I think we've got a really powerful package here. I come from a time when I wasn't entitled to a single day of paid parental leave. I hadn't been back in the country very long after working overseas for several years, so I didn't have any employer entitlement, which was the only option. That was all you had if you were lucky and you had the right employer. By the time I had my second child, I had my own business, and in theory I paid
myself, but actually I needed to keep working to keep paying the mortgage and put food on the table. And, of
course, my husband had no entitlement because the dads just didn't get that. I look at this and think, 'Wow, what a different environment we've created for this next generation.' I'm always distressed when I hear some women of my generation saying, 'Oh, we did without it, and I don't think anyone really needs it,' because, my goodness, it is so needed when we think about how we're trying to support families with this very early start.
We also know we need to support families as mum goes back into the workforce. That remains a continuing challenge, in spite of our cheaper child care. We know that it is still very challenging to find child care that suits families' working needs and is available when parents need it. I look at this scheme and think, 'This is a giant leap that we have made,' but there is much more to do. Back in 2011, when we introduced this, it was an absolute joy to see it. Now, I can see we've got this to an incredible point, but we will continue working on the issues that not only inhibit women's economic involvement but, more than that, inhibit their ability to be the best parents that they can be. We recognise that there is a lot more to do in this place.
I have never seen us as a government who say, 'Do you know what? Job done—we don't have to worry anymore.' There's a desire to say, 'We made that better, but what else can we make better?' I know my constituents will certainly keep telling me the areas where we need to do better. I certainly recognise that we need to ensure there are suitable childcare places and to look at what we can do to have a role in that. A lot of it is, quite frankly, where the market and the private sector are failing, but we really need to keep working on that.
But I hope that anyone who's due to have a child from 1 July onwards, when this legislation comes into force,
assuming that it passes—
Mr Hill: Hold tight!
Ms TEMPLEMAN: Yes, hang on till the 1st. I'm lucky because my children were always very overdue.
Mr Hill: You could have another one.
Ms TEMPLEMAN: For some of you due in June, you might just make it.
Mr Hill: The Deputy Speaker could deliver it for you!
Ms TEMPLEMAN: We know that this is life changing for some families, and I am very pleased and very proud
to be part of a government who are putting women and families at the heart of our thinking, not just because it's the right thing to do from a social perspective but because we know this will help drive our economy.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Freelander ): I thank the eternally young member for Macquarie, but I do
suspect having another child is off the agenda.
Watch Susan deliver this speech in Parliament here.