Paid Parental Leave Amendment





Subjects: Paid Parental Leave 


And I call the member for Wills.  


Thank you, Mr Speaker. Look, greater flexibility has become a persistent theme over the last few years. Many have benefited from greater time at home, online meetings, more flexible leave arrangements, working from home. It’s made, for a lot of Australians, juggling everyday responsibilities easier. And it’s given many people time for the things that really matter to them. The important things: more time with family, more time with friends, more time to focus on physical and mental wellbeing. More time to explore new passions. For new parents, though, some of that list sounds like a bit of a fantasy list, given the pressures that are placed on them. Also, with parents in general, frankly, until their kids are out the door after university. But for new parents, the biggest barriers to flexibility, I think, come up in one of the most important times in their lives. We know that Australia has a generous paid parental scheme. Globally, it’s one of the better ones, but there are still significant improvements needed when it comes to flexibility and equity. That’s what this bill seeks to do to; make paid parental leave more flexible and more equitable for Australian families. It’s going to combine the current 18 weeks for the primary carer and two weeks for the other parent into a single twenty-week scheme, allowing parents to make decisions about how they utilize paid parental leave flexibility. It’s going to remove the notion of primary and secondary claimants, and the requirement that the primary claimant must be the birth parent.  

This change will reflect the fact that the families of modern Australia come in all shapes and sizes, with different responsibilities and commitments. It gives parents choice in how they structure their leave days and their transition back to work. It gives parents the option to split leave as they see fit, rather than one parent being entitled to 18 weeks while the other is limited to two. Whilst many parents may still decide that one takes most of the time, it allows them – the parents – to make that decision. That’s important, because we know that the current arrangements particularly restrict women in returning to work. We know that women are more often the primary carer, on average and as far as the data goes. And unless they take their first 12 weeks of leave at once, they forfeit the remaining six weeks, which can be used flexibly. They are effectively penalized if they choose to return to work in their first 12 weeks of leave, even if it is just for a day or two a week. A lot of mums – and I know this is a bit of anecdotal thing – have had their second or third and are like “I want to go back to work now”. Some mums choose to stay the whole year with their newborn. This especially happens with the first born, but I think once you get to the second or third, they’re like “See you later! I’m going back to work”. Fair enough. We want to give women the flexibility to make their own arrangements under this scheme. This is really important, to give them a real choice. The decision is not going to be made for them; they get to make the decision. This bill will allow women greater freedom over when they return to work by allowing leave to be used flexibly from day one. It’s a change that supports advancing women’s economic equality. This is a key goal of our government, the Albanese Labor Government. It provides greater access, as well, to fathers and partners who are often limited to only two weeks of leave, despite wanting to share the load in that period. And this includes all sorts of parents; LGBTQI parents, or parents who have adopted kids, or who have been forced to split leave in ways that might not suit their family’s needs.  

These changes give parents the choice on when they return to work. Payment days may be taken in multiple blocks as small as a day at a time, with periods of work in between, within two years of the of the birth or adoption of the child. This is real flexibility, Deputy Speaker. It gives people choice, and that’s why these are such important elements of this bill; to give parents that choice. It also reflects the Albanese government’s commitment to improve the lives of working families; to give them that choice. It’s an improvement in their quality of life; support better outcomes for the children as well, and advance women’s economic equality, as we’ve noted. These reforms will reserve a portion of the scheme for each parent to support them both to take time off work after the birth of the child or adoption of the child. The elements of this bill follow, effectively, the advice and consultation of many experts and stakeholders, who were clear about the need for reserved portions to promote shared care and gender equality. It’s come from the data from the evidence base that has informed the drafting of this bill and this policy. Engagement with stakeholders has, of course, been a key feature of this bill. Paid parental leave reform was one of the most frequent proposals raised at the recent Successful Jobs and Skills Summit back in September last year. Because when we brought the stakeholders and leaders from across Australia together to develop solutions on the big challenges facing our nation, guess what? We were serious. And this is what came up. We were serious in our commitment to listening to Australians and delivering what we think are common sense changes that make their lives better.  

That’s part of being a good government, and the changes in this bill fit that motivation; fit that course of action. They have been widely welcomed in the October 2022 – 2023 budget. And these changes are, Mr Speaker, the most significant step to improving the paid parental leave scheme since its establishment by a then Labor government back in 2011. It wasn’t perfect then; we’re suggesting some improvements. That’s a sign of good government. Always evolving; always looking to improve; always listening and making sure that we’re meeting the needs of Australians, and in this case particularly parents, giving them that much needed flexibility as I’ve described. This is going to benefit 181,000 families across Australia. 181,000 families. That’s going to be around 4300 currently ineligible people who will get access to paid parental leave by lifting the family income limit to 350,000. That’s 4300 people, who are currently ineligible, who are going to get access. That’s great. And of course, we will continue, Mr Speaker, the reforms that improve the lives of Australians, including legislation later this year that will expand paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2026. That’s some nice symmetry. 26 by 26, Deputy Speaker. I don’t know who thought of that: some clever person. But 26 weeks by 2026; further improvement going straight to giving that flexibility and that support for parents in the paid parental leave scheme.  

Our changes are good for parents, Mr Speaker. They’re good for kids. They’re good for employers, and they’re good for our economy. And these changes make a good scheme more suitable for a more modern Australia. We’ve evolved since 2011, and these changes are important in that context, so that families can make their own choices to suit their own family’s needs. That’s really, really important. And they can enjoy what I said was such an important time of their lives with the newborn, with their new baby, and they can decide how long they spend. And as I said, if it’s a second or third, mum might want to go back to work earlier than the year that she spent with the first born. But that’s their choice. And that’s the beauty of these changes. It’s really making sure that we give families a choice to decide for themselves what’s best for their circumstances and for their family. And that’s something that this government – the Labor Government, the Albanese Labor Government – has committed to deliver for Australian families. Thank you.