Paid Parental Leave Amendment Bill 2023

06 February 2024

This morning in parliament we marked the 40th anniversary of Medicare. Minister Mark Butler talked about remembering what it was like before Medicare was introduced and how it is important to reflect on how critically important some government reforms have been in changing the lives of Australians. Clearly, before Medicare a lot of people didn't have the access that they then gained to health care. Healthcare costs were actually the leading cause of bankruptcy, which is just shocking to hear now. But it was the result of an action of government, a Labor government, and it was a really critically important social reform. Paid parental leave is another of these. It's a very proud Labor legacy and a gamechanger for Australian parents.

I think it's really important that we reflect on that—that before this was introduced under the Gillard government, not that long ago, many, many women had no access to leave when they had a baby. If they didn't get it from their employer, which was not the majority in any sense—particularly for casual and low-paid workers—they had nothing. This government scheme was a gamechanger in allowing mothers to have that time to bond with their babies and to recover from birth and pregnancy. It was a very, very important reform of the Gillard government and by Jenny Macklin, the social services minister at the time. This amendment builds on that. Here in 2024 under the Albanese Labor government, we are building on our paid parental leave scheme. That's why I'm very happy to rise this evening to speak on this landmark Paid Parental Leave Amendment (More Support for Working Families) Bill 2023.

This bill has far-reaching implications for the lives of Australian parents and the Australian economy. The amendments proposed in this bill mark the most significant expansion of paid parental leave since its inception under the Gillard government. By 2026, claimants will be entitled to 26 weeks of paid parental leave, with 20 days reserved for the partners of the claimant within the same time line. Concurrent leave periods will increase to four weeks, providing families with unprecedented flexibility and choice, which is another really key element of these changes. The eligibility criteria, which for some has been a source of confusion and limitation, will be addressed. This reform is in direct response to the clear and sensible advice from the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce and other stakeholders. Businesses, unions and economists have all voiced their support and emphasised the need for flexibility and choice for families at this really special and vitally important time in their lives.

In 2009, when the Productivity Commission first released the report on which the scheme was based, the aims were clear: to identify the economic, productivity and social costs of providing paid parental leave, to explore employer provision and to assess models accounting for various factors. It was a response to the fact that, excluding the USA, Australia was the only OECD country without a national paid parental leave scheme. When it was introduced, it changed the lives of Australian families. Today we are building on this and taking the recommendations of that same report as a guide. The paid parental leave amendment bill 2023 is a step towards ensuring that paid parental leave entitlements are accessible to all working parents, regardless of gender. This $1.2 billion investment into the wellbeing of working families will provide much-needed relief for around 180,000 families, improving outcomes for children and advancing gender equality.

Currently, of the 179,000 recipients of the paid parental leave in Australia, a staggering 99 per cent are women. That is unsurprising for obvious reasons. But these changes aim to enable both mums and dads—both parents, both genders—to access more leave at the really important time of welcoming a new baby into the family. The bill encourages both parents to take this up, and that is important not just for supporting families but for changing attitudes more broadly in our society and economy. These changes are an investment in our nation's economic prosperity. Business leaders, including Bran Black of the Business Council of Australia, estimate that such flexibility can potentially unlock an additional $128 billion annually.

This is not just about family support; it's about redefining societal expectations, encouraging men to play a more active role in parenting, and fostering true gender equality. The evidence is clear that, when fathers take parental leave, society does better. Fathers taking paid parental leave means there is a higher chance of the gender equality gap closing, and fathers, mothers and babies benefit. It has long been my personal belief that, to truly address gender inequality in the workplace, it has to become normal for both parents to take time out and work part time when they have children. It has to become normal that this is not something that just women do—that it's something that both men and women do as a normal part of life and career. I think this is a really important step in encouraging that.

It is no surprise that it is a Labor government introducing these reforms, because it is only Labor governments that actually stand up for Australian women. As I've already said, it was a Labor government that introduced this landmark scheme in the first place. It was a Labor government that introduced no-fault divorce. It was a Labor government that appointed the first ever Minister for Women, the late Susan Ryan. It was a Labor government that started the practice of releasing a women's budget statement, and we have proudly picked that up again this time in government. It was a Labor government that established the first ever National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and it's this Labor government that centres gender equality as a key economic issue.

In this parliament's first sitting week, we introduced legislation to publish the gender pay gaps of large Australian companies. We have already legislated cheaper child care, and we have made gender equality an object of the Fair Work Act. It was this government that introduced paid family and domestic violence leave, again as a very early priority in coming to government. We have funded and are implementing all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report. We've introduced the new National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-2032, and we are reintroducing gender-responsive budgeting. We established the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce that is working on a strategy to achieve gender equality.

Our government was elected on a platform of gender equality, and we've worked tirelessly to bring this issue back to the forefront. Since our government's election, Australia has already risen from 50th to 26th in the World Economic Forum's Global gender gap report, and this bill continues that progress. One of the core values of Labor is equality, and equality is what Labor governments will always seek to achieve. These important changes to the Paid Parental Leave scheme are part of a broader agenda for families by supporting them to have choice, supporting their decisions about family and work and investing in making our economy stronger. I commend the bill to the House.