Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020

Senator McLACHLAN (South Australia) (10:33): I rise to support the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (Flexibility Measures) Bill 2020. This bill seeks to further support Australian working mothers and families by providing for more flexible access to paid parental leave arrangements. This bill will allow the mother of a newborn or adopted child to elect to initially use 12 weeks of their 18-week paid parental leave entitlement prior to using the remaining six weeks at any time over the preceding two years. In contrast to the current scheme, this amendment to the provision of paid parental leave entitlements ensures that those mothers who wish to re-enter the workforce before the expiration of their 18 weeks can do so whilst also retaining access to the remaining period of their entitlements. Once passed by the parliament, this bill will give parents of children born on or after 1 July 2020 access to these new flexible arrangements. These changes add to the amendments already made by the coalition government to the Paid Parental Leave Act late last year.

Further, this bill will also allow mothers who choose to return to work the flexibility to transfer their remaining entitlement for paid parental leave to their partner who takes on the role of the primary caregiver or alternatively to use their remaining paid parental leave entitlements to support their return to part-time work by, for example, returning three days per week and receiving paid parental leave for the other days of the week when they would not be working.

The new provisions outlined in this bill are focused on outcomes from the Women’s Economic Security Package released in 2018, specifically to increase female participation in the workforce. Presently, almost half of all new mothers are accessing paid parental leave in our nation every year. That’s 179,000 mothers, and it is expected that approximately 4,000 of these will now access this new flexible option. This is critically important, because we all know that no two families are the same. Our support for working mothers and families must be accessible to each and every Australian family’s individual circumstances. That is why the provisions of this bill are designed to encourage a greater uptake of paid parental leave entitlements by secondary carers, who but for this support would likely not have the opportunity to spend quality time with their children during those important formative years.

In my view, there is nothing more important than family, howsoever it is defined. Family members provide the unconditional support and comfort necessary for the nurturing of a child. In reflecting on the intent of this bill, I am reminded of what Haniel Long wrote in his book A Letter to St Augustine After Re Reading His Confessions:

So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family, that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty. All other pacts of love or fear derive from it and are modeled upon it.

The Liberal Party firmly believes that the family is the foundation stone of a strong and vibrant Australian society. Even as we face the unprecedented times of the present, family remains a constant upon which those of us fortunate enough can rely. That is why, by enabling working mothers, including those who are self-employed or who own a small business, to access a more flexible paid parental leave arrangement, the coalition government is supporting mothers to manage the responsibilities of work and raising a family.

I want to pay special tribute to those working women who run a small or family business. This bill will allow them to tailor their paid parental leave to their own circumstances and enable the business they have worked so hard to build to continue to operate. It provides further support for families who face the competing pressures of parenthood and enterprise, because these two important endeavours, wherever possible, should not be mutually exclusive.

I remind honourable senators of the attempt some years ago by those opposite at a paid parental leave scheme which resulted in significant additional workloads for those thousands of businesses as they struggled to work their way through myriad regulations and red tape. The coalition government is committed to providing an important safety net for Australian mothers, supporting the health and wellbeing of their children and providing the flexibility to allow families to decide how best to care for their children. Not only do the changes outlined in the bill provide more flexible arrangements for families; they assist businesses to retain their valued staff in the workforce. I commend the bill to the Senate.

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