Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Paid Parental Leave Scheme – Doorstop, Melbourne Museum

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JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone for joining us here at the museum. If I could first of all thank everyone here at the museum for having us today, in this countdown to the introduction of Australia’s first National Paid Parental Leave Scheme. This is a very exciting time for Australia’s parents, for the first time we are going to catch up with the rest of the developed world and have a National Paid parental Leave Scheme. Eighteen weeks of paid parental leave, paid at the federal minimum wage, so for the first time many, many thousands of parents will get that extra financial support that they need so that they can spend more time at home with their new born baby.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried that employers will trade off, if they have their own scheme, to maybe for higher pay and scrap their own in return for the government scheme?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’re seeing is many employers saying that they’re going to keep their paid parental leave or paid maternity leave schemes and allow their employees to take this scheme on top. Woolworths, Aldi, Holden, Rio Tinto, some of the banks have already come out and made it clear that that’s what they’re going to do. And the reason we’ve got these employers saying that they want to keep their paid parental leave and add the government’s scheme, is because they know that’s good for their employees; they know that paid parental leave is good for their employees, good to be able to keep their employees, that they have spent money and time training… they want to keep them.

JOURNALIST: How much do you expect it to cost and why do you think it’s an investment?

JENNY MACKLIN: We expect the Paid Parental Leave Scheme to cost around 260 million dollars a year net. We think it’s a great investment for Australia’s babies… this way mums and dads will be able to spend more time at home with their newborn babies. It’s also good for business because business will be able to keep their employees on their books while they have time looking after their babies.

JOURNALIST: Can you explain how the existing scheme and yours can work in conjunction?

JENNY MACKLIN: Parents will be able to choose how they take their employer funded paid parental leave and the Government funded scheme. They can either take it together at the same time, or they can take it one after the other, or they can share the Government funded scheme between mum and dad. It’s up to the parents, the only rule is, you have to use the Government funded scheme in the first twelve months of a baby’s life.

JOURNALIST: A Government survey found 11% of employers are planning to change their existing entitlements. How are you going to monitor that situation and is there any action you can take?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we’ll be keeping a very close eye, but what I’m pleased to see is that since that survey was done in 2009, we’ve had so many employers say that they will keep their paid parental leave and add the Government’s scheme to what they offer to their employees, because they know that’s good for business.

JOURNALIST: Is it a bit arbitrary that if you gave birth today you’d miss out, yet if you could hold on till Saturday you’d be entitled?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s, unfortunately always the way it goes, you’ll always have to have a start date. The good news is of course that for babies that are born between now and new year’s day, the baby bonus will still exist and parents will be entitled to that and family tax benefits, so there’ll still be support for parents having babies in the next few days. I know as a mum, the most important thing for parents is to have a healthy baby, so I’m sure that will be top of mind.

JOURNALIST: But also, there’s a lot of cash at stake here for women who are pregnant and expecting in the next few days. Is there any evidence to suggest that there are mothers who are holding out for the first?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve had no reports of that at all and we’ve talked with the obstetricians. The College of Obstetricians, like mums and dads, all want healthy mums and healthy babies.

JOURNALIST: Is this placing an unfair administrative load on small businesses, given they have to deal with handing out the payments?

JENNY MACKLIN: We understand how important it is to make sure that the scheme works for business. We’ve got around a thousand businesses already signed up to be the paymaster. The important thing of course is that the government is going to provide the money for paid parental leave. We understand that it’s important to support small business in particular, so we’ll make sure that the money is in their bank account before they have to start payments and they can use their regular pay cycle but we’ll continue to work with small business to make sure that the scheme works for them.

JOURNALIST: But they have to deal with the paperwork so do you think it we might see a shift away from hiring women of sort of child bearing age?

JENNY MACKLIN: No I don’t think so because of course most businesses, the vast majority of businesses want to hold on to their staff including their female staff. That’s why paid parental leave is good for business as well as being good for families.

JOURNALIST: Why can’t the government administer the payment through the Family Assistance Office?

JENNY MACKLIN: It’s really important to have a strong link between the employer and the employee. Generally the mother is going to be taking time off work. We want her to have, continue to have that strong relationship with her workplace. This of course is a workplace entitlement, just like sick leave and annual leave and we think that paid parental leave and all the evidence shows paid parental leave is good for business. It will mean that they’ll keep hold of those employees that they’ve trained.

JOURNALIST: Will you be angry if employers do drop their own schemes?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ll be very disappointed if we have any employers dropping their own schemes. We’ll be very closely monitoring this. We know how important it is to provide support to families when they have a newborn baby. That’s why Australia is finally catching up with the rest of the developed world and introducing paid parental leave for the first time.

JOURNALIST: But there wouldn’t be any action taken against those companies.

JENNY MACKLIN: We have enterprise agreements of course with public sector agencies. We expect them to make sure all of those agreements are honoured and the same applies in the private sector. Enterprise agreements where there is paid parental leave or paid maternity leave should be honoured.

JOURNALIST: Has the government done any research into what this is expected to do to the national birth rate?

JENNY MACKLIN: [Laugh] We don’t expect any particular change to the birth rate. What we do expect is that this will provide increased financial support to families when they need it, when a newborn baby comes into their family.

JOURNALIST: Would the government move eventually scrap the baby bonus?

JENNY MACKLIN: No we won’t. We understand how important the baby bonus is for those families who haven’t been in the workforce or where they choose not to be in the workforce.