Paid Parental Leave Scheme, interview with Terri Begley
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TERRI BEGLEY: From 1 January 2011, which isn’t that far away, Australia’s first National Paid Parental Leave Scheme starts and it’s funded by the Australian Government. And, who better to tell us about it is Jenny Macklin who is the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Jenny Macklin, that is quite some portfolio to have to run through each time. Do you have to have extra long business cards?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think for today’s purposes we’ll just stick to families. It is a really exciting time for families who are expecting a new baby any time in the New Year. One of the things that they can anticipate is the introduction of our new Paid Parental Leave Scheme.
And, one of the side benefits we’ve changed is that you can do all your paperwork in advance. Up until recently, you had to do your paperwork for Family Tax Benefit and so once your baby came along which of course, for those of us who had babies, that’s not the time to be doing paperwork. So we’re trying to encourage everyone to get online or go down to your Family Assistance office and get your paperwork done in advance both for Paid Parental Leave and the Family Tax Benefit, the Baby Bonus and the Maternity Immunisation Allowance.
TERRI BEGLEY: Yeah, it’s a lot to have to deal with isn’t it? It’s good you can get a jump on it…
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right.
TERRI BEGLEY: You’ve got other things to think about by the time the baby comes around. But let’s go back for people who aren’t really aware of what it is. I know there has been a lot of coverage when the Government first announced it. What is it and what is it hoping to achieve?
JENNY MACKLIN: Sure. First and foremost it’s about providing extra financial assistance to families when a new baby comes in to their family, in to their home, whether a baby that is born in to the family or a baby who has been adopted. So from the first of January, if you’ve been in the workforce for the twelve months before your baby comes along, or the ten months, I should say, before your baby comes along, you’ll be entitled to Paid Parental Leave for eighteen weeks paid at the federal minimum wage, which is around five-hundred and seventy dollars a week before tax. If you haven’t been in the workforce, you’ll of course continue to be eligible for the Baby Bonus and for Family Tax Benefit Part B. So there’s support for people in different circumstances.
TERRI BEGLEY: When you say that you have got to have been in the workforce for that ten months leading up, is this full-time employment only?
JENNY MACKLIN: No, and that’s a really good question. We were really aware that it was part-time, casual workers, seasonal workers who really missed out on Paid Parental Leave that might be already provided by there employers so it’s a very generous work test.
You need to have worked for around a day a week, so we really are wanting to make sure that for those part-timers, the casuals – think of somebody in the hospitality industry, for example, who is working part-time, casual has their baby and, of course, doesn’t have any Paid Parental Leave provided by their employer. We really want them to have the financial security when the baby comes along.
TERRI BEGLEY: How do you prove with all the paperwork that you have worked one day a week? Is it just going on your taxation?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well you’ll have to provide that information to the Family Assistance Office, but the mums I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks have gone online and answered all the questions and they’ve said to me that they didn’t find it too difficult so I’m very pleased to hear that.
TERRI BEGLEY: No, can both parents receive it?
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, and thanks for asking that question. You do have to be the primary carer to apply. So largely that will be the mother, there may be circumstances where dad is the applicant. But it’s also the case that mums and dads can share the leave so if mum has to go back to work for any reason or she wants to, she can transfer the remainder of the Paid Parental Leave to dad. The other really good thing I think that a lot of mothers have raised with me is that they can add it to their existing Paid Parental Leave or they can take it at the same time so that’s up to them.
TERRI BEGLEY: I think you’ve mentioned that adoptive parents are eligible for this…
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes they are.
TERRI BEGLEY: Same sex couples?
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.
TERRI BEGLEY: And what if your employee already provides you with parental leave?
JENNY MACKLIN: Your employer…
TERRI BEGLEY: Yes, sorry, your employer gives you parental leave, that doesn’t stop you from being able to claim this at all?
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right, and in fact you can choose whether to take the Government’s funded paid parental leave at the same time as your employer funded paid parental leave or you can add it on, that’s up to you to combine it how it suits you.
TERRI BEGLEY: Any potential negative impacts on small business from this?
JENNY MACKLIN: No, I think this is really good for business because, of course, the Government is making the money available. We are asking employers of long-term employees, so those employees who’ve been with someone, with an employer for more than twelve months. We’re saying to employers that they want them to be the paymaster. So we’ll still provide the money, but we think it’s really beneficial to business and to female employees, particularly, to keep that connection with their workplace. So to have the employer as the paymaster, they’ll be the people who will make sure that the Paid Parental Leave is paid in the normal pay cycle of the employee. We’ll make sure that the money is put into the employers account in advance so that the employer’s not out of pocket.
So we’re really concerned to make sure it’s done as easily as possible for the employer. I think there are lots of employers around today who really understand the benefits of Paid Parental Leave. They can of course then work to keep their well-trained employees in their businesses.
TERRI BEGLEY: So tell us again how easy the process is to get the ball rolling?
JENNY MACKLIN: If you’re pregnant now and you’re expecting your baby in the first part of next year, so January and February next year, you can go online now and go to Family Assistance Office website. You can check your eligibility online for the new Paid Parental Leave Scheme and of course you can also check your eligibility for Family Tax Benefit and the Baby Bonus. So all of those things can be done online. You can do it three months in advance of the expected date of your baby’s birth.
TERRI BEGLEY: And you can nominate when you start to receive this Paid Parental Leave?
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s correct. So if you want to delay it because you’ve got your own employer-funded paid parental leave. It does have to be taken within twelve months of your baby’s birth.
TERRI BEGLEY: Ok, so you can’t delay it for one or two years? Ok. And employees, what sort of feedback have you had so far on it?
JENNY MACKLIN: We’ve got an implementation group that we’ve established with employers and employee representatives to make sure that if there’s any issues that need to be finally ironed-out get examined. But there are lots of employers that have already signed up. We’ve had around 500 employers sign up, register, for the new scheme so we look forward to them doing that. They’ve got six months to decide whether they want to come on early or in July. So we’re giving them a bit of time to get on top of it all.
TERRI BEGLEY: And Minister can you explain how this is being funded?
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, it’s being funded from the budget so it’s around two-hundred and sixty million dollars a year of extra support for families of newborn children. Fundamentally because all of us understand how important it is for mums and dads to have time at home with their newborn babies. For the mothers to be able to recover from childbirth, establish breastfeeding if they can and, of course very importantly, bond with their newborn babies.
TERRI BEGLEY: As you mentioned, it’s funded out of the budget. There might be some who would worry that in the next three years when the next budget comes around that this will disappear. What sort of guarantee can you have that this is going to go into the future?
JENNY MACKLIN: It is in the budget. It’s not going to be looked at as something that is going to stop at any time. We’re just about to start it so I can assure you we’re not thinking about that.
I think Australians are just so pleased that we’re finally catching up with the rest of the developed world and introducing for the first time a national Paid Parental Leave Scheme so we’re very, very pleased to be introducing it.
TERRI BEGLEY: Are you doing any ongoing research in to the ongoing benefits Paid Parental Leave Scheme might have?
JENNY MACKLIN: We will do that. From a number of points of view I think that’s important. One is to see how we measure the improved connection at work. One of the objectives is to make sure we get higher return to work arrangements between, particularly mothers and business. So that will be one issue. Of course the impact on families being able to spend more time with their newborn babies rather than some mothers unfortunately at the moment because of financial pressures having to go back to work very, very early. So I think there are some very important issues that we will need to keep researching.
TERRI BEGLEY: Alright. Minister thank you very much for your time and that website again for anyone who wants to start ticking the boxes well before they head into the labour suite. What is it?
JENNY MACKLIN: www.familyassist.gov.au
TERRI BEGLEY: Okay. Thank you very much for your time this morning and coming in and talking.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much Terri.