Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Paid Parental Leave, Sky News PM Agenda

Program: PM Agenda

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DAVID SPEERS: Minister, thanks for joining us.

JENNY MACKLIN: My pleasure.

DAVID SPEERS: A lot of tough talk from you and the Prime Minister at the Senate meeting to get out of the way, but the Coalition is going to pass this. They’ve never said they were going to block it.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I certainly hope they will. Of course we know there has been circumstances in the past where we thought we had the Opposition’s agreement and then they welched on the deal, but I hope we will get the support of the Senate for this Paid Parental Leave Scheme. It’s been a very, very long time coming. Families have been waiting a long time for Australia to catch up with the rest of the developed world, so I hope in the next few days Australia will finally have a national Paid Parental Leave Scheme.

DAVID SPEERS: This is an eighteen week scheme. The Coalition points out that their plan is for six months’ leave and if women and men want that longer leave they should vote for the Coalition?

JENNY MACKLIN: But of course they forget to mention to mothers and fathers that the Liberal Party want to impose a two per cent tax on business to pay for their Paid Parental Leave Scheme. That of course …

DAVID SPEERS: You don’t think parents would like that idea of six months leave at the replacement salary?

JENNY MACKLIN: And also knowing that everything they buy in the supermarket will be going up because of this extra two per cent tax that Tony Abbott wants to impose on business to pay for his Paid Parental Leave Scheme. I also don’t think families think their scheme is fair because, of course, high income women are going to be able to get up to $75,000 to have six months off to have a baby and I think most Australians think that’s just not fair.

DAVID SPEERS: But the argument the Coalition makes on that is that it’s about encouraging women no matter what they earn to have the flexibility to have a child. And even if they are on a higher income they can still take that time out in the critical early months of the baby’s life to be at home with it. There’s no disincentive there.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s exactly why we’ve designed the Paid Parental Leave Scheme the way we have. To give parents, mums or dads, eighteen weeks of Paid Parental Leave paid at the Federal minimum wage to make sure that no matter who you are, you’ll be able to take that time off to spend with your new born baby.

DAVID SPEERS: It’s a financial sacrifice for most people who earn more than the minimum wage. People earning $50-$60-$70,000 a year still will have to make a financial sacrifice. With the Coalition’s plan they won’t.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the vast majority of people who don’t have Paid Parental Leave as a workplace condition at the moment are of course casual workers, low income workers. It’s the higher income workers who already have their employer funded Paid Parental Leave. We, of course, asked the Productivity Commission to do a major inquiry for us to help us design a Paid Parental Leave Scheme for Australia. They did that. They recommended an eighteen week scheme paid for at the Federal minimum wage and funded by the Government, not funded by a big new tax on business which is exactly what Tony Abbott is going to impose.

DAVID SPEERS: Now there have been with your scheme some concerns raised by a Senate inquiry. Labor Senators concerned about some of the eligibility rules here that women who perhaps have a sickness during pregnancy or a premature birth may not be eligible for the Paid Parental Leave. I understand you’re going to move some amendments to address some of these concerns?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Government will move amendments in the Senate in the debate either today or tomorrow and these have been agreed by our Caucus today – to make sure that there is more flexibility to recognise that if a mother has a baby that’s born prematurely, or if she has complications arising from her pregnancy and therefore can’t meet the work test, that she should be able to be considered eligible for Paid Parental Leave. We do think that that’s an important amendment to make clear that flexibility should apply in the case of a premature birth.

DAVID SPEERS: And the sickness that prevents you from meeting the work test, um, what would qualify there, do you need just a doctor to say a pregnancy related illness?

JENNY MACKLIN: A pregnancy related illness that a doctor certifies.

DAVID SPEERS: Now what about concerns, the Paid Parental Leave once you start receiving it that could disqualify you for other Government benefits?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we’re making clear in another amendment is that employers can’t use the Parental Leave pay that’s provided in this Act to pay other entitlements that the employer has already agreed with their employees are available to them. So if an employer already has an agreement with a woman to pay paid maternity leave, the employer can’t use the Government funded Paid Parental Leave to meet his or her obligations to that woman. So we’re making that very clear in amendments that we’ll put into the Senate.

DAVID SPEERS: How important is it for the Government to have a victory at the moment? It’s been a rough few weeks, few months, for the Government. To have a win on this I guess is, it must be a bit of a relief?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it’s pretty important for Australian families, they’ve waited decades for Paid Parental Leave. Tony Abbott of course had twelve years in Government to introduce Paid Parental Leave. His opinion at that time was not over Tony Abbott’s dead body. So this is a big win for Australian families, for mums and dads who know that it’s just so important for them to have time with their new born baby, have time for mum to recover after the birth, but that very special time when the new baby comes into the family. We are so pleased to be able to deliver that for Australian families.

DAVID SPEERS: But Jenny Macklin, can I ask you more broadly about the political climate at the moment? As Kevin Rudd told Caucus today it’s a difficult period. How much is he to blame for that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well whenever you’re engaged in major economic reform as we are, not just with the Super Profits Tax, but with our determination to improve superannuation for Australian workers, our determination to cut company tax. Tony Abbott wants to increase company tax by two per cent, we want to cut company tax by two per cent. And of course we also know how important it is to deliver infrastructure especially in those towns and those regions that really are under pressure as a result of resource developments. So whenever you’re engaged in major reform, it can be difficult. But I think what Kevin Rudd is demonstrating is extraordinary leadership in very difficult economic times, but also his determination to keep providing the sort of economic reform to set Australia up for the future.

DAVID SPEERS: But the voters aren’t buying that at the moment?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, when you’re engaged in a major debate that’s often the case. But I think people will understand that this Super Profits Tax is going to deliver improved arrangements for superannuation, a cut to company tax, improved infrastructure. It is going to be a difficult time while we negotiate, but I think people will understand that this is for our country’s economic future.

DAVID SPEERS: But just finally. You were Deputy Leader to Simon Crean. He in Parliament today really revved up the Backbench (inaudible) cheer when he had a crack at the Opposition. Should people like Simon Crean whose experienced hands be used more often by the Prime Minister to prosecute the Government’s case on things like this?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think if you look across our front bench we’re all pretty much of an age. If you look at the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Finance Minister, Simon of course, myself, we’re much the same age and …

DAVID SPEERS: I’m not talking about age so much….

JENNY MACKLIN: None of us are spring chickens any more.

DAVID SPEERS: But not so much age, but the fact that he has deep roots in the Labour movement, former Leader, sidelined a lot in the front line debate. But today he was there and the backbench loved it.

JENNY MACKLIN: I think he’s doing a very, very good job as Trade Minister, really cut out for that job. But he’s the sort of person that never gives up in a negotiation and I think his long experience in negotiations really shows. You could say the same for Martin Ferguson. I think he’s doing a very, very important job right now in this mining tax debate. So we’ve got a lot of experience at that level on the front bench and I think it’s there for all to see.

DAVID SPEERS: Jenny Macklin, we’ll have to leave it there, thanks for joining us.