Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Paid Parental Leave scheme – Doorstop, Melbourne

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JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks everyone very much for joining us here today at Safeway. If I can first of all say a very, very big thank you to everyone here at Safeway and Woolworths more broadly for having us here, and to congratulate them as an employer really leading the way delivering paid parental leave for their staff. And it’s wonderful to have two of their staff who are here with us today who are already pregnant I hope they don’t mind me saying. And what we know is that women, mothers and fathers are going to be able to benefit not only from their employer’s paid parental leave but also the Government’s scheme into the future. This is a very, very special day especially for all of those people who’ve worked for so long to deliver Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme. And I’d like to first of all thank some of the people who are here with me today who’ve worked for a very, very long time to deliver this first Paid Parental Leave scheme. We have Sharan Burrow here from the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I’d like to thank Sharan and everybody in the Trade Union movement for their lifelong campaign to deliver paid parental leave into this country. I’d also like to thank the employers, and I’d like to thank the two representatives who are with us today from the Business Council of Australia, Melinda Cilento and also Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group. I’d also particularly welcome Elizabeth Broderick, our Sex Discrimination Commissioner and thank her and those who’ve gone before her, especially Pru Goward, who did so much to make paid parental leave a reality here in Australia. There are many, many women and men who’ve campaigned for paid parental leave in Australia over a long period of time. This day belongs to them. It really has been a campaign that is in the best interest of Australian families and finally we’re in a position to deliver it. Today we’re releasing the draft legislation for Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave Scheme. It’s a scheme that will be government-funded, a scheme that will deliver eighteen weeks of paid parental leave paid at the Federal Minimum Wage. It’s a scheme that will be great for babies, great for mums and dads, because it will mean that mothers and fathers will have more time with their little babies and we all know how important those first months are of a baby’s life. So once again thank you to everyone who’s been so involved over such a long time in helping us deliver this legislation that will make such a difference to the lives of families and babies. Thank you.


SHARAN BURROW: Decent employers will simply add to the scheme knowing that the loyalty they get back in terms of retention of staff will be absolutely worthwhile.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) … legislation but could you stop them from doing that?

SHARAN BURROW: We know that this legislation is a guarantee to working women of four and a half months of paid leave. Eighteen weeks. We expect and we have agreements that we will expect to be respected with employers who will add their contribution on top of that. So right now I have to say after thirty years that justice of four and a half months of income security is absolutely within our grasp and that’s the most important thing. Of course we will continue to bargain. We’ll ask employers where it’s part of a wages package to top up the superannuation to look at parental leave extension. That’s our job. But right now a Labor Government, this Labor Government, determined to put four and a half months in place, income in the hands of working Australians. We congratulate them. We thank Jenny Macklin and all of her colleagues and we say to working women, get your diaries out, do a bit of planning and make sure you get those dollars.

JOURNALIST: As you well know though, not all employers do do the right thing by their workers. Are you at least worried that some companies might scrap their own scheme because this one’s now in place?

SHARAN BURROW: I’m actually not worried about employers scrapping their own scheme because they have either bargained with unions or voluntarily provided this entitlement for their employees. They know the benefit of that. If there are a small number of employers who decide they want to reduce their scheme well that’s what you have unions for, that’s our job. But we know that the employers who have bargained with unions and the workers for paid maternity leave and are proud of those schemes. We know that companies like Woolworths will simply add that entitlement and will do so with the graciousness and support of their employees that they know respect their contribution to their work.

HEATHER RIDOUT: Good afternoon everybody, Heather Ridout, Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group. AI Group’s very, very pleased to add our support to this scheme. It’s been a long time in gestation. The Government has been a very good process. The Government have been very responsive to employer concerns about the implementation and the practical issues attached to it and we’re quite comfortable with the outcome. The extra six months for companies to have to comply with it before they actually have to pay it will be very helpful. The discussions around workers’ compensation, payroll tax and super have all been quite positive so we’re very pleased. Personally I felt it was a league table Australia should not be on. Only us and the US do not have a scheme of this type in the OECD so it is an important day. I would also urge the Opposition to support the passage of the legislation. This has been too long and too difficult an argument and I really sincerely hope Tony Abbott does support it, and I will be personally urging him to do so.

JOURNALIST: What can you do to stop employers scrapping their own scheme?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Look my view, I don’t do anything to stop employers from anything. My personal view is that employers will not stop their own schemes, that they will top up the scheme. AI Group personally has a scheme. I introduced it when I became Chief Executive and I can assure you we will be continuing our own scheme and I would expect most employers to do that also.

JOURNALIST: Have you come across much opposition to this from businesses?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Look I’ve come across opposition from businesses particularly when they thought they were going to have to pay it, because it really is a public responsibility. The Government have recognised that. The ILO recognise that. So given that hurdle was crossed I think business generally will support this. Business knows keeping an attachment to their workers when they go off on maternity leave is a very important issue. Training new staff is a very expensive issue. Being able to give support to a scheme like this so that they can support their own employees makes good sense and I think businesses are sensible enough to recognise that.

JOURNALIST: The Opposition says this is a Mickey Mouse scheme, but you’ve been on record saying that you actually disagree with Tony Abbott’s proposal?

HEATHER RIDOUT: Look this isn’t a Mickey Mouse scheme. This is a substantial scheme. Eighteen weeks minimum rate of pay for all workers including casuals and contractors etc so it’s not a Mickey Mouse scheme. My concern about Tony Abbott’s scheme, I mean as a woman I’d be wildly excited about it. As a representative of business putting a 1.7 per cent levy on the company tax rate which in another life I’ve been trying to reduce through the Henry process didn’t make an awful lot of sense to me. This way we have a scheme with the minimum level which is affordable. We have many employers putting in place schemes that they can add on to this and I think basically we can make the transition to a paid maternity leave scheme without you know, killing the goose that’s going to lay the golden egg.

ANDREW HALL: Andrew Hall, Director of Corporate Affairs for Woolworths. I think you’ll see as employers here in the group we’re about to say we welcome the Government releasing legislation today. Woolworths was an early adopter of paid maternity leave for an employer of our size. We bought it in nearly two years ago and the return on investment for us has been significant. We’ve had a nearly 100 per cent return rate of staff as a result of our paid maternity program. We think that that is a great investment in our people. It means that it reduces our costs in terms of retraining and it provides people like Nicole and Alpana with an incentive to come back to work. Our intentions are to maintain our scheme. We’ve just, the legislation has been released today so we’ll have a look at it to understand how the eligibility of that scheme marries up with our own eligibility. But going forward, we have the money in our budget, we’ve got the capacity to do it, it makes a point of difference for us as an employer and we intend to keep doing it.

ELIZABETH BRODERICK: It’s a great thrill to be here today as the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and to see a piece of legislation which has the words Paid Parental Leave on the top. It really is a great thrill and I particularly want to acknowledge the work of the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, in actually raising this issue together with others, with unions, with business. But to make sure that women across Australia when they wake up on the morning of 1 January 2011, will have a paid parental leave scheme. Eighteen months ago I travelled the length and breadth of this country speaking to thousands of men and women and one thing they were very clear about was the importance of having a paid parental leave scheme in Australia. I met women who were back in the workplace within two weeks of giving birth, mainly because they couldn’t afford to have that loss of income. So today with the release of the exposure draft it is a very important and historic day for women across this country, for families and I think for all Australians.

JOURNALIST: Doesn’t this scheme discriminate against stay at home mothers though?

ELIZABETH BRODERICK: This scheme is about, one of the objects of it is, ensuring that women remain attached to the labour market and we know that when we look at women’s retirement savings they have about half the retirement savings of men. And that’s why it’s a really important scheme. But there is still the baby bonus for those women who choose to do the incredibly valuable work of caring full time at home.

JOURNALIST: So the baby bonus stays, that’s the main thing isn’t it?

JENNY MACKLIN: The baby bonus does stay. The baby bonus will be there for those parents who do decide that they want someone to stay at home with their baby and those parents will also be eligible for Family Tax Benefit Part B. We do think it’s important to have support for stay at home mums and to provide support for those parents who do want to remain attached to the labour force.

JOURNALIST: Do you think you’ll have a battle on your hands to get it through the Senate?

JENNY MACKLIN: I hope not. I hope that we will have both the Opposition and the minor parties seeing sense. This is the first time Australia’s had a Paid Parental Leave scheme presented to the Australian Parliament. So I look forward to all Members of the Senate supporting this legislation.

JOURNALIST: But Tony Abbott says that the Opposition’s not in the business of blocking things. You might disagree about that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Are you serious?

JOURNALIST: He didn’t commit to supporting it but he said we’re not in the business of blocking things.

JENNY MACKLIN: I think Tony Abbott has been in the business of blocking most pieces of legislation. I hope on this occasion Tony Abbott will recognise that there are thousands upon thousands of Australian families who have been wanting paid parental leave in Australia. Tony Abbott when he was a Minister in the Howard Government said that he would introduce paid parental leave over his dead body. Well I hope he now recognises that for families, for little babies, paid parental leave is incredibly important and that he’ll support this legislation when it gets to the Senate.