Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Paid parental leave


CHARLES WOOLEY: Let’s get the Government’s reaction to the plan from the Productivity Commission on paid maternity leave, Families Minister Jenny Macklin, good morning to you.

JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning to you, Charles.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Now, as we all anxiously await what’s going to happen on the Australian stock market, on the stock exchange, after the historic collapse yesterday in America and the Congress’ failure to ratify the almost trillion dollar rescue package, is everything back up for grabs, or is it business as usual?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course we have to be careful about what we do with our budget, that’s why we’ve made sure that in this year’s budget we have a strong surplus to really protect us against these difficult economic times. So we are very conscious of being very careful about any future spending.

CHARLES WOOLEY: The $450 million that this scheme, the paid maternity leave scheme will cost, we can still afford that by the end of today?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, as you know, this is a draft report…


JENNY MACKLIN: …we’re encouraging people to comment on the proposals that’s been put forward by the Productivity Commission. But, that said, the Prime Minister, I think, has really demonstrated that he thinks it’s time that Australia bit the bullet on this issue. We’re one of two developed countries in the world that doesn’t have a paid parental leave scheme…

CHARLES WOOLEY: The Americans are the other.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right. And, if I can just really emphasise, Charles, why I think this is important, it’s really because it’s so good for babies to have mum and dad around, and around for as long as possible once a new baby comes into the family. That early bonding is so critical for the new baby, for the baby’s development.

And, as a mum myself, I just know how important it is for the mother, and the father as well.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Yeah. Experts in child psychological development are all at one at this…


CHARLES WOOLEY: …and we will save this money in multiples down the track.

JENNY MACKLIN: And I think that’s the really important thing to remember in this debate, that we can look at it in the short-term way, the cost at the moment. All those issues are important but we’ve also got to think about these babies who are being born having the love and affection from mum and dad really is going to stand them in very good stead into the future.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Could you give us a rough idea of who qualifies for this?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well this, as I said, and as I think you’ve had the commissioner on already…

CHARLES WOOLEY: Yeah, we have.

JENNY MACKLIN: …this is a draft. So I’d really encourage people to look at the recommended model. Other people might decide that they think some variation should be made; they’ll make their submissions to the Productivity Commission over the next few weeks, and then the Government will receive a final report at the end of February.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Do people receive the benefit based on the wage that they’re receiving at the time they give birth?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the proposal from the Productivity Commission is not to go down that path. They’re recommending that people get paid at the minimum wage, and then it would be a matter for individuals, mothers and fathers, to negotiate any addition with their employer. So that’s the model that’s being recommended at the moment.

CHARLES WOOLEY: But the employer would be reimbursed by the state? By the Commonwealth?

JENNY MACKLIN: Not for the extra…

CHARLES WOOLEY: Not for the extra.

JENNY MACKLIN: …that would be a matter for negotiation.

CHARLES WOOLEY: So the – it’ll be the adult minimum wage basis, what, 544 bucks a week?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right, and…

CHARLES WOOLEY: Well it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, Minister.

JENNY MACKLIN: I think most parents would agree with you, Charles, that one of the big reasons that mothers and, increasingly, fathers decided that they do need to get back to work often before they think it’s good for their babies is because of the financial pressure on their family budget.

So that’s why this is an important debate and discussion for us to have.

CHARLES WOOLEY: What would be in it for business, and I guess it would probably be a big one rather than a small one that could afford this, to pay more, to pay above the 544 bucks?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yeah. A number of businesses have already done that, of course. Most recently we’ve seen some of the big retailers, of course some of the banks have been paying paid maternity leave for some time. And the reason they do this is because they really want to hold onto their staff. Losing staff, having to retrain them, costs business a lot of money.

And that’s why they’re in favour of paid parental leave, because they want to hold onto their staff.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Jenny Macklin, as Families Minister, I know you’re interested anyway, but you would be particularly interested in the impact of Wall Street. Because, when it all boils down, it’s the ordinary punter who suffers, isn’t it?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s exactly right. We want to make sure that we continue to have a strong economy; jobs is the most important thing. Keeping interest rates as low as possible, keeping downward pressure on inflation. All of these issues impact on families and so that’s why at the centre of any families’ policy we have to have a strong budget, because that’s what’s going to determine what people pay for their mortgages, whether or not they have a job. So, you’re dead right.

CHARLES WOOLEY: I noticed the Prime Minister was encouraging American legislatures – legislators, sorry, to support the rescue package that’s been knocked back…


CHARLES WOOLEY: …but it’s significant that he does that because he is of course a diplomat at heart and doesn’t like to be seen to be interfering in the affairs of another state. He obviously feels very strongly that this is necessary.

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, he understands, as I think most Australians understand, that of course we are part of the world economy and what happens in the United States will have an impact on our economy.

And he’s recognising that there are leaders on both sides of the American political divide who are supporting this package, and I think he’s adding his political weight to that.

CHARLES WOOLEY: It also comes down to the nub of what concerns you as Families Minister, who gets hurt. I mean, many of the American legislators didn’t like giving the money to the big end of town, they thought they should suffer. But of course we know that, in the end, the greatest suffering will be the average person.

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right. It’s about the home owners who have got mortgages, it’s about people who are concerned about their jobs. That’s why we are pleased that in Australia our regulators are certainly advising us that our systems are in pretty good shape.

But, we know, as I said before, we’re part of the world economy and that’s why we’re very concerned about what’s happening in the United States right now.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Okay. And, just finally, this parental leave scheme which, of course, as we’ve said, the Americans do not have but virtually everyone else does have, you will welcome input from all parties including the end users?

JENNY MACKLIN: We certainly – particularly parents, that’s exactly right…

CHARLES WOOLEY: But not from the babies.

JENNY MACKLIN: They’re probably not quite up to it yet. But the draft report will be out there until the 14th of February – 14th of November, I should say, so people can comment, make public submissions to the Productivity Commission up until that date, and then they will give a final report to the Government in February.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And those who do these things can Google it in the usual manner.

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes, that’s exactly right.


JENNY MACKLIN: There will be some public hearings as well…


JENNY MACKLIN: …and I’m sure the Productivity Commission will let people know where they are.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Jenny Macklin, thank you for talking to me this morning.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you, Charles.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Good to talk to you.