Paid Parental Leave Amendment (COVID-19 Work Test) Bill 2021

31 Aug | '2021

I rise to speak on the Paid Parental Leave Amendment (COVID-19 Work Test) Bill 2021. I will start by asking why paid parental leave is so important. On this side of the House we really believe that the family is the building block of society and that keeping families together and strong is critical for society to function well and, indeed, to thrive. No-one knew that more than Sir Robert Menzies. That is why his government, in 1941, introduced a payment of just five shillings per week for each child in a family after the first. As the minister, it was actually Harold Holt’s task to introduce a national child endowment scheme for baby boomers like my parents and their mothers. At the time Mr Holt was the only bachelor in parliament, and he was widely featured in popular magazines like The Australian Women’s Weekly, which was unable to resist the opportunity to declare him ‘the godfather of a million children’. Of course, later, in 1966, he was Prime Minister for a short time before his tragic disappearance. I just wanted to highlight for the House that it was under Menzies that these sorts of payments came to the fore.

What was really significant about those first child endowment payments was that those payments were paid directly into the mothers’ bank accounts. It was often the only money that women could call their own at that time. I remember my late mother, Barbara, talking about the child endowment, which by that point had been renamed the family allowance. It helped my mother pay for groceries and buy school uniforms, books and sometimes a small treat, like a finger bun and a cappuccino, after visiting a doctor after school on a weekday.

I haven’t actually had a child myself, but my mother had four, and family payments from the Commonwealth certainly helped my parents provide for the four of us children. They were both low-income workers in the city of Playford, in Elizabeth, in South Australia. That was one of the country’s manufacturing hubs at that time. My aunt, who I messaged earlier today about this area, said to me that no-one went to child care back then and that we relied on the family to look after us, if mum had to go to work, until we were four and we could go to kindy.

However, I am a step-grandmother. My grandsons call me ‘Bbar’, which, of course, I love and enjoy. Like many grandparents around the country, I am missing those special occasions, like my grandson Archie’s fifth birthday next week, and visiting my younger grandson, Freddie, in New Zealand at the moment, all due to COVID lockdowns. My heart goes out to and my thoughts are with those grandparents and parents who are separated from their children at this time during COVID-19 lockdowns. My heart goes out to them.

I, of course support payments that assist families to raise their children and payments that strengthen the family unit and provide assistance where it is needed. I especially support the COVID disaster payment. But there are several other payments for families, and I will take a moment to outline them. There is family tax benefit part A and part B; newborn supplement and newborn upfront payment; multiple-birth allowance; bereavement payment; stillborn payment; single-income family supplement; childcare subsidy; additional childcare subsidy; double-orphan pension; parenting payment; and paid parental leave, or PPL, including parental leave pay, or PLP, and dad and partner pay, or DaPP. The last two I mentioned are the two that are incorporated in this bill.

Our government is committed to the Paid Parental Leave scheme, which aims to provide financial support to parents of newborn children to allow them to take time off work after the birth to bond with the child and to support the health and development of mothers and their babies. This bill amends the Paid Parental Leave Act to provide that a person in receipt of a COVID-19 payment as specified by the Paid Parental Leave Rules or the COVID-19 disaster payment will be considered to be performing qualifying work for the purposes of the paid parental leave work test. This will mean that the period during which the person receives the Commonwealth disaster payment will count towards the paid parental leave work test and applies to both parental leave pay and dad and partner pay claimants. That’s fair enough. I think that’s a reasonable measure. The COVID-19 disaster payment is provided by the Australian taxpayer and it should count as income during this time. For 2021-22, the Paid Parental Leave scheme is estimated to cost taxpayers around $2.26 billion.

I would like to speak about the COVID-19 disaster payment. It’s there to support people whose hours of work have been affected by the lockdowns in Commonwealth declared hotspots, and the government is committed to ensuring additional support is available for people in all states and territories affected by the public health response to COVID-19. People who have lost between eight hours and 20 hours or a full day of work can receive $450 a week. There is a payment of $750 per week for those who have lost 20 hours or more of work. The payment rate for people on income support payments is $200 per week if they have lost at least eight hours of work or a full day. These payments are available now. Claims opened on 22 August for people affected by the lockdown in regional New South Wales, for any of those who may be listening at the moment. Services Australia is delivering that payment.

The easiest way to claim is online through myGov. It is actually a great time now to set up your myGov account and your myGovID account, so that when you are vaccinated there is a record of it that you can access readily. You just download the myGov app and the Medicare app, and you link those two accounts, and then up pops the name of your vaccination—all of your vaccinations, not just your COVID-19 vaccinations. You can access that information pretty readily. Mine was up there within 24 hours after I had my second COVID-19 vaccination on Friday.

The COVID-19 disaster payment is to provide financial assistance to limit the financial hardship of eligible individuals who are unable to work and earn an income under a state public health order restricting movement. The recognition of periods while in receipt of this payment as qualifying as work is consistent with the objectives of the Paid Parental Leave scheme. Due to the state-health-ordered lockdowns and the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic across much of Australia, many people who would otherwise have qualified for paid parental leave might no longer meet the requirements of the work test. For those who have lost out, receipt of the COVID disaster payment will be proof that they have a connection to the workforce, and they will therefore be able to use their time receiving CDP towards the work test.

This change to the legislation is predicted to support at least 14,000 Australians to remain eligible to claim either parental leave pay or dad-and-partner pay in the areas of New South Wales that have been in lockdown just since late June. That’s a lot of people to help. These changes will ensure that parents with a genuine connection to work are able to access the government’s PPL scheme. Without this amendment, parents who work part time or who have been in lockdown close to or longer than the permissible 12-week period under the PPL scheme may lose their entitlement to the payments due to failing the work test. Nobody wants that, nobody wants that to happen to Australians, and that’s why this bill is so important. We especially don’t want any parents with young families to miss out on these payments. I’m sure Australians, and those opposite, will agree that this bill is a further measure to assist those Australians who need extra assistance. That’s what this government does; it helps Australians in their hour of need.

In 2021 the scheme supported 169,029 people, mainly mothers, through parental leave pay; and a further 89,784 people through dad-and-partner pay. Here are just a couple of facts. Of the 169,029 PPL recipients from the 2021 entitlement year, 135,800 had a child born or adopted on or after 1 July 2020 and were therefore eligible for the newly introduced flexible paid parental leave. Of the 135,800 eligible for flexible PPL, only 0.17 per cent, or 228 people, have sought to share some or all of their six weeks of flexible PPL with their partner. This is something the government are aware of, and we’re actively engaging with stakeholders and business to encourage them to ensure that their employees know about this flexibility. Parents who are not eligible for PPL are encouraged to test their eligibility for the range of other payments that are available, including newborn supplement, newborn upfront payment and parenting payment. Eligible fathers or partners of the birth mother may also access DaPP, irrespective of the mother’s eligibility for PPL.

To close, this bill will provide certainty and ensure that, through their demonstrated attachment to the workforce, more parents, particularly women, are supported to take time off work after the birth of their child. This bill introduces amendments aimed at supporting working parents who have had their work affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns across Australia to continue to access payments under the Paid Parental Leave scheme. I support the bill and I commend it to the House.



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