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Speech on Paid Parental Leave Motion

On Monday 26 September 2022, I made a speech in Federal Parliament in response to independent Zali Steggal's motion for expanded Paid Parental Leave. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.

E WATSON-BROWN: A robust, universal paid parental leave scheme with a minimum of 26 weeks leave would transform so many lives in this country. This is something we Greens have been pushing for for a long time. At the May election this year, we brought a policy of 26 weeks guaranteed paid parental leave. The Greens plan would provide six months of paid parental leave, paid at the parent's existing wage, capped at $100,000 per annum, and include super contributions. This would include six weeks for each parent, with 14 weeks to be taken in whichever combination the family decides. The package would complement, not replace, existing employer schemes. When I doorknocked in Ryan and spoke to people about this plan, they absolutely loved the idea. Since May, we've seen a growing number of groups calling for boosting paid parental leave. The ACTU wants the Albanese government to increase paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks and then map out a path to lifting it to 52 weeks by 2030—a fantastic idea. The Business Council of Australia laid out 26 weeks of paid parental leave as a core policy suggestion, ahead of the Jobs and Skills Summit. Chief Executive Women's submission to the jobs summit called for an expansion of the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave scheme. Zali Steggall has now brought this motion to the House and I support it.

According to the economic experts, 26 weeks of shared paid parental leave will boost women's workforce participation. This is undoubtedly true and a very good thing. More importantly, I say, it will boost freedom for mums and for dads to spend these crucial, beautiful—but tiring—months with their newborns, while not worrying about whether they'll be able to pay the rent or the mortgage or whether they'll have a job to go back to once it's over. Coupled with another Greens policy—universal free child care—paid parental leave of 26 weeks will give families the freedom to decide the best arrangement for them. They can work out how much they work in paid employment, how much they spend doing the unpaid child-rearing work at home and, importantly, how they share those roles equitably between partners, and they can do that without fear of falling into poverty or falling behind in their careers.

In a wealthy country like Australia, we should be able to afford the freedom that comes with proper paid parental leave. In fact, we can. Boosting paid parental leave to 26 weeks and linking it to the parents' existing wage rather than the minimum wage would cost $6.4 billion over the next three years. That's a lot of money. That's $26.8 billion over 10 years. It does sound like a lot, except when you think that Labor's stage 3 tax cuts are going to cost the budget $244 billion over that time. If we scrapped those tax cuts, we'd fund a robust and fair paid parental leave plan, transform peoples' lives and still have $217 billion left to play with.

In fact, Australia currently has one of the worst parental leave schemes in the developed world. Shame! In Sweden, both parents are entitled to about nine months of parental leave; in Australia at the moment, 18 weeks for one parent only and on the minimum wage. Australia's current Paid Parental Leave scheme tends to lock mums into the role of primary carer and undermine their economic security, leading to a loss of work opportunities.

This motion and the Greens policy would begin to encourage both parents to share the parenting load and to normalise working arrangements that help families juggle work and caring responsibilities. It's high time we fixed paid parental leave in this country, and it's time that this government got on board with this plan. I support this bill.

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