October 24, 2016

SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s unfair cuts to Paid Parental Leave, The Turnbull Government has no plan for jobs, Housing Affordability.  

FRAN KELLY: Jenny Macklin is the Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, and she joins me now in the Breakfast studio. Jenny Macklin, welcome to Breakfast.

JENNY MACKLIN: Great to be here.

KELLY: Now, according to the Minister, these changes will mean only 4% of working mothers will no longer be eligible for any taxpayer funded parental leave. That’s because they can claim their 18 weeks from a private scheme. Essentially their argument is that nobody misses out.

MACKLIN: Why doesn’t he tell the whole story? In fact, 80,000 mothers are going to be worse off to the tune of up to $12,000 if this Government gets their way. That’s actually what is going to happen and we estimate that 40,000-50,000 women that are already pregnant are going to lose some or all of their government funded parental leave, which is a pretty modest scheme by international standards, 18 weeks paid at the minimum wage. What this government wants to do is take some of that away from many women who are on very modest incomes.

KELLY: Well let’s talk about that because the Social Services Minister Christian Porter, he’s in WA and we’ll be speaking to him after 8.30, he gives the examples of a woman earning $140,000 a year, and often many of the examples that the Government gives are public sector workers, currently she could claim more than $44,000 through a combination of government funded and private paid parental leave and $44,000 is more than many women on the minimum wage earn in an entire year. So it’s not fair or equitable.

MACKLIN: And the truth of it is of course, the median income of people who are affected by the cuts that the Government is going to implement is around $43,000 a year. That’s their income. So we’re talking about people who are working in retail, hospitality, companies like Myer, McDonalds, Woolworths, so all of these companies have modest paid parental leave schemes, and when you join their modest paid parental leave scheme, together with the Government’s scheme, mothers who have new babies are able to spend time at home, very precious time at home, with their newborn babies. If this Government  gets its way, these people who are on very modest incomes are either  going to have to go back to work so that they can pay their bills, or if they do decide to stay at home, of course they will have less money and their family income will be worse. So this is a direct attack on new mothers in this country. Many thousands of whom are already pregnant.

KELLY: So just to make it clear for people, the Government’s change would mean that currently if you were pregnant under the current system, you could get the 18 weeks paid parental leave at the minimum wage paid by the taxpayer, the Government, and if you were lucky enough to be in an employer scheme you might get 6 weeks or 8 weeks or 12 weeks on top of that.

MACKLIN: That’s right.

KELLY: Some people could get 40 weeks paid at different levels, but paid.

MACKLIN: Not very many though, and I think that’s the…

KELLY: Well what is it? It’s about 50/50. 50% get only access to the minimum wage paid parental leave scheme, isn’t it?

MACKLIN: That’s right, and the important thing to remember is that some of the employer schemes are very modest, and of course, they’re paid at the person’s wage. The vast majority of young women having babies, they’re not getting paid exorbitant wages, most of them who are working in retail, for example, are on very modest wages, and they’re the people who are of course going to be very hard hit. The Government is taking $1 billion out of the pockets of new mothers. So this measure is not just going to hurt very high income women. There’s not $1 billion to take off very high income women. It is going to affect low and middle income women and the Government is going to take $1 billion. I think people need to really understand, it’s a huge amount of money out of the pockets of expecting mothers.

KELLY: I’ve got a lot to get through here today, but just on this, in a speech the Minister cited studies that show, quote, for mothers with higher incomes the current government paid scheme is not having a significant impact on the time that they take off from work or the timing of their return to work. In other words, women with access to private schemes do not need to be topped up by taxpayers to encourage them to stay at home.

MACKLIN: I mean the other great thing that the evaluation of Labor’s paid parental leave scheme is that for low and middle income women, they are able to stay at home and spend more times at home with their newborn babies. That is why we designed it the way we did. We took the advice of the Productivity Commission. They said combine the government’s modest scheme with employers schemes, that way mothers will get enough time at home with their babies.

KELLY: What about the sweetener in this revised Bill which includes changes to the work test and backdating arrangements, so that for the first time women who might be in dangerous jobs and have to quit because they are pregnant…

MACKLIN: Sure, they’re reasonable things to think about but what we’re worried about is the bigger issue which is that the Government wants to attack the very basis of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme we have in Australia which is the combination of a modest government scheme with employer schemes. We want to make sure that mothers are able to spend time at home with their newborn babies and they can do that with the combined schemes that we have at the moment.

KELLY: I think you’ve probably heard some of the Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge on AM earlier saying in the speech he’s going to say that the Government is going to look at tightening the rules for claiming unemployment benefits, basically he says, and this is a quote, ‘our expectations for the unemployed are too low, we give them too many excuses, basically, for not going to work.’ Are you on board with tightening the eligibility and arguing that the penalties should be imposed a bit more quickly than they are?

MACKLIN: Well I think one of the most important things we have to do in this country is drive ourselves to make sure there are more jobs. One of the most difficult issues in Australia right now is that unemployment is too high and underemployment is too high. Every single figure I see shows that more and more people want more work. They’ve got a little bit of work but they don’t have enough work. We’ve got more than 1 million people who want more work and all this Government can do is attack the unemployed. We’ve got the worst example ever of the Government saying they want to leave young people with nothing to live on for 5 weeks. So the Government, I think, should acknowledge that the problem in this country is an economic one. There aren’t enough jobs - full time jobs - and they should be doing a lot more to make sure that those jobs are available.

KELLY: One of the other problems in this country is housing affordability, particularly on the eastern seaboard and the Treasurer in a speech today is saying that the market is getting away from people not matter how hard they work or save or even earn. He’s saying that they are finding it harder and harder to get in to the market, particularly in Melbourne and here in Sydney. He’s saying to the states, ‘you’ve got to do more.’ Particularly on land use and land release regulations. Do you welcome that?

MACKLIN: Honestly, this Treasurer must have been asleep for the last couple of years. This is not a new problem. We have a serious problem of housing affordability in this country. The Treasurer should do something in his own area of responsibility, address the problems of negative gearing and capital gains tax present to the problem of housing affordability. Not just blame the states. That’s actually where the problem lies at the Federal level. The Treasurer should take Labor’s negative gearing and capital gains tax policy, that way we will see housing affordability addressed.

KELLY:  Jenny Macklin, just finally can I come to divisions within the Labor party. Last week there were some pretty ugly factional brawls within the Left, which is the faction that you’re in, one of your colleagues, Gavin Marshall basically said that there are some people who should clear out and implied that you are one of them. He said that you are about to retire.  This is your 21st year in Parliament - will you contest the next election?

MACKLIN: I’ll not only contest the next election Fran, I’ve actually just won the last one with an increased majority which I’m very pleased about. We’ve got a huge number of issues to take up with this Government. As you’ll know one of the areas that I’m pursuing is the issue of increasing inequality in this country. I’ve still got plenty of passion to pursue these issues and I intend to.

KELLY: So do you want to send a message to Gavin Marshall? Have you had a word to him?

MACKLIN: No, I’m not going to worry about that Fran. I’m going to get on with my job. I’m going to make sure that women who need time off with their newborn babies have got it and I want to make sure that the Turnbull Government is held to account. That’s what I’ll do.  



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