The start of Australia's first national paid parental leave scheme today is the result of 30 years of hard work by dedicated women and men across the country keen for a better deal for Australian parents and most importantly, for newborn babies.
When I had my first child almost 30 years ago, I realised how important it was for parents to be able to spend time at home with their babies.
The emotional bond you have with your newborn is something you can't imagine beforehand. For me, the thought of having to put my new baby into child care at a very early age was difficult. At the same time, the financial cost of taking time off work weighed on my mind.
As a young woman working for a small organisation, telling my boss that I was pregnant wasn't easy. In the end, my organisation managed to give me about a month off work, while my partner, a teacher, took unpaid leave for a year to care for our baby, which was very unusual in those days.
Over the years, as I've worked to achieve a national paid parental leave scheme, I've met many women across Australia who faced much more difficult situations than mine.
Like the young couple I met in Sydney who had a very sick newborn baby in hospital. The mum was a casual hospitality worker with no paid parental leave, and both parents had to go back to work very soon after the birth, doing shifts between time at the hospital to be with their baby son.
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Paid parental leave will help families such as this. It will provide more families with the financial support to make their own choices about work and family responsibilities when their baby is born.
The paid parental leave scheme provides up to 18 weeks' government-funded parental leave pay at the national minimum wage (at present $570 per week before tax) for eligible parents of children born or adopted from January 1, 2011.
It is important for Australian women to remain connected to the workforce when they take time off to have a baby.
Australian women reduce their labour-force participation to a greater extent during child bearing years than women in other comparable countries. Almost one-fifth of women in paid work resign instead of taking leave around childbirth.
Decisions women make during their childbearing years have long-term consequences for their future income and wellbeing in retirement. Paid parental leave will make the choice to remain connected to the workforce easier for women.
Mothers are not the only winners. Fundamentally, this reform is good for babies. I have seen more and more research documenting how important a child's early months are for their long-term development.
Spending those crucial early months at home is important for mothers, giving them time to recover from birth, to establish breastfeeding if they can and to bond with their babies.
It is also good for employers. When you consider the time and money businesses invest in training and development, and the costs associated with hiring new staff, holding on to skilled staff makes good business sense.
Paid parental leave is a workplace entitlement, just like sick leave or holiday leave.
That's why we have designed a scheme that deliberately incorporates a role for employers in passing on the government-funded parental leave pay to their long-term employees through their normal pay cycle.
This is a historic reform and I am proud of the Labor government for delivering it.
It has taken decades of hard work by Australian women and men to reach this point and I'm sure it will benefit mothers, fathers and babies for decades to come.
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