Minister Rishworth interview on ABC NewRadio Breakfast with Tom Oriti


Topics: Paid Parental Leave scheme expansion, Supermarkets and cost of living

TOM ORITI, HOST: If you’re a new parent, or caregiver, or you perhaps know someone who is, you might know just how important it is to take time off work before and after childbirth or adoption. Well, yesterday the Senate passed legislation to extend Australia's total paid leave offered to new parents to 26 weeks, instead of the current 20 weeks. That's set to begin in 2026. And for more on what this means for families, we're joined now by the Minister for Social Services, Amanda Rishworth. Minister, good morning. Thanks for your time.


TOM ORITI: Great to have you with us. So, I mentioned a bit there, but can you explain what these changes entail? How will this new system work?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, what we will see is from the first of July this year, the Paid Parental Leave scheme, which is currently 20 weeks, will go up two weeks, and then the next year will go up another two weeks and the year after that another two weeks. So that we will reach a total number of weeks, from 20 weeks to 26 weeks, that parents will be paid by the Government when they take parental leave at the birth of a new baby, by 2026. In addition, though, we're going to be reserving a certain number of weeks for each parent, four weeks for each parent, to encourage shared care and also increase the weeks that care can be taken together. So, over four weeks, both parents will be able to take that time off together. So, we think these are really important changes to support shared care, to give people more time and increase the flexibility for families.

TOM ORITI: I want to ask you about the shared care component of this in a moment, actually, but can you quantify this for us a bit? How many families do you feel are set to benefit from these changes?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Every year, approximately 180,000 families do claim Paid Parental Leave. So, we expect that number to be roughly the same over the next few years. So, we're talking about 180,000 families. Obviously, many of these families do also get workplace entitlements of paid leave as well. And of course, importantly, that adds to the Government Paid Parental Leave. It doesn't replace it. So, if people are eligible through the means testing, then they will also get both the Government and their workplace entitlement.

TOM ORITI: Just on the shared care side of things. I'm keen to get your thoughts on that. How significant is it that? This seems to be more gender equitable for fathers?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: It's really important that we encourage fathers to take time off work at the birth of a newborn baby. One of the strong recommendations coming from the Women's Economic Equality Taskforce, but also from economists, is that the most important time to encourage fathers to take time off that leads to an ongoing pattern is actually at the birth of their babies. So, by reserving four weeks for each parent and then allowing the rest of the outstanding weeks to be divided any way that family sees fit, really, we hope, will ensure and encourage that shared care, which means that both parents get the opportunity to take the active role in their child's life. And certainly when I speak to a lot of fathers, they would like that encouragement. It's not because they don't want to spend the time, but they would like that encouragement and that financial support, and that's what we're doing with these changes.

TOM ORITI: Minister, I do note the ACTU, the president of the Council of Trade Unions, Michele O'Neil, she wants the scheme to be expanded to 52 weeks. So, going much further than the current 26. But, yeah, when we look at how much of a financial strain young children place on households, and I can personally attest to that in recent times, is there anything more the Government could be doing to address that side of things?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Obviously this is the largest expansion of Paid Parental Leave since its inception in 2011. It pretty much wasn't touched for ten years and now we've come on to expand it. The other piece that is a long-term piece is our recent announcement of putting superannuation, or paying superannuation on this leave. Because, of course, taking time out of work and not making the contributions to your superannuation can often be one of the reasons women end up with a smaller retirement saving. We are always looking at ways that we can better support families. And if you see what we did in the Budget with our extension of the Single Parenting Payment, that was a really important one. But of course, our tax cuts are critical. Our tax cuts help. I think the figures are every woman working will get a tax cut, but 90 per cent of women will be better off as a result of Labor's tax cut changes. That's immediate support that we can provide to families as well.

TOM ORITI: In terms of supporting families, we've been talking about the big supermarkets again today, and certainly not the first time we have on this program. The Greens are set to introduce a bill to Parliament with the aim of giving the ACCC powers to force Coles and Woolworths to sell parts of their business if they were found to be misusing their market dominance. How do you feel about that? Would you support that legislation? Quite rare to see the Greens and the Nats together walking down the same aisle.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, I'm a bit surprised. The National party, after being in government for ten years and not doing anything, suddenly have had a light bulb moment. But, look, this is not something we would be supporting necessarily. But that's not to say that we don't want to see more competitive and fairer outcomes for consumers. Of course, firstly, we've been focused on getting more competition and we've increased the penalty for anti-competitive conduct and banned unfair contract terms. But, importantly, we have appointed Dr Craig Emerson to review the food and grocery code of conduct and to actually look at what we can do to improve that code of conduct.

TOM ORITI: Sorry, but isn't the core part of this that you have two supermarkets that have about 74 per cent of the market share in Australia? David Littleproud was with us about an hour ago saying that's the core issue here. We have that duopoly. We don't need anyone investigating that?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: How they operate is critical and the food and grocery code of conduct is critical. But we've also initiated an ACCC inquiry into supermarket prices and commissioned consumer groups to provide quarterly price reporting. So, we do have to make sure that we have got competition. David Littleproud, he was in a position of power for a long time and didn't do anything with that power in Government. We're getting on with the job of methodically working through this and we will keep raising these issues to make sure that we see competition in the market.

TOM ORITI: I guess, admittedly, the cost of living crisis is getting worse and worse. You'd be seeing that in your portfolio. Do you think that households have the time and the patience to wait for the outcomes of more inquiries, considering they're doing it so tough right now and struggling to put food on the table?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Absolutely we understand people are doing it tough and that's why we're looking at the levers that government can pull, like encouraging more competitive, more fairer outcomes for consumers. But it’s also why we are providing the tax cuts, why we are actually ensuring we're changing the laws to ensure peoples real wages go up. This is the type of action people would expect government to take when there are issues around cost of living. And we continue to do that. We've increased income support. So, these are the sorts of things that we're very focused on. But of course having fair outcomes for consumers is critical, and we will continue to pursue that. But I do think it's a bit rich of David Littleproud. He was a Minister. He was in Cabinet. He could have done something about it then and he chose not to.

TOM ORITI: Minister, great to have you on the program. Thank you very much for your time.