Minister Rishworth interviewed on Sky News


Topic: Paid Parental Leave, Industrial Relations changes, childcare workers

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Paid parental leave is being extended from 20 to 26 weeks. The income test is changing as well. Joining me now is Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth - thanks for your time. Just on the income test, so $150,000 is the carer’s income test, but the family test is being brought in at $350,000 is it whatever is best for the family, they chose the eligibility?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: It is whatever is better for the family. Importantly, there is an individual income test, which at the moment only applies to the birth parent. We will be changing that, so that it will apply to whoever is taking the leave, which is really important, or the family income test – whichever is better for people. So this is a really welcome change that better supports those that are taking time to care for a newborn baby.

TOM CONNELL: The take up at the moment is 57 per cent give or take for mothers, 30 per cent for dads and partners on that pay. Is the issue here that it's paid at minimum wage? Would you like to get this higher and even look towards replacement wage ultimately – do you see that as a longer term goal?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, for mothers that are eligible, there is a relatively high take-up. Where we see not as significant take up is dad's taking Dad and Partner Pay. At the moment that's a separate payment that you have to apply for. It can't be taken with other leave, your employer leave or any payments from the employer, so we want to see a much more streamlined system for families. One payment which allows you to split up the leave which best suits your family, reserving two weeks for each parent as a start and then slowly expanding that to get to 26 weeks. We think that the better means test and the more streamlined application process will benefit dads too and second income earners, to be able to take it while they take other leave and will boost take up significantly. 
TOM CONNELL: And just on qualification then, so if a dad in a family is not eligible because of their salary, but the mother in the family is, can that dad still get the same access to parental leave? Can they split it however they want even though they have to only they only apply for the scheme under the mother's income?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: No, no the amount of leave taken by the mother will be means tested on the mother or the primary income earner or on the family income test in that circumstance. 

TOM CONNELL: Right, so it does mean that you've still got, with a gender pay gap and men earning more that there's a bit of an anomaly there, that women at this stage will keep taking longer off because it'll make more sense for the family?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, no, because at the moment there has been situations in which men have been earning less than their partner, but have not technically been able to be eligible under the individual income test. And I've had that raised with me on numerous occasions. This will then allow for the father say to be eligible on his income. That was a significant block in the past. But also if you look at the family income test of $350,000 this will significantly increase the availability at the moment for that dad and partner pay it is income tested at $150,000.

TOM CONNELL: It opens up for the stream you were talking about I guess, not my example, but it does increase it. I wanted to talk about IR changes. Because the Government's been asked about this and says ‘yes, this would, for example, allow childcare centres to do industry wide bargaining and presumably push for higher wages’, which is part of what the Government has been talking about. But that will push up wages and that that would mean parents paying more for childcare, wouldn't it? Right at a time when you're increasing the subsidy and maybe cancelling that out?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, look what our industrial relations changes are broadly about, is importantly, making sure that in a situation where those female-dominated industries have been underpaid for a long time to have the chance to be able to go to the Fair Work Commission and actually argue about gender equality and gender fairness when it comes to wages. That's a really important ability to go to the Fair Work Commission. Obviously, if that decision is made by the Fair Work Commission, we're going a lot of steps down the road. But importantly, what our changes are about is ensuring that of course, those in female-dominated industries have been historically underpaid. There has been the need for a male comparator when it came to, for example, early childhood workers. We're getting rid of that so it is about broadly making the system fit for purpose and addressing that historical problem.

TOM CONNELL: I understand that, it is not that many steps down the path. What we've got here is one Labor policy-  let's reduce childcare costs for parents-  another policy to increase wages which will increase childcare costs for parents, those two things, if you get your policy desires out of this, those two things will both happen?

AMANDA RISHWORTH: We'll be working through the changes to industrial relations as we've worked through with the Fair Work Commission around the increase to the case that is before the court on aged care workers. We will continue to work through these but what we're going to do is try and ensure that our industrial relations system is fit for purpose. And ensures that that particularly in female-dominated industries across the board are getting the chance for fair pay and conditions.

TOM CONNELL: We're going to have to leave it there, Minister. Thanks for your time today.