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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (15 May) . . Page.. 1665 ..

MRS CROSS (continuing):

Mr Speaker, each year the International Day of Families has a theme. This year's theme is "Families and Ageing: Opportunities and Challenges". Societies everywhere are getting older. On a worldwide scale, life expectancy has increased by 22 years to 66 years of age and is projected to extend by an additional 10 years by 2050. In the ACT we fare much better than that already.

The demographic challenge ahead of us relates to the rate of change in our median age. Overall, we need to take greater account of an older person's life experience and their contribution to society. Families and older persons perform important societal tasks and, because of this, must not be portrayed or thought of as only being a financial burden for the community.

One example very much in the public arena thanks to Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, is paid maternity leave. Opinions on the merits of paid maternity leave vary widely. Personally-and I emphasise that this is my personal opinion-I believe there is a good case for paid leave and that it would be good for both families and business.

People need to get out of their heads any notion that mothers are bludgers who are just after a handout. Paid maternity leave would only be for women who already had a job and who, after taking a brief period off work to have a family, wanted to go back to that job.

I believe the benefits of paid maternity leave far outweigh any of the negatives that have been thrown up so far. There is a real benefit for employers to know that a trained employee will be back at their job after a few weeks away. Employers would be more likely to invest in training, knowing they would have a more stable work force.

One of the hurdles to overcome would be how to fund a national maternity leave scheme. In this regard, Ms Goward has put forward several models for community debate. A national scheme of 12 weeks paid maternity leave at a basic minimum wage would cost about $300 million per year. At first glimpse, this cost does not appear prohibitive and could be partially offset by the government's current baby bonus payments.

Suggested models range from ones totally government funded to ones with a combination of government and business funding, much like superannuation. Personally, I prefer a combination of government funds and tax credits for business as the most viable option. I am working on such a model that I hope to send to the Prime Minister's office soon.

As taxpayers, we all shoulder the cost of unemployment benefit and various pensions. In many respects, maternity leave is no different. Growing families benefit all parts of the community. Each year fewer and fewer women are willing to derail their careers in order to have a family. It makes no sense to penalise families for wanting to have children, especially now that Australia's population growth is no longer sustainable.

The International Day of Families is an important day to celebrate. I strongly encourage the government, when putting their budget together over the coming weeks, to consider the needs of families and the value that strong families add to our community.

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