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Lib maternity scheme lacks equality: ANU expert

THE Opposition’s scheme for paid parental leave could lead to equity issues in recipients, an expert in social welfare policy said last week (21st April, 2010).

Tony Abbott announced a scheme offering six months paid leave that matched the income of the parent, to a capped amount, but Dr Ann Nevile, senior lecturer for the policy and governance program at the Australian National University, disagrees with the idea. She said that paying at the wage rate could lead to problems of equity for those on lower salaries.

“Do those women earning . . . $90,000 a year really need $90,000 a year for 18 months . . . to survive? So I think that if you did pay people’s wages you’d have to means test it much more severely,” Dr Nevile said.

Liberal Senator in the ACT Gary Humphries supports Abbott’s scheme saying that parents will need their income replaced at their wage rate to cope with their personal financial situation.

“We see so many families these days that are under huge amounts of mortgage stress, and for those people, the loss of income, throughout the time the mother is at home with the child, or possibly the father, will be enormously financially difficult for them,” Senator Humphries said.

Dr Nevile said that instead the policy should encompass greater parts of the population but at the same time take into account the government’s limited budget.

“I think on balance you’d probably be better off with a lower payment and spread more over a wider section of the population,” Dr Nevile said.

Australia is now one of only two OECD countries, including the United States, which has not legislated for mandatory paid parental leave, according to the National Foundation of Australian Women website.

Part of the need for paid parental leave is to allow working women, and men, greater opportunities to stay at home with their newborn children. The Liberals are concerned that the 18 weeks proposed by the Federal Government will not be enough.

Senator Humphries said that research from the Murdoch Institute shows that parents going back to work too soon could have a detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the child. He said the best route would be to provide more time for women at home.

“I think we need to provide women with a real incentive to leave the workforce and stay at home with their children for at least the first six months of the child’s life,” he said.

However, Dr Nevile said the Federal Government’s 18 weeks of paid parental leave is sufficient.

“The government has made a decision not to impose the cost on employers, but the taxpayers bear it by the general funding of the scheme,” she said. “So it’s a balance, and I think it’s a reasonable balance.”

The Federal Government plans to introduce its scheme by January next year.

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