Australia has became one of the last advanced economies to introduce a paid parental leave scheme after Parliament passed historic legislation giving mums or dads 4 months of financial support to spend time with their newborns.
Nanjing Night Net

Parents will be able to apply for the 18 weeks’ leave, paid at the minimum wage of $570 a week, within months and begin taking the time off from January 1.

Families Minister Jenny Macklin described it as a historic day and a big win for families.

”Parents will get more support to stay home with a new baby, and children will get the best start in life. Businesses will also retain more skilled workers,” she said.

”It is especially important for those casual workers, seasonal workers, part-time workers, those contract and self-employed workers, many, many of whom have never had access to paid parental leave,” she said.

About 148,000 families are expected to qualify for the scheme that also requires employers to top it up with any program they already have in place.

It is available to a child’s primary care giver, either mother or father, and can be taken at any point in the first year after birth or adoption. To be eligible, the parent must have worked at least one day a week for 10 of the 13 months before the birth or adoption, and must earn less than $150,000 a year.

Parents can choose between the leave and the $5185 baby bonus. The Government estimates 85 per cent of families will be better off with the leave, receiving on average $2000 more after tax and family assistance are taken into account.

National Foundation for Australian Women spokeswoman Marie Coleman said it was a great day.

”This is something we have worked for for so long, and it is of such importance to women, particularly but not only all those women who work on low-paid jobs on a casual or part-time basis without any entitlements it is going to make a huge difference to them,” she said.

She said this scheme was a beginning and Australia needed to improve it over time.

”We think over time and as the economy can afford it, we have got to move to 26 weeks. We have to move to income replacement, and we have got to make sure that we have superannuation built in. Those are the three key bits,” she said.

”You do those as you can. I think once the scheme has been running for a year, or two years, small business will discover that the sky won’t fall in.”

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said it was also a historic day for fathers, noting that the leave could be shared between parents.

”The paid parental leave scheme is about mums and dads,” she said.

She said 18 weeks was a good start, but the scheme should be extended to six months with extra leave for fathers: ”Until you isolate a component just for dads on a use it or lose it basis, most dads won’t take any of the leave.”

Ms Broderick was also concerned that the scheme did not include superannuation.

Ms Macklin encouraged businesses to build on the Government scheme, and effectively top it up.

”When you put together existing paid parental leave schemes, add the Government’s 18 weeks and the leave that many parents save up for when they have their babies, it will be the case that for many, many parents they will have six months’ leave.”

Unions and business groups also welcomed the new laws.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said it was a hard-won and important reform.

”There will be compliance costs for business, which are always onerous. However the reform is one which we are confident will prove to be beneficial for Australia,” she said.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson was disappointed Opposition amendments that would have meant the Government administered the payments, instead of businesses, were not enforced.

The Opposition won support for this change in the Senate yesterday morning, causing the legislation to bounce back and forth between the two chambers through the day until the upper house said it would accept the unamended laws in the late afternoon.

Liberal senator Mitch Fifield said while the scheme was flawed, the Coalition was not prepared to force the issue and hold its progress up any further.

”The Opposition has been very reasonable. We haven’t sought to obstruct, we haven’t sought to delay, we haven’t sought to imperil this legislation.”

The Opposition is promising a more generous scheme, which will last six months, replace income up to $75,000 over that time and include superannuation. with AAP