Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tony Abbott unveils controversial maternity leave scheme - The Daily Telegraph

Charntelle Finch (due sept 30). Picture: Bradley Hunter Source: News Limited

EVERY working woman in Australia will secure six months leave on full pay plus super for each baby born after July 1, 2015 under an Abbott government.

A woman on average weekly earnings of $65,000 per year would get about $32,500 during her 26 weeks' leave.

Tony Abbott will today unveil his big pitch to Australian families - a generous paid parental leave scheme that will also deliver fathers two weeks paternity leave at their actual salary and mothers up to 26 weeks leave on full pay.

For the first time, he will reveal the 2015 start date of his new scheme. Mr Abbott will also confirm that the Coalition's decision to also pay working women's superannuation entitlements while on baby leave will ensure women on average weekly earnings who have two children will be better off by $50,000 when they retire.

Women earning $65,000 a year would secure an extra $20,000 in cash payments under Mr Abbott's scheme compared to Labor's plan.

An exclusive Galaxy poll published today in The Sunday Telegraph suggests the policy is a winner, with 44 per cent of voters backing Mr Abbott's paid parental leave scheme compared to 36 per cent who preferred Labor's existing scheme.

The scheme, which has been fully costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, will involve a net additional cost to taxpayers of $6.1 billion over the forward estimates. That's after Mr Abbott hits 3000 of Australia's largest companies with a 1.5 per cent tax levy to pay for the scheme.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Abbott said he made no apology for offering such a generous scheme to working women. The father of three confirmed he hoped it would deliver women more choice to have more kids.

"Every working mum is going to be better off under our policy,'' Mr Abbott said.

"It proves that the Coalition 'gets it' when it comes to the reality of the contemporary woman and contemporary families.

"The fact is very few families these days can survive on a single income. Just about every family needs more than one income to survive. So if we are serious about allowing women to have kids and a career we've got to have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme."

The Coalition's offer of six months on full pay compares with Labor's scheme which offers all working women 18 weeks pay at the minimum wage - a maximum of $11,200.

That compares with Mr Abbott's scheme which will offer women earning up to $150,000 six months off work on full pay to care for their baby. Women who earn over $150,000 will also get the maximum $75,000.

During the Howard Government, Mr Abbott famously said paid parental leave would happen "over this government's dead body, frankly".

Charntelle Finch (due sept 30) and Tracey Bahamondez (due Dec 15 with twins). Picture: Bradley Hunter Source: News Limited

COMMENT: SAMANTHA MAIDEN

TONY Abbott's big legacy for the women of Australia if he is elected Prime Minister will be one very generous paid maternity scheme.

But big business will pick up the tab with every company in Australia with a turnover of more than $5 million a year slapped with a new 1.5 per cent levy from 2015.

Offering women six months off work on their full wage, the Liberal leader hopes it will encourage couples to have more kids but also act as an incentive for women to stay in the workforce and boost Australia's productivity.

Naturally, mums can choose to take the cash and take it over a year at half pay too. But it's just for working women. Stay at home mums will still get the baby bonus unless they meet the work test. Part-time if fine, as long as you have worked for 330 hours - just over one day a week - in the 10 months leading up to the birth of your child.

The Liberal leader has told us plenty about what he doesn't want - the carbon tax, the mining tax, the chaos of the Rudd-Gillard years.

Finally, he's talking about what he wants to do as Prime Minister and it is a big, big reform. Tony Abbott has resisted stiff internal pressure to dump or amend the scheme. It really is his baby.

"I know there are some people who say this is an odd policy for a conservative to have,'' Mr Abbott says.

"The policies that conservatives adopt should be the best way to reflect conservative views in modern circumstances. Being pro family is a conservative position. Being pro children is a conservative position. And if you want to be pro family and pro child in the modern era I reckon you need to have a paid parental leave policy."

But he admits that the ultimate goal of dumping the levy on business is a long, long time down the track. Perhaps never.

"Given the budgetary position we are in I don't expect that to happen anytime soon,'' he says.

According the Parliamentary Budget Office the scheme will cost over $5 billion a year when it is fully up and running. But that cost will be offset by abolishing Labor's existing paid parental leave scheme that pays women 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage. There's also some savings around Family Tax Benefit A and B payments that would not occur if women were on baby leave.

There would be no double dipping by public servants who already have access to existing schemes and that would save money too. So once those savings are made the scheme would cost around $3.5 billion a year. That cost would be fully accounted for according to Mr Abbott by a levy on big business to pay for the scheme.

The big criticism is that it will offer big windfalls to a small group of high income women. A woman earning $150,000 for example can get $75,000 from taxpayers to care for a baby.

But in key battleground seats the majority of women don't earn that. Most earn somewhere between the minimum wage and $65,000 and they will be much better off under Tony Abbott's scheme than Labor's more modest offering.


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