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It's Time To Get Serious on Paid Parental Leave

THE Federal Government's 18-week paid parental scheme is not a serious enough response to the needs of families.

They know it, we know it, and the public certainly knows it.

What's not clear is whether the government is so wedded to a weak proposal that it is willing to see this vital reform go down just so it can have another election issue to fight on.

When the Greens announced our policy for six months' parental leave last year, the argument was still stuck on the notion of whether a paid parental leave scheme was necessary in the first place.

Thankfully we have moved on since then, as both main parties now realise that this issue is critical to providing support for families and maintaining female participation levels in the workforce.

Both sides should receive credit for their commitment to delivering a scheme.

Now it's a question of how we pay for it and how we deliver it.

What the Greens want is a fair, viable and effective response to one of the most urgent policy questions facing Australia.

To deliver this, the government's scheme must be amended. Eighteen weeks is not enough; the scheme must have six months' leave plus superannuation.

It may be awkward for the government that their weak proposal doesn't match up to other available options, but that's no excuse for not working to achieve the best public policy outcome. The bottom line is that six months is the minimum acceptable length for paid parental leave and superannuation has to be included.

How much would this cost, without fiddling with the government's proposal for payments set at the minimum wage? $740 million a year.

Despite our strong record on educating women, Australia is ranked a shameful 23rd out of 24 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries for female workforce participation. It's no coincidence that Australia is also one of only two OECD countries without a government-funded paid parental leave scheme.

The other country is the US, but even that country has significant cover for families through state-based schemes. Australia still has no scheme in place, and if we let this debate degenerate into election-year sniping, then families will suffer and Australia's workforce will suffer too, from missing out on talented women who can't participate because they don't have the support they need.

The sad truth is that even six months of parental leave is still well behind some of the schemes in place overseas.

Canada has 28 weeks' parental leave, Greece has 34 weeks, the UK has a 39-week scheme, and Sweden offers families 47 weeks.

There seems to be a pattern emerging that when the Prime Minister and his government are under pressure the knee-jerk response is to blame everybody else.

We need genuine leadership on this issue, not just an expectation that everyone should accept the path of least resistance just to get any old scheme accepted.

No one should be acting to block progress on paid parental leave.

It is vital that a viable, effective scheme is in place before the federal election.

The Coalition has acknowledged it may have to support an amended version of the government's legislation.

Everyone realises that compromise will be needed to achieve a good outcome.

The government needs to recognise this as well. The role of the Senate is to scrutinise government legislation and, where possible, make it better. Already it seems clear the Senate has had a look at what the government is offering, and has found it wanting.

We believe the government should face reality and amend its scheme to meet the twin requirements of six months' leave and provision for superannuation.

This is the best opportunity we have had to achieve a paid parental leave scheme.

More than ever, now is the time for investment to help new parents balance their family and work commitments, and for government to take the lead in making this happen. We can't sell Australian families short on parental leave because it's too much of an effort to do anything else.

It's up to all parties to work together so we can get this done.


* This article was also published in The Australian newspaper and online. Click here to read: 

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