The Federal Government’s Paid Parental Leave (PPL) program has been branded ‘pathetic’ and ‘cheapskate’ just six months before it is due to become law.
In a fiery debate hosted by the Diversity Council Australia, leading industry figures discussed PPL proposals, asking not ‘if’ but ‘how’ the scheme will operate.
Dr Sharman Stone MP, shadow minster for the status of women, early childhood, education and childcare, attacked the Labor Government’s proposed measures for being below what Australian women should expect, saying the initial levels of paid leave are too low.
Amazingly, Australia is currently one of only two countries in the western world that does not have paid parental leave.
Dr Stone argued that after waiting so many years for such a scheme to arrive, a more generous offering should prevail. “I don’t why Australian women should have to wait for something that in the first instance is second best. Why is it that Australians, who have waited so long, should have a pathetic and cheapskate scheme introduced? Why not make the first step of PPL something that all new families can participate in?”
The Labor scheme, which will offer parents payments at the level of Federal Minimum Wage for a maximum period of 18 weeks, will apply to parents who have a baby on January 1 2011 onwards.
Tony Abbott’s Coalition Government has promised a more generous program, funded by employers. The Coalition’s PPL scheme will provide primary carers with 26 weeks’ paid parental leave, at full replacement pay.
Senator Jacinta Collins, special advisor for work and family balance and pay equity, said the Labor program was a good starting point for PPL legislation in Australia despite not being as generous as Abbott’s proposals.
“The main difference between our scheme and Coalition scheme is that our scheme is funded without needing to rely on a big new tax to pay for it. Under the Coalition’s arrangement you are essentially asking everyday tax payers to pay for significant leave entitlements for people with above average weekly earnings.
“The Labor scheme brings Australia to international standards for parental leave and doesn’t benefit one sector more than the other.”
Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, was quick to point out that any disagreements held between the two political parties were merely drawing attention away from the importance of keeping the scheme simple for employers.
“Can we not find a way to make it so complicated that we kill it? The more moving parts this has, the less people will want to touch it,” she said. “Australia has been schizophrenic as a community about this subject for years. We’ve wanted change but we’ve not been willing to fund it. Other countries have been much faster putting their money where their mouth is.”
Professor Marian Baird, Work and Organisational Studies, the University of Sydney, added: “It has taken so long to get to this point. Finally parental leave is a real election issue – it’s a huge step forward.”