Let's hope the treasurer was listening to the National Commission of Audit, writes Amanda Vanstone. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
- Hockey falters on key $3.5 billion budget issue
- $185k not 'especially high'?
- How the childcare changes affect you
Almost 80,000 new mothers will lose some or all of their government parental leave payments in a move slammed by a key consultant for the paid parental leave scheme as "the mother of all insults".
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told colleagues that the government's approach to defence and security was popular with people in "voterland". Photo: AFP
Treasurer Joe Hockey made the surprise announcement on Mother's Day, as the Abbott government revealed its new childcare package ahead of Tuesday's budget.
The move represents a stunning turnaround from the government that less than six months ago was still promising to provide six months of paid parental leave for families, under Mr Abbott's now-dumped "signature" policy.
It will see almost half of new mothers lose access to the full $11,500 available under the federal government's existing scheme from July 2016.
Marian Baird, Professor of Gender and Employment Relations at the University of Sydney. Photo: AFR
Currently, mothers can access parental leave payments both from the modest government scheme and from their employer, if their workplace has one. The government scheme, introduced by Labor in 2011, provides 18 weeks of leave at the minimum wage to primary care givers earning $150,000 a year or less.
But Mr Hockey told Channel Nine on Sunday that current arrangements enabled new mothers to double dip.
"We are going to stop that ... You cannot get both parental leave from your employer and from taxpayers."
The Treasurer said the cut would save nearly $1 billion over four years, but added there was "no specific figure" on how many people would be hit. Prime Minister Tony Abbott also declined to give a specific figure during his press conference in Sydney.
"I just want to stress the fairness element," he said.
Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney that he was a big supporter of paid parental leave, but for a "whole host of reasons" the government had decided "the time was not right for the fullness of the policy that we took to the last election".
Figures later supplied by the government show that 47 per cent of eligible mothers are expected to lose out from the new measure.
About 27 per cent of new mothers - about 45,000 women a year - will have access only to a partial government payment because they have some employer entitlements, which are less than the government scheme. About 20 per cent of mothers - about 34,000 women a year - are estimated to lose the government support entirely, as their workplace scheme is more than the government scheme.
Meanwhile, more than 50 per cent of mothers - about 90,000 women a year - are due to be unaffected as they do not have an employer-provided parental leave payment.
A member of the expert panel evaluating the existing paid parental leave scheme, Sydney University professor of employment relations Marian Baird, said the proposed changes were "the mother of all insults" especially on Mother's Day.
Professor Baird said the scheme was designed to allow women to "complement" their employer scheme with the government's one.
"This really undermines the architecture of the scheme and its original philosophy," she said.
"And to now say that mothers are double dipping is just rude and cruel – it's an outrageous attack on mothers because that was the plan of the scheme."
Professor Baird said one of its goals was to help more women get 26 weeks of paid parental leave income to promote breast-feeding and bonding between mothers and their babies.
"This is an astonishing about-face in policy," Professor Baird said.
"It makes a mockery of what Tony Abbott has said about paid parental leave before."
Advocacy group The Parenthood described the move as a "slap in the face," while Chief Executive Women said it was "disappointing" and Labor slammed it as "extraordinary".
On Sunday, Mr Abbott said the Coalition had promised to end "double dipping" before the 2013 federal election. While Mr Abbott did mention ending double dipping from public servants, the Liberal Party's paid parental leave election policy document does not refer to stopping women from accessing more than one scheme.