'Confused about paid parental leave? It's not you. It's the Government.'

If you’re pregnant and working right now…firstly, congratulations! It’s an exciting time for mums and dads, which involves a lot of thinking ahead and planning for the arrival of your new little bundle.

If you’re a working parent, part of that planning might involve finding out what paid parental leave (PPL) you are entitled to when the baby comes.

Because that will no doubt impact the hard choice you may have ahead of you. It’s a choice faced by most working mums across Australia every time they have a baby – can I afford to spend some time at home with my baby after the birth, or will I have to return to work as early as possible and miss out on time with my newborn?

Image via iStock.

You probably have absolutely no idea how to answer this right now. And I’d be willing to predict it’s not for a lack of trying.  Don’t worry – you’re not really bad at Google search. And you’re not the only one feeling frustrated.

Basically it’s not you, it’s the Government. They’ve been up and down and back and forth and twisted themselves inside out on what they want to do with paid parental leave. And they’ve treated working mums pretty poorly along the way.

The whole thing has left a bad taste in the mouth of anyone following the debate closely.

And the end result is parents like you being left in absolute limbo on paid parental leave in Australia.

Women in Australia who are pregnant right now and due from July onwards, have absolutely no idea what paid parental leave scheme they will have access to when their baby is born.

Let me try to explain the history of this, and then try to give you an idea of what (if anything) you CAN expect to happen this year.


PPL: From rolled gold to $1b in cuts.

The Liberals have been talking about changes to paid parental leave since Tony Abbott won Government 2013 with the promise of what many called a ‘rolled gold’ paid parental leave scheme. As Labor pointed out, the scheme meant that the top 10 per cent of working women would get about a third (30.2%) of Mr Abbott’s extra PPL money, while the bottom third of working women (36.2%) would only get about a tenth (12.3%) of the extra money from his policy.

In other words women who earned $200,000, or $300,000 would have been given $75,000 for having a baby.

workplace productivity
Image via iStock.

The idea was criticised by Tony Abbot’s own party. The Labor Party were livid at the idea of giving $5.5 billion a year in taxpayers’ money to those who needed it the least. Needless to say it never passed the parliament and Labor’s scheme which first commenced in 2011 remained in place.

Then in the 2015 Budget Mr Abbott announced a new PPL policy. It was a complete backflip on their previous position: it represented $1b in cuts to the existing paid parental leave scheme being accessed in Australia. And that’s not all.

Australian parents were angered when Tony Abbott accused 80,000 working mums of ‘double dipping’ by simply accessing their entitlements under the scheme that was in place. Abbott’s minister Scott Morrison (and the current Treasurer of Australia) used the word ‘fraud’ to describe how women were accessing both an employer paid maternity scheme and the government’s paid maternity scheme at once – something they were perfectly entitled to do.


What they didn’t mention of course was that the federal paid parental leave scheme in place (introduced by Labor) was MEANT to work together with existing parental leave paid by employers. Labor’s scheme was designed so that the government paid for 18 weeks at the minimum wage, and allowed working women to complement this with their individual employer schemes.

changes to paid parental leave
Image via iStock.

‘Double dipping,’ ‘fraud,’ and ‘a rort’ was offensive language and used at a dangerous stretch.

And stretch to the point of breaking, it did.

The policy never passed through the parliament, and Tony Abbott was finally booted from the Prime Ministership after a conga line of silly ideas like the above.

When Malcolm Turnbull took the reigns from Abbott he waited until December to announce an amended version of the plan Tony Abbott announced at the May budget.

The ‘compromise’ on PPL as he calls it means new mothers are entitled to a total of 18 weeks of paid parental leave only from either the Government or employer scheme depending on your situation. The cuts to Labor’s scheme remain. So if you’re a working mum with an employer scheme that covers you at your full wage for less than 18 weeks, you would be able to top that up to 18 weeks with payments from the government at the minimum wage.

Image via iStock.

So what can we expect (if anything at all) from PPL this year?

The cuts first announced in the May Budget, and then slightly modified by Malcolm Turnbull are yet to pass through the Parliament.

Labor has been calling on the Turnbull Government to do something about it. The changes proposed are due to kick in on July 1 2016.

But until they pass this legislation, pregnant parents expecting after July 1 this year won’t know how much time off work they will be entitled to or how much extra money to save for. July 1 is the deadline for them to get their changes through the parliament, so unfortunately it’s more ‘wait and see.’

Mums and dads have been waiting far too long for some certainty around this. It really is time for the Government to make a decision.

And if you’re getting the feeling that the Liberals and the Nationals have no idea of the reality working mums face, you’re not alone.

Erinn Swan. Image supplied.

Just this week, we learnt the Turnbull Government is refusing to guarantee funding for the National Breastfeeding Helpline beyond June 30, a service which helps over 80,000 women a year to get valuable advice on breastfeeding. The service is run by volunteer councillors at a very modest cost.

Perhaps Malcolm Turnbull should have elevated a few more women to his male-dominated cabinet in his recent ministerial reshuffle and we’d have a bit more understanding from him about the kind of pressures working women face.

Expecting couples have enough to think about as it is. It’s time the government gave them some certainty so they can concentrate on what’s important: bringing a new life into the world.

Erinn Swan is the ALP's Digital Director.

What's your stance on paid parental leave?