Pregnant women and their families face growing financial uncertainty as the Turnbull government moves to finally introduce their long mooted paid parental leave cuts into Federal Parliament, today.
Initially flagged as part of the 2015 Budget, in which Joe Hockey infamously described families who claim government funded paid parental leave and receive employer funded benefits as “double dippers”, the changes will mean that government entitlements will only “top up” workplace benefits to give parents a total of 18 weeks leave.
What do new parents get now?
Right now, all eligible new parents (there’s a means test) are able to claim 18 weeks of government funded paid parental leave regardless of whether they receive an employer provided benefit. Government funded leave is paid at the minimum wage. According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, the current minimum wage in Australia is $672.70 a week.
In a statement, Labor’s Shadow Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin said, “Labor introduced Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme in 2011, since that time more than 700,000 Australian families have accessed paid parental leave allowing them to spend more time at home in the critical early months of their child’s life.”
What changes are the government proposing?
The government's proposal ends the so-called "double dipping" of some new parents.
Eligible parents who receive less than 18 weeks of employer-provided paid parental leave will receive a top-up payment of government funded paid parental leave so that the total number of weeks of employer-provided and government funded leave is 18 weeks. Parents receiving employer provided paid parental leave of 18 weeks or more will no longer be able to receive government funded paid parental leave.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter told Mamamia that, "This revised paid parental leave policy provides an important safety net for families who do not have access to employer schemes, or only have access to a few weeks of funded leave, while being fairer for Australian taxpayers."
But advocates who are campaigning against the cuts are calling them a slap in the face that will place huge financial and emotional stress on new parents at time that is already stressful.
In a statement last month, The Parenthood's Director Jo Briskey said, “Australia already has one of the least generous paid parental leave schemes in the developed world.
“While other countries are moving forward, our government wants to take us backwards - limiting the paid time new mums can have with their brand new baby.
“Under the current scheme, it is recognised that both government and business have a role in supporting new parents by providing access to both employer and government payments
“For tens of thousands of women - including teachers, ambulance officers and women working at Woolworths - this has meant they can stay at home for at least six months as recommended by the World Health Organisation
“Under the Turnbull government’s plan, many women won’t have any financial support after 18 weeks.”
When will the changed arrangements start?
This is where things start to get a little iffy. The Turnbull government tried to get these changes through the Parliament earlier this year, in April but wasn't able to get them through the Senate.
The makeup of the Senate following the 2016 election is as difficult, if not more so, for the government to try and get legislation through.
It will require negotiation with Senators with wildly different views on public policy, from libertarian David Leyonhjelm who has quipped "won't someone think of the childless" in relation to family welfare and supports the complete axing of any government funded scheme, to the Australian Greens who have previously advocated for boosting the current scheme from 18 weeks to six months.
Additionally, Minister Porter will have to negotiate with Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon and his team, Family First, and Pauline Hanson and her team.
It's likely the measure's passage through the Senate will take some time. The Minister's office told Mamamia that the start date for the changes will depend on when legislation is passed.
This is problematic, as it will leave currently expecting parents and families who hope to have a baby in the near future unable to say for sure what their income will be in the weeks and months following their child's birth or adoption.
Why should the government even be paying people to have kids anyway?
It's not all about toothy grins and silly giggles. There are lots of good reasons to encourage families to have children.
Giving new parents, and currently it's usually women, the opportunity to take time to recover after birth or adoption and to bond with a new born is critical to the health and wellbeing of a child. Paid parental leave has an impact on infant mortality rates.
Studies also show that women who are supported to take time off after the arrival of a baby are much more likely to be back at work around 12 months later than women who aren't. That's good for women and it's good for our economy.
Children are a future labour force. It means that when you and I are old and decrepit, there will still be a strong and productive workforce to keep our economy growing.
Young people are typically innovative. A changing world like ours needs children to grow into entrepreneurs and change makers. Without innovation, we simply will not be able to keep up with our global competitors.
What about women who are pregnant now?
Women who are pregnant now, or who plan on falling pregnant in the near future face some financial uncertainty. The government's inability to commit to a solid start date means that expectant families don't know what level of income they will be able to count on after the arrival of their newborn.