Mothers fear changes to Paid Parental Leave will discourage working mothers


Freedom Petene has urged women to fight to keep Paid Parental Leave entitlements as is.
Freedom Petene has urged women to fight to keep Paid Parental Leave entitlements as is.

FREEDOM Petene was 14 weeks pregnant when she discovered her maternity leave plans could change.

Despite assurances from Nick Xenophon his party would block retrospective-style Paid Parental Leave (PPL) legislation, Mrs Petene hoped the threat of change would encourage women to fight for PPL entitlements to remain unchanged.

Mrs Petene was annoyed when Social Services Minister Christian Porter revived legislation to cut back government PPL to supplement employer schemes up to 18 weeks only.

Working at union United Voice, Mrs Petene is among those with employer benefits to support her part way through maternity leave.

“They have given us an entitlement of 14 full weeks pay and I’ve decided to take that at 28 weeks at half pay, but after that it’s all we have,” Mrs Petene said.

Mrs Petene said she applied to the Government’s PPL scheme to ensure she could spend an additional 18 weeks with her child, however if changes go ahead her entitlement will be cut to four weeks.

If unchanged, the concurrent payments would enable her to stay at home with her child for six months.

“When I heard about the changes it annoyed me,” Mrs Petene said.

“This is my first baby and I want time to bond and time to learn, with just four extra weeks what will that do? Nothing.”

Mrs Petene, who also runs a homeless charity, urged working women thinking about having children to fight to keep the PPL as is.

“This should serve as a warning to women thinking about children, it’s really unfair; they should stand up and fight to keep their (entitlements),” she said.

“We are female, this is what we do and we gain these entitlements, we are allowed to use these entitlements and they shouldn’t be ripped away from up because the government is broke.”

Paid Parental Leave in Australia

On June 17 2010, the then-Labor Government passed legislation to implement universal parental leave for new parents titled Paid Parental Leave (PPL).

Offering 18 weeks at the national minimum wage – currently $672.70 a week – to women, to supplement existing paid leave offered by employers.

The scheme aimed to enable women to have 26 weeks paid leave to establish a bond with their new children without a financial burden.

The scheme began on January 1 2011 and was heralded by unions as great for families and the economy, while then-opposition Coalition spokeswoman for women Sharman Stone said the scheme was not enough.

“The poor-relation scheme offering only 18 weeks of the minimum wage does not go near covering the household expenses of two-income families working hard to pay their mortgage and the costs of living,” she said at the time.

Ahead of the 2013 election, then-leader of the opposition Tony Abbott pledged to introduce a parental leave scheme proposing a taxpayer subsidy to women on salaries of up to $150,000 a year to take six months off on full pay.

The scheme was dubbed “gold plated” and was quickly deserted after by Mr Abbott after his ascension to Prime Minister.

PPL was in the spotlight in the 2015 budget when then-treasurer Joe Hockey announced a crackdown on women claiming PPL from their employers and the Government, labelling them “double dippers”.

The legislation did not pass the senate and later, when Tony Abbott was toppled by now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the policy was all but abandoned with the Coalition conceding the legislation would not be passed ahead of the 2016 double dissolution election.

Last week Social Services Minister Christian Porter introduced a revised arrangement for the Paid Parental Leave scheme titled the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill originally announced in the 2015-16 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook to replace the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill 2015, announced in the 2015 Budget.

Mr Porter said the purpose of PPL was to get women back to work, not for them to stay at home with their children.

The bill has passed the lower house and the Nick Xenophon Team of three senators will decide the fate of the bill, however Mr Xenophon assured pregnant women any change would not come into affect from January 1, 2017 as proposed.