Almost a year after promising 18 weeks’ paid parental leave, the Federal Government today finally unveiled its draft legislation.
The scheme to pay parents the national minimum wage for more than four months is due to start on January 1 next year.
The Government expects 148,000 families a year will qualify for the scheme – just over half of all those who have children.
With the release of the draft legislation, the Senate can begin its inquiry, report in a month and consider the final bill and vote before Parliament rises for the winter break towards the end of June.
Prospective parents would then be able to start lodging their claims in October, three months before the arrival of their child.
“This is a very, very special day, especially for all of those people who have worked for so long to deliver Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme,” Minister for Families Jenny Macklin said.
The Minister has made changes to accommodate business.
They will have six months to phase the taxpayer-funded payments into their payroll systems, they can opt to receive the Government payments in advance, and will not have to pay their employees’ superannuation.
Casual, seasonal and contract workers can qualify even if they have a break of up to eight weeks.
They will still need to have worked 330 hours or one day a week for at least 10 of the 13 months before giving birth or adopting their child.
The Government says it has designed the scheme to complement existing employer-funded paid parental leave.
They can be taken simultaneously or one after the other with an online estimator for parents to work out the best arrangement.
According to the Government, most families will be $2,000 better off after tax than if they opt for the Baby Bonus.
ACTU president Sharan Burrow and Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick joined Ms Macklin at the launch.
“This is a magical moment. To see a piece of legislation with paid parental leave on the front of the cover is a 30-year, long-awaited moment of justice for working women,” Ms Burrow said.
“And we’ve got a message to Tony Abbott. Don’t you dare, don’t you dare oppose this legislation.”
Ms Broderick was also enthusiastic about the draft legislation.
“It’s a great thrill to be here today as the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and to see a piece of legislation which has the words ‘paid parental leave’ on the top,” she said.
Even though she would like a more generous scheme, which Mr Abbott is proposing, Ms Burrow has stern words for the Opposition Leader.
“We know that if you oppose this, Tony Abbott you’ll face the anger of pregnant women, their mothers, their sisters, their aunties, their friends, right across Australia. That would just be the cruellest thing.”
‘Mickey Mouse scheme’
Mr Abbott’s Coalition will try to amend Labor’s scheme to make it more generous, but when it comes to the vote will not block it.
“I think that it’s a Mickey Mouse scheme. But I think it’s a small step in the right direction,” Mr Abbott said.
“I’m not in the business of frustrating progress, even if it’s not very substantial progress.”
Ms Burrow, the Government and Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group are pleased with the final package and do not expect employers with existing agreements will scale down or scrap their schemes to save money.
“Personally I felt it was a league table Australia should not be on,” Ms Ridout said.
“Only us and the US do not have a scheme of this type in the OECD. So it is an important day.
“I would also urge the Opposition to support the passage of the legislation. This has been too long and too difficult an argument and I really sincerely hope Tony Abbott does support [it] and I will be personally urging him to do so.”