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Natasha Bita | April 09, 2009
Article from: The Australian
PAID maternity leave remains affordable despite the global financial crisis, according to secret costings being weighed by the Rudd Government ahead of next month’s budget.

Productivity Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald said yesterday there was “no question” the community could deliver 18 weeks’ paid leave for parents to care for their babies, despite the economic problems.

“The commission is acutely aware of the difficulties for government and business,” he told The Australian. “We certainly put a scheme to the Government we think is implementable. The proposals we put couldn’t possibly harm business too much.”

Mr Fitzgerald’s remarks ahead of the budget deliberations next week will breathe new life into the campaign for parental pay, which lost political momentum as the economy slowed.

The commission recommended working mothers be paid 18 weeks’ leave, based on the adult minimum wage of $544 a week, in a draft report to the Government last September.

Women who were not in the workforce would continue to be paid the $5000 baby bonus.

Small business groups opposed the scheme, calculated to cost taxpayers $450 million a year in paid leave, and business $75million in superannuation payments and administrative costs.

The commission delivered a more “robust analysis” to the Government in February, but the costings remain secret.

Mr Fitzgerald refused to discuss the final report yesterday but said compliance costs were minimal and business would have to spend less than $100 million a year in superannuation payments to parents on baby leave.

“Our view is that the investment … would pay dividends,” he said. “If you can support parents being home with a child for at least the first six months, there are benefits to the children and the parents. It allows a mother to breastfeed her child. It allows greater bonding between the parents and the child in a more stable environment.”

The collapse of the ABC Learning childcare company, and the Government’s planned reforms to the childcare industry, are adding to pressure to implement paid parental leave.

State and territory children’s commissioners have told the Government it would ease pressure on the childcare system.

“To have the best possible outcomes for children’s wellbeing and development, we believe parents need to be supported to spend time at home with their babies through a universal paid parental leave scheme of at least 12 months,” the commissioners of NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT told the Government in its review of childcare services.

NSW Commissioner for Children Gillian Calvert said the next-best option would be to employ one childcare worker for every two infants. “You can’t provide the sort of interactions infants need in a childcare centre,” she said.

“To do that, there are high staff costs, because you would need a ratio of one carer for two children.”

New mother Kim Futcher, a Brisbane doctor, saved throughout her pregnancy so she could enjoy nine months with daughter Ava, now four months. She plans to return to work part-time in September, but regards the period of bonding with baby as crucial.

“It’s important developmentally because babies need the stimulus and nurturing mum can give,” she said. “I really do feel for women who don’t have the choice to spend time with their little one.”

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