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May 11, 2009 12:00am

BUDGET 09: AUSTRALIA will finally join the rest of the Western world in introducing a paid parental leave scheme, but not till 2011.

And the scheme will not be universal. Around 140,000 stay-at-home mums – and the rich – will miss out.

But tens of thousands of women who work part-time or casually could end up getting more than their working wage.

Eligible parents will collect at least the minimum wage of $544 a week while on 18 weeks’ leave to look after newborns.

Treasurer Wayne Swan used Mother’s Day yesterday to announce the scheme, as final touches were applied to a Budget billed as the toughest in living memory.

An attack on middle-class welfare – including means-testing of the private health insurance rebate and elimination of lucrative superannuation concessions – will allow for tax cuts and an increase in age pensions.

But the Budget is still expected to plunge to a record deficit of around $60 billion, while borrowings will blow out to as much as $300 billion.

Consequently, the parental scheme is unlikely to begin until January 1, 2011 – possibly after the next election.

Mr Swan said that start-up date was necessary because the global economic crisis had ripped a $200 billion black hole in revenue over four years.

But shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said this was “putting promises on the never-never”.

Mr Swan said: “We are one of only two countries in the Western world that doesn’t have paid parental leave.

“We have got to get that balance between work and family right, and paid parental leave is an essential reform,” he told the Nine Network.

Families in which the main breadwinner earns $150,000 or more will be ineligible.

And to qualify, a prospective mum would have to have worked only 330 hours, or one day a week for 10 months in the 13 months before the birth.

The $5000 baby bonus will be bundled into the new payment.

But stay-at-home mums will get only the baby bonus, plus family tax benefits, halving the overall cost of the scheme to around $260 million a year.

“Stay-at-home mothers are being dudded once again,” Australian Family Association president John Morrisey said.

“And 18 weeks is not long enough anyway. A child needs two or three years of one-on-one with their mother, instead of becoming aggressive graduates of long day care.”

But working mum Sarah Horton wishes the scheme had been available sooner.

“It would have been fantastic to have had financial help with our first child. In all probability, we would have started a family earlier,” she said.

Mrs Horton, who gave birth to Ned Robert yesterday, said the scheme would be fantastic news for her next child.

“It means we can go ahead without the worry and concern about financial stability.”

Parents can share the 18 weeks’ leave, or one parent can take it all. And workers can still use parental leave provided by employers, either at the same time or back-to-back.

Employers will not contribute to the government scheme or cover superannuation on leave entitlements.

But Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson warned the Government not to force businesses to pay administration costs, which could leave them out of pocket.

Though welcoming the announcement, Council of Small Businesses of Australia chief Jaye Radisich said its impact on small businesses would be greater.

“But if you want to encourage women to have babies, maternity leave is good for society,” she said.

http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,25458575-662,00.html

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