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Marissa Calligeros
May 11, 2009

The federal government’s paid parental leave plan will bump up Australia’s birth rate by five per cent in 2011 as working women wait to take advantage of the pay scheme, according to a population expert.

Leading demographer Bernard Salt said the promised 18 weeks’ paid parental leave for parents from January 2011, announced yesterday, will contribute to a “baby blip” early next decade.

“As significant as this event will be, it will not in the same magnitude as a baby boom. At best it will be a baby blip,” Mr Salt said.

“People are always more interested in investing in a child once their economic prospects are more certain.”

About 280,000 babies are born in Australia each year since the last significant birth rate rise in 2000. That equates to about 1.9 children per woman.

Mr Salt said it was likely 14,000 more babies would be born in 2011 as a result of the parental leave provision, resulting in about 294,000 total births.

“Basically having kids is a vote of confidence in the future, so when times are uncertain people delay or postpone having kids,” he said.

“No one really knows what is happening during the downturn. The expectation is though that the birth rate will have dropped to 265,000 (babies born), compared to 280,000 children born in the year to December 2007.”

However, women who have postponed having children should jump back on the baby bandwagon from 2011, he said.

Mr Salt joined businesses and unions in welcoming the taxpayer-funded scheme, which will see parents earning less that $150,000 a year entitled to $543.78 for 18 weeks.

He said the 30-year-long battle for paid parental leave signalled a dramatic shift in Australian working culture.

“The reality is that we will find that a whole series of measures, baby bonus, paid parental leave, and more flexible work hours from employers will contribute to a cultural change.

“We will evolve a culture, certainly over the next 10 years, which will be highly supportive of having children.”

Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) president Karyn Walsh said the scheme would afford low income workers the confidence to have children without the fear of losing vital pay.

“This is a blessing that will give a lot a parents security and reassurance,” Ms Walsh said.

“It gives people the confidence that they will be able to have time with their child and have an income.

“People in low income jobs were least likely to get paid parental leave from their employer, because some businesses really just don’t have the money to do that.

“It will save families from having to rely on one income, during which time they might not be able to maintain their mortgages or have enough money for transport or electricity.”

Mother-of-five Anna Wright, celebrating Mothers’ Day in New Farm Park yesterday, said she would not have waited for the scheme to become effective if she were planning to have another child, but welcomed paid parental leave as another vital option for mothers.

“If I were having children now, I don’t think it would change what I would do or my plans for the future, but what’s important is that the option is there for women and it is the option that is critical to women,” she said.

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