Happy families: parental leave a big help

For Tia Giacomin, paid parental leave was a chance to give her first child, Raffaele, the attention he needed instead of returning to work before she or her son were ready.

This week marks the first year of the Federal Government's paid parental leave scheme and the Giacomins, of Kambah, are among 2162 Canberra families to receive payments since its introduction.

We could give him the attention he needed, without having to put him into child care at an early age. 

Mrs Giacomin, a public servant, said the scheme gave her extra time off at the minimum wage after she used up her available paid maternity leave from her employer.

''Having that extra time on top of my maternity leave was fantastic,'' she said.

''It gave me the opportunity to stay at home with the baby and not go back to work.

''We could give him the attention he needed, without having to put him into child care at an early age.''

More than 126,000 expectant and new Australian parents have applied for the payment in the scheme's first 12 months.

Of those parents, more than 65,000 have already finished receiving their parental pay, and another 56,000 are being paid or are awaiting the birth or their payment start date.

The scheme allows for up to 18 weeks' paid leave at the national minimum wage of about $590 a week before tax.

Families and Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said half of the mothers who had received payments were on low incomes of $43,000 or less in the year before their baby was born or adopted.

''This shows paid parental leave is particularly important for women on low incomes, many of whom do not have access to paid parental leave through their employer,'' she said.

''The Productivity Commission found that women on low incomes, particularly those in casual jobs such as retail and hospitality, have the lowest levels of access to employer-provided paid parental leave.''

Ms Macklin said employers had also used the scheme to retain skilled and experienced staff, with more than 22,000 workplaces registering to incorporate the government-funded parental leave into their employees' regular pay cycle.

Back at work since November, Mrs Giacomin said she and her husband Michael were planning their second child.

''Again, that paid parental leave will be a massive help,'' she said.

''It's just given us that opportunity that we wouldn't have had otherwise.''