Abbott's maternity leave scheme

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott Photo: Glenn Hunt

Last week, politcal journalist Jacqueline O'Malley called Tony Abbot's paid parental leave "vastly superior" to the Labor government's legislated scheme, and said more feminists should come out in favour of it.

But this week, Abbott is facing dissent in the ranks, with calls by Sydney Liberal, Alex Hawke, for the policy to be scrapped before the September election. 

So what is Abbott's policy and is it a game changer? Let's break it down.

Full pay for six months for new mums

Yep, the scheme offers new mothers 26 weeks parental leave on full pay, up to $75,000 (for women on salaries of $150,000 and higher). This is closer to the more generous parental leave policies of the United Kingdom (90 per cent of earnings for 52 weeks) and Denmark (100 p er cent of personal earnings). Currently, the Australian government provides Federal minimum wage for 18 weeks.

In defence of the scheme, Abbott says, "It's a very important sign that we get it when it comes to the modern family, the modern family invariably needs more than just one income. If we want to encourage families to have kids, if we want to make it easier for women to have careers and families, we need something like a proper paid parental leave scheme.

"We can't really afford to lose so many highly capable women in the prime of life and from the workforce. So I think this is not just a family policy or a social policy. It's not just something for women. This is something for everyone."

It will be funded through a tax on Australia's biggest companies

Funding for the scheme is set to be funded by a 1.5 per cent levy on about 3200 of the biggest companies - those with a taxable income of more than $5 million. This levy was to have been fully offset by a 1.5 per cent cut in company tax for all, which has since been replaced with the promise of a "modest" company tax cut. The government's scheme is funded by the taxpayer. Liberal backbencher Alex Hawke has said that "within the Coalition there is widespread concern that in this climate it is unaffordable as a policy". Nevertheless, Abbott is adamant that this is a core election promise.

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Higher-earning mothers will be paid more

As the scheme matches a mother's salary prior to taking maternity leave, the scheme will mean that wealthier mothers will receive a larger benefit. Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says this will ultimately be good for the economy, as the policy would increase the retention of working mothers in the workforce and consequently "improve participation, which will drive productivity growth".

Only two weeks for dads

While the current maternity scheme allows for either parents to take the 18 weeks funded leave, the Coalition proposal funds mothers for 26 weeks and fathers for just two.

Will this be an election-changing issue?

Despite this generous policy, reaction from parents on the Essential Baby web forum has been mixed.

"I feel like he's trying to bribe us to stay home and do what he thinks a 'good woman' should do!" wrote EB user 'call me protart'.

"For me, this is a two issue election. NDIS and Gonski," wrote Junior Spies. "So whilst as a top tax bracket earner I must admit I'm very, very tempted to vote for Abbott on the basis of his paid maternity leave scheme and the provision of tax breaks for those who use nannies, I can't do it."

Others feel that the scheme is unjust. "I'm opposed to it simply because I don't believe that I, as a decently paid government employee, should be paid more to raise a baby than the woman serving me at Woolies," wrote BronyBob.

What do you think of the Coalition maternity leave policy? Comment below.

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