Paid parental leave uncertainty a growing concern

Kelly Dohle with daughters Elsie and Gretel. Kelly and her husband Daniel are unsure if they can afford a third baby.
Kelly Dohle with daughters Elsie and Gretel. Kelly and her husband Daniel are unsure if they can afford a third baby. Photo: Peter Rae

Kelly Dohle and her husband Daniel have a big decision to make over the next 12 months.

They already have two children – daughters Elsie (3) and Gretel (5 months) – but are wondering if they should have a third.

Ms Dohle is 34, and says because of her age, the two don't want to leave things too much longer. But as the Wollstonecraft couple weigh things up, uncertainty over the federal government's policy on paid parental leave is making the decision more difficult.

"Can we afford to even have a third child?"

Ms Dohle, an engineer, is currently entitled to 12 weeks of paid parental leave from her employer, plus 18 weeks of the government scheme. As the young family juggles bills and childcare costs, the ability to access two schemes has been critical to keeping "everything ticking over".

They may not be able to for much longer. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is pressing ahead with Tony Abbott's plan to stop families accessing both the government and an employer's scheme as of July 1, 2016. However, with Labor opposed to the plan and the crossbench unconvinced, it is not clear whether the bill will pass the Senate.

Eight months out, the situation is particularly uncertain for a one group of expectant parents. Prospective mums and dads who are only just finding out they are pregnant will have due dates on or around July 1.

The Parenthood's executive director Jo Briskey said it is the "baby shower gift that working mums could do without".

"Women who have just fallen pregnant or who are planning to get pregnant soon won't be able to extend their paid leave and will miss out on precious time they may have otherwise have had with their newborns," Ms Briskey said.

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"It will force mums back to work before they're ready, inhibit the benefits of continuous breastfeeding that help bub develop and force more families to find childcare sooner, increasing the cost burden on both families and the government in childcare subsidies."

A spokesman for Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the government remained committed to the new policy.

"These are important reforms," he said.

"The government remains committed to supporting this bill which will ensure PPL is fairer for Australian taxpayers and supports parents taking time off work to care for a newborn or recently adopted child."

Under the Coalition's new policy, 80,000 women would lose out on payments, saving almost $1 billion over four years. Parents whose employer scheme is less than the total amount of the government's scheme will receive a top-up to make sure they get the maximum rate.

The government currently pays women the minimum wage for 18 weeks, which is currently $657 a week before tax.