'An investment in NZ's future'

Paid parental leave debate to heat up

KELSEY FLETCHER AND MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 07:41 30/04/2013
Jess Howard
Warwick Smith/Fairfax NZ
BACK TO WORK: Jess Howard of the Palmerston North Parents Centre will have to return to work when baby Brianna is 6 months old.

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Parents in Palmerston North are outraged the prime minister has decided to block a private member's bill that would allow them more paid parental leave.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that parents would have to wait until at least 2015 before the Government would consider extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks, because it could not afford to do it now.

Jess Howard, co-president of the Palmerston North Parents Centre, said the Government should not be putting a price on the future of the country.

"Even if it does get vetoed, the expectation is it will happen. The Government can't ignore New Zealand and the fact is most people support it," she said. "If New Zealand thinks it's important, surely we can't push aside the process and say it costs too much - $150 million is a drop in the bucket for our children's future."

The current 14 weeks' paid parental leave period will force Mrs Howard back to work in June, when her daughter Brianna is 6 months old.

"It will mean having to go into a care arrangement of some kind and that's so hard on children when they're used to mum and dad," she said. "And we've got really low breastfeeding rates, especially when the recommendation is for one year - financially, it's just not viable."

The Palmerston North Parents Centre and its national body have both put forward submissions on the bill - with the national body pushing for 12 months' paid leave.

Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway, of Labour, said the bill was an investment the Government should make.

"The evidence is very strong that giving parents a longer opportunity to bond with their newborn has benefits not just for the family but tangible economic benefits as well," he said.

There was evidence that the more time a parent had to bond with their newborn the more cohesive the family would be. This benefited the Government long term through lower costs, as agencies were less likely to have to intervene with the family and there was a better opportunity for children to grow up to be "active participants" in the economy.

Mr Lees-Galloway said 12 months would be even better, but the bill was a pragmatic stepping stone to that longer-term goal.

National MP Ian McKelvie said he had sympathy for parents who wanted more paid parental leave but the Government had to consider the effect the bill would have on the economy.

"[National] don't like the ramifications at the moment and clearly I support that view," he said. "We feel it's not appropriate to implement at this time."

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The Government had some "pretty definite targets for shoring up the Government's accounts" and the bill would introduce "another cost the Government doesn't think is appropriate to spend right now".

- Manawatu Standard

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