Govt to veto paid parental leave bill

KATE CHAPMAN AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 17:09 11/04/2012
Amy Howard and Peyton Carroll
LOREN DOUGA/Fairfax NZ

MORE TIME AT HOME: Pregnant mother-of-two Amy Howard with daughter Peyton Carroll, 3, at their home in Masterton.

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The Government will veto plans to increase paid parental leave to six months.

Labour MP Sue Moroney's bill to raise paid parental leave incrementally to six months by 2014, was drawn from the member's ballot last week.

It looks likely to get past its first reading, with all parties except ACT and National indicating they would support it.

But Acting Prime Minister Bill English said today that the Government would veto the bill at the third reading if it gets that far.

Governments are able to veto bills if they will have significant implications on the Crown finances.

English said the Government had worked hard to maintain entitlements over the last four years while the country was in recession.

Paid parental leave, currently 14 weeks, costs $150m a year and the Government would have to borrow an extra $500m over the next three or four years, he said.

"We think it's a bit soon to be trying to expand entitlements when our big challenge has been to maintain them as they are."

Labour was trying to get the political benefit without being upfront about the cost, English said.

"I think the public would be probably as concerned that the Labour Party don't appear to have learnt anything that they think that handing out lollies is how you get political favours."

However, there could be enormous moral pressure from both inside and outside Parliament for National not to veto the family friendly bill.

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Government support partner UnitedFuture, which campaigned during last year's election campaign on extending paid parental leave to 13 months, could give Labour the numbers it needs to send the bill to a select committee for consideration.

UnitedFuture leader and sole MP Peter Dunne called the bill a "step in the right direction" and said he was inclined to support it.

The three-week recess means many political parties have not yet had the chance to formally take a position.

The Maori Party traditionally supports the first readings of bills and NZ First leader Winston Peters said his party previously supported paid parental leave.

The Greens and the Mana party are expected to support it, while ACT party leader John Banks has indicated he would oppose it.

The National caucus is also yet to discuss the bill and take a formal position, but Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson last week said it was "simply unaffordable".

In 2007-08 about 32,000 people were receiving paid parental leave at a cost of $134 million a year.

The Council of Trade Unions' women's council co-convener, Suzanne McNabb, said although figures were not collected, anecdotal evidence suggested many women went back to work as soon as paid leave ended, often because they had to rather than wanted to.

It was also difficult for people to find childcare for babies aged under 6 months old.

There were high levels of child abuse in New Zealand and evidence showed the longer mothers could remain with their babies, and the longer they could breastfeed, the better it was.

The investment in additional paid parental leave would be paid off by future savings in the health system, she said.

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"Convincing politicians of that might be another thing."

The Prime Minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, agreed that whether paid parental leave was better use of taxpayer money than other initiatives was a political, not a scientific, issue.

"I don't think anyone would debate that children will do better if mothers and children have longer to bond in general."

Welfare commentator and former ACT candidate Lindsay Mitchell said New Zealand could not afford to spend more on paid parental leave. She estimated the increase would double the cost of the scheme to $300m by 2014.

- The Dominion Post

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