Paid parental leave veto disappoints

20:15, Apr 11 2012

The Government's support partner United Future says moves to "kill off" plans to extend paid parental leave are disappointing but will not stop debate on the issue.

Acting Prime Minister Bill English yesterday confirmed the Government would enact rarely-used powers to veto a bill by Labour MP Sue Moroney - drawn from the member's ballot last week - which would extend paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said he believed the Government had been surprised by the strong support for the bill.

All political parties with the exception of ACT and National had indicated their initial support which would give Labour the numbers to send it to select committee for consideration.

The Government was entitled to use the veto - which enables it to stop any legislation which has more than a minor affect on its Budget when it reaches its final reading in Parliament - but English's announcement was "far too premature" because the bill hadn't even had its first reading, Dunne said.

"I'm disappointed quite frankly."

Debate on paid parental leave would not be stopped because the bill would still have to go through Parliament's usual stages but the veto put "a bit of a dampener" on the issue.

A third reading would be almost a year away.

"A lot of water can move under the bridge in that time, there can be very strong public submissions in favour of the bill that created an overwhelming sense it should proceed or the public could strongly opposed to it.

"I suspect what they are trying to do is kill it off early but it's a bit bull-at-the-gate to be talking about vetoes."

English said yesterday the Government had worked hard over the past three or four years to maintain paid parental leave during tough economic times.

"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."

The leave provisions cost $150 million a year and Government would need to borrow about $500m over four years to increase it to six months, he said.

No-one was arguing about the benefit of paid parental leave, but it was "getting ahead of ourselves" to promise increases, he said.

New Zealand's paid parental leave entitlements are among the lowest in the OECD and several studies, including one by the prime minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, have shown the benefits of mothers spending extended time with their babies.

Moroney said the decision to veto her bill was arrogant and "desperate stuff".

"It not only highlights National's disdain for working parents, but also its fragile majority."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the Government's veto plans sent a clear message it didn't care about mothers and their children.

"This is just following their now well-established pattern of attacking mothers and vulnerable children."

Family First spokesman Bob McCoskrie said the Government's focus was on the needs of the economy, rather than the welfare of children.

"In reality, this policy would represent about 0.2 per cent of the total government spending, yet research shows that the role of mothers and the early bonding between mums and babies is vital for healthy child development."

A Department of Labour report found 75 per cent of mothers wanted to take a year off work but financial pressure made them return earlier, he said.

Existing paid parental leave did not match Ministry of Health recommendations that mothers breastfeed for at least six months.