Parental leave extension bill 'too costly'

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 08:13 29/04/2013
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Prime Minister John Key says parents will have to wait until at least 2015 before the Government considers extending paid parental leave, because it cannot afford to do it now.

A One News-Colmar Brunton poll released yesterday showed 62 per cent of voters back a law sponsored by Labour MP Sue Moroney that would extend taxpayer-funded paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 26 weeks.

The law change also appears to have enough support in Parliament to pass, but the Government has signalled it will use its veto power, which it can if a law would have a significant impact on the Budget.

Today Key said bill would be blocked because of cost, which the Government estimates at $150 million a year, but said the leave would likely be extended eventually.

"I think paid parental leave will increase one day, it's just not today, because we just don't have the money," he said.

"No one's arguing it's unreasonable but it's all about affordability."

If the Government was to extend paid parental leave it would mean abandoning its target of reaching a fiscal surplus by 2014-15, or cutting spending elsewhere, Key told TVNZ's Breakfast.

"When we're back in surplus and we've got choices, then I'm not at all ruling out paid parental leave ... in terms of expanding it, it's definitely something we'd like to do, but it's about the timing of that issue."

Supporters of the bill dispute the Government's estimates of the cost of the law change.

Rebecca Matthews, spokeswoman for lobby group 26 for Babies, said she understood the cost of the change would be $166 million over three years, which the select committee hearing submissions on the issue had said was within the margin or error of the Government's forecasting.

"It's actually a very inexpensive policy ... and it seems to me with such broad popular support that it's really up to Government to listen to what people want," she said.

"They want more paid parental leave, it's not very expensive and they can do it."

The bill, which would increase the paid leave available to about 30,000 parents each year, passed its first reading with the support of UnitedFuture and the Maori Party.

Moroney said the poll showed the measure had broad political backing, with only 53 per cent of National voters against.

Those most strongly in favour tended to be Green or Labour supporters aged under 34 and with children at home.

Those aged over 55 with no children at home, and National voters, were most likely to oppose the move.

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- The Dominion Post

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