ALEXANDRA KIRK: Jenny Macklin, the Government's proposed paid parental leave scheme comes with a means test - $150,000 for the primary carer.
It's a figure that will also apply to the means test on private health insurance. Will that now apply universally to all government allowances, rebates and benefits? Will they all cut out at that income level?
JENNY MACKLIN: I can't comment about anything else that might happen in the Budget, but it is consistent with what we've done for the Baby Bonus and for Family Tax Benefit Part B.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition says that by delaying the introduction of your paid parental leave until 2011, businesses thinking of introducing their own schemes will hold off. Is that a fear that you hold as well?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, the Opposition just don't know whether they support it or not. Of course, they delayed for the whole 13 years that they were in government and didn't deliver paid parental leave.
What's important is to listen to what business is saying, and Heather Ridout from the Australian Industry Group has said this morning that she understands that 2011 is important to give business time to adapt to the new scheme.
And she certainly doesn't think that it will mean the end of employer sponsored schemes as the Opposition thinks. So the Opposition should take note of what business is saying, and stop whingeing and whining and recognise that families have waited a long time for this scheme.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well, what's to stop business from winding back their paid parental leave schemes when the Government one starts?
JENNY MACKLIN: Business understands just how important paid parental leave is, and those businesses which have already implemented paid maternity leave or paternity leave schemes have done so so they can hold onto their good employees.
I have no doubt that many of them will use this as an opportunity to add to their paid parental leave arrangements.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: But that argument holds water when times are prosperous, but things have changed now and times are tough. So that incentive of trying to keep on, keep your workers on, or a shortage of workers, has disappeared.
JENNY MACKLIN: I think there's no question that business will want to keep their best employees. They've invested a lot in many of their employees that become mothers and fathers. That's why they've introduced these schemes, and business itself is saying this morning that they believe that employer sponsored schemes will continue.
This new scheme that the Government is announcing will make sure that for many employees, especially many women who are employed in low income jobs, in small businesses that haven't been able to afford paid parental leave, will finally get some support.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: There's nothing, though, from the Government, is there, to stop business either holding off or winding back their schemes. Once the Government paid parental leave scheme comes in, many working women - those earning more than the federal minimum wage - could be worse off.
JENNY MACKLIN: This is all about providing a paid parental leave scheme for all of those working women, and especially those who have yet to get any support from their employers; there are unfortunately thousands of women in low and middle income workplaces that have not received any paid parental leave in the past. From January 2011 they will now get support as a result of this new government scheme.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Is this a rolled gold promise? Or as we've seen with the private health insurance rebate - and the Treasurer's warned other election promises- if the situation changes, the promise can be broken.
JENNY MACKLIN: We're making this decision even though these are difficult economic times. We'll put the legislation into the Parliament before the next election.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: You're offering 18 weeks leave. Do you leave open the option to expand it at some point?
JENNY MACKLIN: It's a major step forward to get to 18 weeks. There are thousands of women who don't have anything like 18 weeks paid parental leave, and I think those women will just be so pleased that they get the sort of support that they've wanted for a long time.
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