The Turnbull government is trying to convince Australians that paid parental leave is a welfare payment, when in fact it's a workplace entitlement, National Foundation for Women founder Marie Coleman says.
"They seem to be internally chewing over the proposition that this should really be a means-tested welfare benefit rather than a workplace entitlement for the principal carer, usually the mother," Coleman, who became the first woman to head a government agency when she chaired the Whitlam government's Social Welfare Commission in the 1970s, told BuzzFeed News.
"That is important for young women in the workforce to think about."
"It is quite contrary to the objectives of the act" to means-test the payment, Coleman said.
Labor introduced Australia's first national paid parental leave scheme in 2011 on the back of a 2009 Productivity Commission report that recommended 18 weeks' pay at the national minimum wage for new parents.
The commission recommended the payment be made "concurrently with other paid leave” offered by a primary carer’s employer.
But the Turnbull government now wants to introduce changes to the scheme that will mean new parents who receive parental leave payments from their employers will no longer have access to the full government payment.
Turnbull will need the support of crossbenchers to get the changes through parliament.
It was key crossbench senator Nick Xenophon who first put on the table the idea of means-testing paid parental leave.
Xenophon has said his Senate team is willing to support the government's changes to paid parental leave if the start date is pushed back to at least October 2017, so they won't affect women who are already pregnant.
He has also flagged other changes to the scheme. "It might be means-testing the household, it might be having a taper system – these are just ideas, these are not policy positions," Xenophon told BuzzFeed news.
"I understand and respect the argument that it is a workplace entitlement but I'm also dealing with a government that is pushing hard on the issue of budget and budget repair," he said.
"I know the ideal period would have been 26 weeks and not 18 weeks but we're also talking about a government that is fearful of losing its triple-A credit rating."
Xenophon said he had been getting "lectures from the government".
"Basically saying I'm in the big leagues now and I've got to start acting responsibly, which is kind of insulting because it implies that I haven't acted responsibly," he said.
"Being patronised isn't a good way to negotiate with me."
Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Gina Rushton at email@example.com.
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