Opposition to the government’s proposed paid parental leave scheme appears to be growing from within the Coalition’s own ranks, following reports that as many as six members of the National and Liberal parties are unhappy about the policy.
However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott may still be able to get his signature policy through Parliament via mining tycoon Clive Palmer—if the Prime Minister is willing to compromise.
According to Fairfax, the billionaire leader of the Palmer United Party has said he would be willing to support a proposal put forward by National Senator John Williams, which would involve extending the current paid parental leave scheme from 18 weeks to 26 weeks, and adding superannuation, but keeping the level of pay at the minimum wage.
But Palmer said he could only support the proposal if all new mothers were eligible, not just those who are currently working.
“It is fairer, providing everyone can be eligible for it,” said Palmer of Williams’ plan. “It shouldn’t depend on whether women are working or not.”
While Palmer said he doesn’t expect Abbott to accept the compromised plan, he said his party will not support “any scheme that doesn’t treat all Australians equally”.
Under the Prime Minister’s proposed scheme, new mothers would be paid their full replacement wage for 26 weeks, plus superannuation. The scheme would be capped at an income level of $100,000, with the maximum payout to be capped at $50,000.
As previously reported by SmartCompany, Abbott scaled back the policy at the end of April, in the lead up to his government’s first budget. In its original form, the scheme was capped at $150,000, not $100,000.
Palmer’s apparent support for a watered-down scheme comes as tension grows within the Coalition about the policy.
According to The Australian, Nationals senators Ron Boswell, Barry O’Sullivan and John Williams have indicated they would be prepared to vote against the policy in the Senate, joining independent senator Nick Xenophon and DLP senator John Madigan who oppose the policy.
Liberal senators Dean Smith, Cory Bernardi and Ian McDonald have previously expressed concerns about the policy.
However, legislation for the scheme is expected to be introduced after July 1, at which time Boswell will retire. While the government would likely have the support of the Greens in the new Senate, it would face opposition to the policy from the Palmer United Party, which controls four seats, Xenophon and Madigan, as well as Family First senator Bob Day and Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm.
Williams told Fairfax on the weekend the government could extend the current paid parental leave scheme to 26 weeks and consider introducing its more generous scheme “when the economy is stronger and the budget is balanced and we are not borrowing any more money”.
“That would be a sensible compromise,” said Williams.
But the Prime Minister is sticking to his guns, telling a press conference in Canada he firmly believes paid parental leave is a workplace entitlement and “not a welfare entitlement”.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said he accepts there are members of the Coalition “who are not keen on the scheme”, but said small business owners and operators have a lot to gain under the proposed scheme, reports Fairfax.
“I think there’s been far, far too much emphasis placed on the high-income earners,” Truss told the ABC.
“People in small businesses or on the farm that have got very small incomes, they will now be able to take a break from their small business or the farm to have the family because they will receive paid parental leave, which will be better than the amount that they’re actually receiving in work at the present time,” said Truss.
“I think that this scheme offers an enormous amount to people in small business, people on the farm, those earning comparatively low wages in country towns,” he said.
Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany this morning that while paid parental leave does offer benefits to small businesses, especially if there is minimal red tape involved in processing the payments, it might not be the right time to introduce a more generous scheme.
Echoing comments made by senator Williams, Strong says the issue is “whether the budget can deal with it”. “If there is a budget emergency, it might not be the right time for a fancy paid parental leave scheme,” says Strong.
Strong says introducing a new paid parental leave scheme would be more appropriate when the budget is back in surplus, with concerns about improving consumer confidence and providing tax relief to small business at the forefront of COSBOA members’ minds.