News National PM defends parental leave scheme against critics

PM defends parental leave scheme against critics

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has spruiked his $5.5 billion a year paid parental leave scheme as a “sensible” and timely policy.

Mr Abbott told an International Women’s Day event the “fair-dinkum” scheme, due to begin in July 2015, will boost participation and productivity.

The federal government has come under pressure over the scheme after its commission of audit reportedly criticised it for being too generous in light of budgetary restraints.

But Mr Abbott says the scheme is sensible economic policy. He defended the plan to give working women their regular wage for six months, capped at a total payment of $75,000, after giving birth.

“I don’t see this as a women’s policy. I see this as a family policy,” he told the gathering in Sydney on Friday. “I don’t see this as a left-wing idea or as a right-wing idea. I see this as an idea whose time has come.”

Mr Abbott said his job as prime minister was to ensure women were free to live the life they choose. The scheme will be paid for by a levy on large businesses.

Asked whether the scheme would remain in its current form, Mr Abbott said the government had a mandate from voters.

“We well and truly have a mandate to introduce it, in the form that we took it to the election,” he told reporters.

The prime minister said his plan was “fully funded”.

Women at the event held mixed views about Mr Abbott’s scheme. Debbie Maddison, 56, said she had questions about whether the plan was fully funded.

“Like everything, it’s a great idea but how do we fund it?” she said.

“I think everyone wants people to be paid for parental leave but you’ve just got to have the funds from somewhere.”

Thirty-year-old public servant Erika Huxley said the scheme might allow her and her husband to have kids sooner.

“It will bring our plans forward by quite a few months,” Ms Huxley said. “It will definitely make a change to young families and working mothers.”