News National Pressure forces Abbott into parental leave rethink
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Pressure forces Abbott into parental leave rethink

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It was his signature policy, one that Prime Minister Tony Abbott offered as a key plank in his election platform but attracted staunch criticism both from within his own party and without.

But with the curtain being drawn on a tough year for the government, and a number of major policy initiatives stranded in political no-man’s land, the PM has announced his paid parental leave (PPL) scheme is up for renegotiation.

Mr Abbott will be hoping to please not just crossbench senators but some of his backbench by announcing a review of the scheme.

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The PM has announced he will rework the policy he took to not one but two federal elections.

It’s a gesture not just to crossbench senators but those on his own backbench who dislike the policy as it stands.

When it was first announced, women earning $150,000 a year would have received a payment of $75,000.

The maximum payment was later pared back to $50,000 – paid to women earning $100,000 a year – and may now be cut back even more.

The idea to fund the payments through a 1.5 per cent levy on Australia’s 3,000 largest businesses remains, but any savings made by paring back the scheme will be invested in child care instead.

Mr Abbott has indicated his preference is to direct that funding to support for in-home carers, which could include nannies, but has refused to give any further details.

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.
Embattled Treasurer Joe Hockey releases his budget update this month. Photo: AAP

Changing tack

The announcement comes at the end of a “ragged” couple of weeks for the federal government, which took a further beating in the opinion polls the same day Mr Abbott announced his PPL revamp.

Poor polling, rumours of a cabinet reshuffle, a trust deficit over perceived broken promises and confusion surrounding key policies has fuelled internal unrest.

Disunity among the coalition ranks has reached such a point that frontbench minister Christopher Pyne has publicly rebuked his colleagues and ordered them to pull their heads in.

Mr Abbott had promised colleagues he’d remove a few barnacles from the ship by Christmas, and though not shelving the PPL scheme he’s hit the reset button on the controversial policy.

“My ministers and I will be working on this over the summer break so that we do have something in the first half of the year to bring forward,” he told reporters in Sydney.

AAP
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Photo: AAP

‘Another broken promise’: Shorten

The admission that his policy would look different to the one he took to the election triggered cries of “broken promise” from Labor.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten suggested his sudden change of heart wasn’t because he believed the policy needed work.

“The Prime Minister is in deep trouble with his colleagues,” he told reporters.

But the opposition also claimed the policy revamp would create a headache for Treasurer Joe Hockey, who is adding the finishing touches to his budget update.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook due this month would be a “joke” if the multi-billion PPL policy was still incomplete.

Chris Pyne
Chris Pyne (L) with Tony Abbott. Photo: AAP

Better times ahead: Pyne

It could put further pressure on Mr Hockey, who was asked about his future as treasurer as he handed down the major Financial System Inquiry report on Sunday.

Some senior ministers have spoken out in support of Mr Hockey amid rumours of a cabinet reshuffle and even a challenge from colleague Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Pyne said he had every confidence Mr Hockey would bounce back after a difficult budget year and chastised colleagues for spreading rumours.

“My colleagues need to stop being background commentators and instead recognise that they are as much players on the field as I am or any other member of the leadership team,” he said.

He predicted next year would be a strong one for the government after what he conceded was a “slightly ragged” finish to 2014.

– AAP, with ABC

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