Labor has singled out paid parental leave as a key battleground as Prime Minister Tony Abbott weighs up an early election on the back of a better-received second budget.
The first question time after Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered his second budget was dominated by opposition questions about the government’s parental leave policy change and the Coalition spruiking small business tax breaks.
From July 1 next year about 80,000 new mothers won’t be able to access the government paid parental leave scheme if their employer already provides the same leave.
Labor says thousands of public and private sector employees who have bargained away wages to get access to employer-provided leave, which complements the government scheme, will be badly impacted.
Mr Abbott – who previously described his now-ditched parental leave scheme as his signature policy – said he had been convinced the government needed to prioritise childcare spending over leave.
Giving workers access to a government scheme and employer-paid leave was “double dipping” which needed to end for the sake of fairness, he said.
The move will save the budget $1 billion over four years.
Labor leader Bill Shorten seized on comments by Mr Hockey and Social Services Minister Scott Morrison as evidence the government was showing contempt for new parents.
Mr Hockey agreed with Nine Network journalist Laurie Oakes in a weekend interview that accessing the two schemes was basically fraud.
“Well, it is,” Mr Hockey said.
Mr Morrison in a radio interview on Monday said: “We are getting rid of what is an inequity and frankly in many cases I think is a rort.”
With Labor and the Greens opposing the budget measure, the government will need six votes from Senate crossbenchers, who have yet to firm up their positions.
The issue – as well as cuts to education and health, higher education deregulation, family benefits reductions and pension changes – will be hot topics at the next election.
Mr Abbott gave mixed signals on Wednesday about the prospects of an early election this year, as he defended the budget.
Asked to guarantee there’d be no election this year, the Prime Minister said: “I can guarantee the public that we will do what we told them we were going to do at the last election – stop the boats, scrap the carbon tax, build the roads and get the budget under control.”
Earlier, Mr Abbott told the Nine Network the election – which is due in September next year – would be “about the middle of next year”.
“This government always planned to run full term,” he said.
Mr Hockey said an early election never featured in the government’s thinking.
“We never sat down and said ‘let’s have an election’. Never, not once,” he said.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said Labor was ready if an early election was called.
Former Prime Minister John Howard said the Abbott government had clearly framed its latest budget around political considerations.
“It has certainly been framed by the government with an eye to political sensitivities,” he said.