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Government veto of paid parental leave 'an overreaction'

Published: 9:20AM Monday April 29, 2013 Source: ONE News

An early Government veto of bill which proposes extending paid parental leave would be an "overreaction", a parental rights campaigner says.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government plans to reject a Labour bill which wants the period of paid parental leave to be extended from 14 to 26 weeks, claiming that it cannot afford the additional $150 million per year cost.

This is in spite of new poll results which show that the bill has overwhelming support from many voters.

Nearly two thirds of respondents to last night's ONE News Colmar Brunton poll say they would support extending paid parental leave at the Government's expense.

Opponents to the bill accounted for 34% of those surveyed, while only 4% said they were unsure.

But Rebecca Matthews from the organisation 26 For Babies told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning that there is still plenty of time for the Government to change their mind about Sue Moroney's bill.

"The bill is still before select committee and submissions are still going ahead. There are details that could be worked out, for example, the implementation date could be put forward.

"It's actually a very inexpensive policy and it is about priorities and it seems to me that with such broad popular support, it's really up to the Government to listen to what people want," she said.

Matthews said that she thinks an early Government veto would be an "overreaction".

"I think the veto is looking increasingly like an overreaction to the actual cost of this policy. The latest figures I've seen, show that the extra paid parental leave would only be $166 million over three years.

"And as submitters said in the process, that is within the margin of error of the Government's forecasting costs," she said.

26 For Babies argues that the Government should let the debate on this bill "run its course".

"The bill has attracted strong support from members of the public and many community organisations who know that extending paid parental leave is the right thing to do for babies, parents and the workforce."

"The majority of MPs in Parliament support this bill also.  The Government should not use a financial veto to block the progress of a bill helping to support families to care for their babies at home in the early months of their life," campaigners said.

'We don't have the money'

In response to the poll results, the Prime Minister said that while the Government is not opposed to extending paid parental leave, they currently do not have the means to fund the scheme.

"It's not that we are opposed. I mean no one is opposed to paid parental leave, it's to be welcomed and more would be better, we are not arguing that case.

"What we are saying is, there is a cost of paid parental leave and if we increase paid parental leave beyond 14 weeks today, we either have to not have a surplus or alternatively we have to go along and say well we're not going to spend money on something else. It's all about a balancing act," he said today.

Key told Breakfast that he thinks paid parental leave will be increased in the future, but did not specify any possible start date.

"I think paid parental leave will increase one day, it's just not today, because we don't have the money.

"Again no one's arguing that it's unreasonable, but it's all about affordability because in the end if we do that, we make that case for pretty much everything," he said.

Key also said that he thinks New Zealand is "relatively generous" in their parental entitlements.

"We have to live within our means. When we are back in surplus and we've got choices, then I'm not all ruling paid parental leave out in terms of expanding that. It's definitely something we'd like to do, but it's about the timing of that issue.

"I think at 14 weeks we are about in the middle of the pack of developed countries, we are not the most generous but we are certainly not the least generous," he said.