The Abbott government's proposed changes to paid parental leave explained

Between parents abruptly branded ‘double dippers’ and employers siding with unions, it’s a confusing new political battleground. Here’s what it all might mean

What’s all this about double dipping?
What’s all this about double dipping? Photograph: Tim Clayton/Corbis
What’s all this about double dipping? Photograph: Tim Clayton/Corbis
Political editor

Last modified on Tue 13 Mar 2018 13.16 EDT

The government says parents legally accessing both taxpayer and employer-funded parental leave schemes are “double dipping”. It proposes to remove the $11,500 taxpayer-funded scheme, now paid to mothers earning up to $150,000, for those who receive that much, or more, from their employer. Here is a rough guide to what that might mean:

For most employees

Many bigger companies provide 12 or 14 weeks of maternity leave, paid at a mother’s normal wage. Mothers earning less than $150,000 are also eligible for the $11,500 taxpayer-funded scheme. The government says those mothers will no longer get the $11,500 if their employer-funded benefit is worth that much, or more.

Employers and unions say that employers may, over time, offer the additional benefits in different ways – to achieve the intended aim of the spending for the company and the employee – which would deny the government some of its intended savings.

In the commonwealth public service

The Maternity Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Act 1973 provides that public service employees can receive up to 12 weeks’ leave at full pay. But this is overridden by collective agreements which, on average, provide for 14 weeks of paid parental leave, again at full pay. Departments like human services, defence and health receive 14 weeks of paid leave, in addition to the $11,500. Some – for example in the Australian federal police and tax department – receive 16 weeks in addition to the $11,500.

Given these workers effectively bargain with the federal government over their wages, public servants earning less than $150,000 are likely to lose the $11,500 benefit.

In parliament

Female politicians have an informal system of paid parental leave outside the formal government “safety net” and are likely to continue to receive at least $50,000 or more in taxpayer-funded paid parental leave.

Politicians are not covered by the scheme offering $11,500. Instead they decide how much leave they feel able to take, depending on sitting patterns and the time in the electoral cycle when they have a child, and then seek permission from the parliament under standing order 26 for their absence. Most take between three and five months, although many continue to do some electorate work during that time. Three months of paid leave on a politician’s base salary would be worth almost $49,000.

Fathers accessing paternity leave

It appears fathers will be allowed to continue to access the current national taxpayer-funded provision for two weeks’ leave paid at the minimum wage, on top of whatever leave is offered by their employer.

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