Tony Abbott's 'Modern Conservative' Maternity Leave Scheme Will Cost $5.5 Billion

Getty / Stefan Postles

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will makes his electoral pitch to families by outlining his huge parental leave proposal today that will give all working women six months’ paid leave plus superannuation from 2015.

The cost, according to News Ltd reports today, will be $5.5 billion a year, largely funded by Abbott’s 1.5% levy on Australia’s 3000 largest companies.

There’s a huge gap between the potential cash benefit for families having children between the two main parties. Under Labor’s scheme, which pays the minimum wage, a new mum stands to get up to $11,200 over 18 weeks. A woman on an average wage under the Coalition scheme would get around $32,000.

Australia was the only OECD country outside of the US without a paid maternity leave scheme until the Labor scheme was introduced in 2011. The Abbott scheme would be among the most generous in the OECD.

Abbott was once stridently opposed to paid parental leave schemes and many in his party are known to be unhappy at the proposed welfare largesse from a conservative leader.

In an interview with Samantha Maiden (more here), Abbott explained:

The policies that conservatives adopt should be the best way to reflect conservative views in modern circumstances. Being pro family is a conservative position. Being pro children is a conservative position. And if you want to be pro family and pro child in the modern era I reckon you need to have a paid parental leave policy.

Underpinning this is an acknowledgement that dropping to a single income while one parent, usually mum, leaves work to look after a newborn will send a family deeply into debt – which can often have terrible consequences for family cohesion.

There will be some ongoing criticism of the paid amount applying to working women on salaries up to $150,000 with a maximum benefit of $75,000. This is an enormously generous payment from the government. You have to cap it somewhere, but $75,000 is poor optics, regardless of the arguments around productivity, at a time when all policy proposals are seen as either helping or hindering efforts to fix the structural problems in the budget.

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