Support for means testing of parental leave

Stuff 11 May 2014
A group of high-powered New Zealand women, some of them mothers, say paid parental leave should be means-tested to give more assistance to poorer families.

The idea of means-testing paid parental leave was floated last week at a discussion between winners and finalists from last year’s inaugural Women of Influence awards – an initiative by Fairfax Media and Westpac to recognise the nation’s inspiring women. The women came together to debate a Labour proposal to extend paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks.

Labour MP Sue Moroney has accused National of delaying the second reading of her private member’s bill on the paid parental leave extension to 26 weeks despite overwhelming public support for it. The bill is now thought unlikely to be voted on before this year’s election. National is expected to announce a smaller extension as part of this week’s Budget, probably by four weeks to 18 weeks.

Means-testing paid parental leave is supported by Therese Walsh, mother of two, the inaugural Women of Influence winner and head of New Zealand’s 2015 Cricket World Cup campaign.

“We means-test for almost every other kind of benefit, why should this be any different? There isn’t enough taxpayer money to go around and the spend must be appropriate. I don’t have a strong view on how much time should be taken but the dollars should be enough to provide the necessities.”

Mai Chen, founding partner of public and employment law specialist Chen Palmer and mother of one, said the issue was not the length of paid time taken but the amount paid. The current amount of $488.17 a week for 14 weeks was less than the minimum wage. “Frankly, a woman like me doesn’t actually need paid parental leave to help me.”