Price Walsh from Rous Mill pictured with his two children.
Price Walsh from Rous Mill pictured with his two children. The Northern Star

Doubts levy will deliver for new parents

PRICE Walsh only saw his wife for about an hour a day after their second child was born.

With no paid maternity or paternity leave, Mr Walsh had to work nights and look after the kids during the day while his wife, Dawn, went to her day job.

It was a tough 18 months for the couple, and a story shared by many working families. Which is why Mr Walsh believes a proposal for a national paid maternity leave scheme is a winner.

Well, sort of.

The proposal, submitted to a Productivity Commission inquiry in Canberra by social policy adviser Julia Perry this week, suggests all employers and workers should pay a levy to fund six months of leave for new mums, and four months leave for new dads.

Under the social insurance scheme, workers earning $50,000 a year would pay about $5 a week and employers would be slugged 0.5 per cent of their total wage bill.

Mr Walsh said he was 'all for' paid maternity and paternity leave, but that making people who were not planning to have kids contribute to the scheme was ridiculous.

"Maybe they should have an age bracket, or if you pay the contribution then don't have kids you should get it back in your tax return," Mr Walsh suggested.

"Any sort of paid leave for new parents is really helpful, and it's needed.

"But it's not fair to make everyone pay."

The model is used in other countries and would mean all workers and employers pay a levy to fund a $3.5 billion maternity leave scheme.

Ms Perry said the community as a whole should fund the leave.

"We really need women in the workforce ... so we have to have some system that actually recognises women's role," she said.

"Going back to work and putting babies into childcare too early, at 14 weeks, is not very good for babies and has long-term effects on how functioning they are."

Ms Perry said the levy cost was 'less than a milkshake' and workers would be prepared to pay.

However, Ballina resident Sharon Cadwallader, Northern Rivers regional manager of the NSW Business Chamber, said the model was flawed.

"Why should all employees be levied for something someone else wants?" she said.

"It's not the same as a Medicare levy, where everyone in the community needs health care at some point in their lives.

"I don't believe it is fair for an employee saving for retirement to have to pay into this proposed scheme. And what about those who are planning not to have children?"

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also criticised the idea, saying it is unfair because the benefits are not universal.

However, it has been supported by the Australian Families Association, which said the scheme had merit and 'probably is a fair way of doing it'.

The Productivity Commission's inquiry will deliver a report to the Federal Government early next year.

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