Parental leave debate reaches Senate

The Senate’s started debating the government’s plan to introduce Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme, but non-government senators have refused to bow to Kevin Rudd’s edict to not get in the road.

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The government, opposition and crossbench have agreed to the scheme in principle, but the opposition and Greens would prefer a 26 week scheme instead of the 18 weeks at the minimum wage, which the government’s proposed.

The Greens also promised to introduce amendments to provide more job security, especially for those who’ve been in a new job for less than a year, potentially delaying the legislation’s passage through the Senate.

That wasn’t good enough for Mr Rudd, who told senators any delay was not acceptable.

“It’s now down to crunch time,” he told reporters in Canberra. “We have a very simple message for the Senate: Get out of the road guys, just get on with it.”

“We can’t delay any longer. We must see this legislation through. It is so key to making life easier for working families.”

Reaction

Mr Rudd’s edict has left senators less than impressed, with Greens’ spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young saying the Senate’s not going to roll over just because that’s what the prime minister wants.

The Greens want the government to agree to six months paid leave, but are happy to compromise by making that at the minimum wage level.

Liberal senator Mitch Fifield says the coalition supports paid parental leave and the introduction of a scheme to deliver it, but he’s accused Labor of rushing the scheme which falls short of a coalition plan to provide six months leave for mothers, paid for by a levy on big business.

However he concedes the plan for 18 weeks leave is a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Family First senator Steve Fielding attacked the government’s plan for not doing enough for stay-at-home mothers.

It wasn’t good enough for the government to be handing out money for “prisoners and prostitutes”, but none for mums who stayed at home to look after their children, he said.

Earlier, Mr Rudd joined Families Minister Jenny Macklin, ACTU secretary Sharan Burrow and a dozen mums and their kids to accept a petition pushing for the government’s scheme to be in place by January 1 2011.