29 Aug 2017

Parental leave policy appeals as Labour cries foul

8:14 pm on 29 August 2017

The National Party is promising to extend paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks and add flexibility to allow both parents to take some leave at the same time.

Bill English and Jacinda Ardern

Bill English and Jacinda Ardern Photo: AFP

Nelson mother-of-two Carmel Layton said any extension of paid parental leave would be great news.

"I think it's fantastic. When I had my first daughter it was only 14 (weeks). It's not a lot of time, and not a lot of money."

Nelson mother Carmel Layton with her two children, Ayla, 3, and Elsie, 16 months, at today’s announcement in Richmond.

Nelson mother Carmel Layton with her two children, Ayla, 3, and Elsie, 16 months, at today's announcement in Richmond. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

But Labour cried foul over National's plans because last year, while serving as finance minister, Bill English vetoed proposed changes by its MP Sue Moroney to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks.

A similar bill by Ms Moroney in 2015 also failed to pass after both National and ACT blocked it even though it had been watered down.

Bill English in Nelson.

Bill English in Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said the announcement was cynical and extra parental leave could have already been available if Bill English had not vetoed a plan to make the same changes last year.

She said she was surprised by National's "cynical" announcement.

Ms Moroney said the announcement was a sign that National had run out of ideas.

"Just last year they used all of their might and power in Parliament to stop parents from getting this entitlement, and used a never-before-used financial veto on an entire bill, to deny parents this measure that would have been in place already, if the National Party and Bill English in particular hadn't moved to stop it."

Mr English mingled with mums, teachers and toddlers at a pre-school in Richmond this morning, before announcing National's pitch for the centre ground - a parental and newborn package.

He praised the work of parents and caregivers in communities.

"We recognise in particular the contribution of our mothers - many of whom are working as well as looking after their children."

In the 2014 Budget, National extended paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 18 weeks.

The new package has four parts, beginning with extending paid parental leave by two weeks to 20 weeks in July next year, and by another two weeks to 22 weeks in 2019.

"Today I'm announcing that the two parents will be able to take paid parental leave at the same time. Currently, for instance, if a father wants to be at home in the first few weeks of a newborn's life they have to take annual leave or unpaid leave," Mr English said.

He said he would be especially interested in how many dads took up the offer.

"I spent 15 months as a house-husband myself, looking after a child on my own while my wife was working and I know it would mean a lot to couples if they could spend some of that time together."

The package also includes a free course of dental treatment for pregnant women, quicker access to fertility treatment and a third free IVF cycle for eligible couples.

Mr English also said the books were now in better shape.

"We said [previously] we'd extend paid parental leave when we were able to and we're doing that in the context of a range of support for families."

Ms Moroney said Labour still plans to go one better on parental leave if elected. She said while she felt frustrated on behalf of the parents who missed out, she was excited by Labour's plan that if elected next month, it would pass a law for 26 weeks' paid parental leave within its first 100 days.

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