The path has been laid for new parents to access more flexible and generous paid parental leave with the changes passing federal parliament.
The new laws combine two existing payments into a shared 20-week scheme, expand access and make it easier for new fathers to obtain paid leave.
Further tranches will seek to progressively increase the amount of leave until it reaches 26 weeks in 2026.
The Greens called for the changes to come into effect sooner and go further, including for superannuation to be paid on leave to help close the gender pay gap, but were shot down.
The minor party also wanted the government to outline a pathway to 52 weeks and include PhD students.
“It’s unfair to expect every PhD student in Australia has the opportunity to get paid work while they are studying full time”, Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi said.
Independent senator David Pocock supported the changes but also backed the scheme going further, saying it’s a missed opportunity to increase women’s participation in the workforce.
He said that even when the leave was scaled up to six months, it would still be half of OECD nations’ average.
“There’s an opportunity, both in terms of the outcomes for children and families, for both parents being able to take more leave but then also allowing people to get back into the workforce,” he said.
Both Senator Pocock and the Greens attacked the government for saying the budget couldn’t take a $200 million hit in order to pay the entitlement on superannuation for about 180,000 people.
“There are billions of dollars in tax concessions to the very wealthiest of Australians at a time where we’re told, sorry, we can’t solve all these other problems for people who really could do with some more support,” he said.
Parents At Work chief executive Emma Walsh welcomed the changes but agreed they didn’t go far enough to “shift the gendered norms that see women expected to take on the lion’s share of caring duties in the workplace and at home”.
Labor senator Nita Green said it was an important step forward, reflecting on her child’s first birthday just days ago.
“You want to spend all your time with your new perfect human but you worry about work and returning to work,” she said.
“Most of the time it’s mothers who are left without that work connection, deepening the economic gap between men and women.”
The opposition supported the push, with Liberal senator Anne Ruston saying: “Paid parental leave should make it easier for parents … to spend important time with their new child unencumbered by the pressures of work”.
The second tranche of legislation is expected to be brought forward by mid-2024.
(Australian Associated Press)