(Transcript from World News Radio)
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has bowed to growing pressure within his party and cut the threshold for his paid-parental-leave scheme from $150,000 to $100,000.
Mr Abbott has been facing mounting opposition from within Coalition ranks over the generosity of his signature policy.
He has faced speculation some colleagues were planning to vote against a plan they saw as too expensive amidst the expected savage spending cuts in the Budget.
Amanda Cavill reports.
Tony Abbott’s decision follows mounting concern over the scheme’s generosity at the same time the Government is considering a debt levy to pay off the nation’s borrowing.
Mr Abbott says the decision came out of the Coalition’s expenditure review.
It means the maximum payout for 26 weeks’ leave will now be capped at $50,000 when it is introduced, instead of $75,000.
Mr Abbott says, given the tough fiscal conditions facing Australia, the decision is fair and right.
“Things are every bit as grim, and then some, as have been portrayed. I don’t want any section of the community to feel that they are getting special privileges here. I think everyone has got to be in this together. We are going to fix this problem together. Everyone from the top down is going to be part of fixing Labor’s debt-and-deficit mess, and, yes, that does include, regrettably, an adjustment to the paid-parental-leave scheme.”
Mr Abbott was facing pressure from a group of conservative Liberal and National senators reportedly preparing to block the legislation when it went to the Senate for consideration.
Liberal senator Cory Bernardi and the Nationals’ John Williams had signalled they might vote against the scheme.
Veteran Queensland Liberal National Party senator Ron Boswell had told colleagues he would find it hard to back the scheme.
And independent senators Nick Xenophon and John Madigan had also indicated they would vote no unless significant changes were made.
National Party Leader Warren Truss says he thinks the reduced scheme will still deliver a helping hand to those who really need it.
“What the focus in my electorate has been on, what this scheme offers to people on lower incomes, especially people struggling in small business, a husband-and-wife team who might want to interrupt their business and not able to do so to have a family … those who are on low incomes, on the farms or in other areas of industry, where they simply haven’t been able to afford a break in their two incomes to be able to actually have a family.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Mr Abbott has broken his promise on paid parental leave.
Mr Shorten says Labor never thought the scheme was a good idea.
But he says the backdown shows, if Mr Abbott cannot even stick by his signature policy, he cannot be trusted.
“We don’t think the expensive paid-parental-leave scheme, giving multimillionaires tens of thousands of dollars they don’t need for paid parental leave, was ever a good idea. But what we have now is a prime minister who said this was his main signature policy. He’s described himself as Nixon going to China, Abbott going to Paid Parental-Leave Land, and he’s walked away from it. If Prime Minister Abbott can’t even stick by his signature policy for 24 hours, how can Australians trust him on anything? And, anyway, whatever his paid parental-leave scheme is, it is an unfair scheme. “
The reduced threshold is likely to attract Greens support, which potentially will ease the legislation’s passage through the Senate.
The Government is yet to introduce a bill for the scheme into parliament but is expected to do so during the winter sittings of parliament following the Budget.