Tony Abbott's pared-back paid parental leave scheme may still
struggle to clear parliament after the Greens signalled only
conditional support for the policy.
In a decision the prime minister described as "regrettable"
the scheme's salary cap is to be reduced to $100,000 from
Women who earn more than $100,000 will be entitled to a
maximum payment of $50,000 over 26 weeks, rather than up to
$75,000 promised before the 2010 and 2013 elections.
After months of sticking by his signature policy, Mr Abbott
blamed his backdown on the need to spread the burden of
restoring order to the federal budget, which he said was
facing a "debt and deficit disaster".
"I don't want any sectors of the community to feel they are
getting special privileges," he told reporters yesterday.
Mr Abbott said the expenditure review committee, of which he
is a member, had made the decision to trim the scheme earlier
As late as Tuesday, however, he said the government was
"absolutely committed" to his policy.
The prime minister has faced opposition from within the
coalition over the generosity of the policy, with calls for
him to cut the threshold or scrap the scheme altogether, and
threats that some may cross the floor.
The decision is likely to appease critics inside the
coalition, especially Nationals MPs who believed the scheme
was too generous and discriminated against stay-at-home mums.
While the new threshold matches the previously stated policy
of the Greens, the minor party now wants the government to
guarantee the scheme is affordable.
That means it has to be fully funded from the planned 1.5 per
cent levy on big business.
"We will not see this scheme funded by touching other areas
of the budget," deputy leader Adam Bandt said.
With few women earning $150,000, it's unlikely the new
threshold will save the government much from its original
$5.5 billion cost.
The Greens are also demanding Mr Abbott prove his policy has
the support of cabinet and coalition MPs.
Without backing from the Greens, the scheme won't get through
Labor certainly won't support it, reiterating its opposition
to what it has previously labelled a "gold-plated" scheme.
"$50,000 is ... a lot of taxpayers' money to be paying to
people who don't need it, who have plenty of money
themselves," opposition families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin
She said Mr Abbott had been forced into an embarrassing
backdown, and no amount of tinkering would change the
scheme's fundamentally unfair principles.
"(It's) desperation from a desperate prime minister."
Advocacy group The ParentHood welcomed the decision to lower
the salary cap but said it would do little to save the
It would prefer to see funds re-directed to affordable child
care because it would support parents longer than the first
six months of a child's life.