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Sex Discrimination Commissioner welcomes Prime Minister's comments that paid maternity leave should be considered.

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Wednesday 17 July 2002


Sex Discrimination Commissioner welcomes Prime Minister's comments that paid maternity leave should be considered.


LINDA MOTTRAM: The Prime Minist er John Howard has been giving some new signals about the issue of paid maternity leave, just a day after the Liberal Party Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull supported the idea as a way of shoring up Australia's flagging fertility rate.


In Melbourne, Mr Howard has made a speech about the need for a broad policy approach to balancing work and family, also giving the strongest indication yet that the Government is thinking seriously of extending paid maternity leave.


Peta Donald reports.


PETA DONALD: It's a year since the Liberals won a by-election in the outer Melbourne seat of Aston, marking a reversal in John Howard's political fortunes.


Last night he chose a dinner for the party faithful in Aston to make another pitch to the mortgage belt.


JOHN HOWARD: I call it a BBQ stopper. It's about the balance between work and family.


PETA DONALD: He outlined his ideas about the debate over a national paid maternity leave scheme.


JOHN HOWARD: It's important that we don't make a mistake of thinking that there's a one size fits all approach.


The proposition that we should have some kind of paid maternity leave is a proposition that ought to be examined, providing the interests of small business are properly protected, because I don't believe that Governments should mandate something like that at the expense of small business but it should be examined as part of an overall policy package.


PETA DONALD: So, extending paid maternity leave is seriously on the Howard Government's agenda, despite being dismissed as middle class welfare by the Finance Minister Nick Minchin.


At the same time Mr Howard is trying to dampen expectations.


JOHN HOWARD: We do have a declining birth rate but you shouldn't be so naive as to imagine that introducing a paid maternity leave support of a period of twelve or fourteen weeks is going to on its own suddenly reverse the declining fertility rate in this country. That is simplicity and naive in the extreme.


PETA DONALD: And forget redirecting the five hundred million dollar a year baby bonus to pay for maternity leave, as some, including the Australian Industry Group, have suggested.


JOHN HOWARD: The baby bonus is designed to do that. It's designed to recognise the loss of income that is suffered at the time, particularly when the first child is born.


PETA DONALD: The Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward, is responsible for the options paper on paid maternity leave that's sparked the debate.


She's encouraged by Mr Howard's latest comments.


PRU GOWARD: I hope that means that t he Prime Minister is looking at a range of options for work and family and that paid maternity leave is an absolutely rock bottom entitlement so that women in paid work can stay home for fourteen weeks is part of that consideration.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward speaking to Peta Donald.