FIRST published in The Australian on 30 September 2013.

By Patricia Karvelas

THE Abbott government wants to have its paid parental leave scheme fully legislated and passed by June in a strategy that will challenge the opposition by forcing it to a vote sooner than expected.

The Australian can reveal the government will not wait until after the new Senate forms next year to get its six-month full replacement wage scheme legislated. Bureaucrats will be ordered to start work on the scheme immediately, with consultations and detail to be worked out in coming months so legislation can be drafted.

Government sources said the scheme was debated every day of the election campaign and the Coalition had secured a clear mandate for the new model. They said the move to accelerate the legislation would set up a significant test for the Labor caucus and the new opposition leader.

A source said Labor would be marked down by the electorate if it chose to block the legislation. But if Labor does choose to oppose what it has labelled a “Rolls-Royce” scheme, Tony Abbott may be forced to negotiate with the Greens, who retain the balance of power in the Senate. Greens leader Christine Milne said her party would push for a reduction in the cap that limits the amount of money each new mother can receive under the Coalition scheme.

“We are looking forward to working with the Coalition to secure a fairer paid parental leave system for Australia,” Senator Milne said.

“This will be a test of Tony Abbott’s leadership as Prime Minister. His crash-or-crash-through attitude can’t hold up in the Senate.

“I said before the election that regardless of who is in government, we look at legislation on its merits and work to make improvements in line with Greens policy.

“We agree with the new government that parental leave should be a workplace entitlement, but a cap of $150,000 is far too generous and expensive. Once we’ve seen the legislation, we will move amendments to make the scheme fairer, such as reducing the cap to $100,000.”

She said the costings done for the Coalition by the Parliamentary Budget Office revealed that a small levy on Australia’s biggest businesses, combined with a modest contribution from government, would help to “support each and every Australian family”. The Coalition fully costed its PPL scheme using the PBO. Treasury will now cost the scheme for inclusion in the federal budget.

A Coalition source said the government would immediately begin work on the scheme and did not want a delay in its implementation. The new flagship paid parental leave scheme will cost $5.5 billion a year.

The Coalition is promising 26 weeks’ pay at the mother’s full wage, meaning a woman on the average female full-time salary of $65,000 a year would receive $1250 a week. There is no means test, but no mother can get more than $75,000 – six months of a $150,000-a-year salary.

Fathers would be eligible for two of the 26 weeks at full pay.

Since January 2011, the federal Labor government offered new parents 18 weeks’ paid leave at the minimum wage of $622 a week.

In a major sting to business, half the cost of Mr Abbott’s scheme would be covered by a 1.5 per cent levy on about 3000 big companies with taxable incomes of more than $5 million a year. Business had originally been promised that this levy would be temporary, but there is no end date.