Dita De Boni 's Opinion

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Keeping Mum: A hardly surprising veto on paid parental leave

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'For most children ... home is the best place to be where possible in the first few years.' 
Photo / Thinkstock
'For most children ... home is the best place to be where possible in the first few years.' Photo / Thinkstock

Hold the front page... not. The National Government has vetoed the idea of six months of paid parental leave, saying $150 million a year is spent on PPL provisions already and more is unaffordable.

In my opinion, if you did not vote, or voted National in the last election, you have absolutely no right to be upset about that pronouncement.

The National Government is not big on extending any kind of benefit, obviously, and will be especially obstinate in that view in the face of a recession. They have been consistent on the kinds of issues that they say will cost business and the government coffers. You have to give them that.

As someone who believes passionately that the bulk of public money, time and effort should be spent on children in their preschool years, I find the Government's view extremely short-sighted. It's the New Zealand disease. Save a buck here and lose out down the line. For most children - and here we are not talking about that stubborn, relatively small number of children in truly abusive homes - home is the best place to be where possible in the first few years.

Especially in the first six months. It definitely would help in terms of cementing breastfeeding - which the Government, through its health authorities, claims to support. It is also critical in terms of the child establishing the right neural pathways in the brain. We all know the calamities that await when that process goes haywire.

It's not so much that parents who both go back into the workforce early can't offset that with good parenting - the reams of research written about it suggest they often can. As we all know, there are women who find themselves depressed and miserable at home and feel the need to go out to work. That's their choice, and ultimately one they have to be able to make. But what is wrong with the Government promoting the idea that one parent at home is a great way to grow future citizens - and paying a (still reasonably) token sum to do so?

It is far cheaper than subsidising an increasing number of childcare centres, some of dubious quality.

To my mind there is common sense in the usual right-wing arguments about having the number of children you can afford, taking financial responsibility for them where you can, and not leaning on welfare more than strictly necessary. I believe most people actually do follow these broad principles when growing their families.

But the reality is that you cannot dictate who has children, how many they have, or when they have them. So-called 'bludgers' will always make up a percentage of those putting their hands out for help - I'm sure its offset by those who don't claim PPL, continuing to work around their babies as it's more lucrative. Most cases where PPL is paid are, surely, families wanting to do a good thing for their children.

If New Zealand extended paid parental leave of six months, even a year, to, say, each woman's first two children (I personally think this would be entirely fair), revamp and reinforce Plunket with proper funding, strictly monitor and actively promote quality childcare from the one year mark, and look to back/promote industries that are flexible and allow parents real options about combining work and family when their one year is up, my belief is that everyone in society would benefit, not just families with children.

It's not going to happen in the current political or economic environment though.

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Dita De Boni

Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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