Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Parental leave price tag splits public

Grandmother Jacqueyne Taylor attended a rally to support increasing paid parental leave. Photo / Greg Bowker
Grandmother Jacqueyne Taylor attended a rally to support increasing paid parental leave. Photo / Greg Bowker

Nearly half of voters agree with the Government's decision to veto a Labour MP's bill to increase paid parental leave because of the price tag, according to the latest Herald DigiPoll survey.

Views on whether Labour MP Sue Moroney's members' bill to increase paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks should go ahead were almost evenly split in the poll - 48.4 per cent of respondents said it should be ditched while 48.6 per cent said it should be allowed to pass if it had the numbers in Parliament. A further 3 per cent did not know or chose neither option.

Ms Moroney's bill is due to have its first reading in Parliament within two months and has support to pass through its first reading.

Respondents were told the Government planned to ditch the bill on the grounds it would have to borrow $150 million a year.

The poll of 750 people was taken from April 19-29, about a week after Finance Minister Bill English said the Government would exercise its veto over the bill even if it got the necessary support to pass.

NZ First and the Maori Party joined United Future and the Greens in confirming their support yesterday, although NZ First's support is restricted to the first reading to allow public feedback at select committee. The measure was expected to get broad public support, but the poll indicates there is sympathy for the Government's decision to veto.

Yesterday Ms Moroney said it was understandable voters were concerned about the cost at a time when money was tight, but disputed the Government's cost estimate. She had ensured there was a gradual increase of four weeks a year so that the full costs would not kick in until the books were back in surplus in 2015. The select committee could work out accurate costings and she was confident it would not be $150 million.

"I'm confident support will grow from there. I know the way the bill was structured deals with the concerns the 48.4 per cent are raising in their answer to that poll and I feel confident that New Zealanders' support will grow for it."

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the poll reinforced the Government's position.

"Although there is some support for extending paid parental leave, there is also wide public recognition that it is unaffordable. Our advice is it would cost at least an extra $450 million over its first four years and we simply don't have that money."

Paid parental leave costs about $154 million a year and the state-funded scheme is used by about 26,000 parents. Ms Wilkinson's office said advice was that extending it to 26 weeks a year would double that cost, and cost about $450 million if implemented over four years.

Child and family advocacy groups have expressed support for the measure. However, the Families Commission said its original target of 12 months paid leave was now a "gold standard" that was unrealistic in this economic climate.

The poll of 750 people has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 per cent.

- NZ Herald

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