Labour is promising to extend paid parental leave and make Working for Families more generous for parents of under-2s under its new social welfare policy.

Labour's social development spokeswoman Annette King has given further details about the party's new social policies, the full details of which will be made public within two months.

The plans include increasing paid parental leave from the current 14 weeks and allowing more parents to be eligible for it to make it more comparable to Australia's new scheme, which allows for 18 weeks on the minimum wage.

Ms King said although Australia had introduced its first national paid parental scheme only this year, it was more generous than New Zealand's provisions.

"Australia took their lead from New Zealand's scheme but they have raced ahead of us. It is for 18 weeks and available to a wider group of people."

She said Australia also had a "baby bonus" - worth around A$5000 ($6430) a year - for some who weren't eligible for leave provisions.

While Labour had not yet considered a similar step, she said the difference between the two countries showed New Zealand had to make some improvements.

Ms King said Labour's policies had been costed and were developed in consultation with experts over the past 18 months. The focus was on children aged under six.

Working for Families would be more generous for parents of children under 2 - allowing more freedom for a parent to remain at home with young children. Changes to the domestic purposes benefit were also planned.

She said National's black and white rule requiring single parents to find work when their youngest child was 6 years old was unfair.

While it might be suitable for some parents of one child, it was more difficult for those with more children who had to juggle after-school care as well.

"Nobody is saying it should be a benefit for life, but it is to assist people at a time when they are caring for children. Surely the aim here is to bring up responsible, well cared for kids. And those of us who have tried it know that that is hard work."

Policies for 3- to 5-year-olds included providing free early childhood education, using the 20-hours free scheme as a starting point. Some 2-year-olds would also be put into early education if they needed it, rather than waiting until they were 3 years old.

She said babies would be registered with Wellchild at birth to help identify those children who were struggling.

"You can identify those who need help very early on, and where you see a child or family struggling you help them, including starting those children at early childhood education early to socialise them into learning and give them the emotional maturity to learn."

Parenting courses would also be offered universally.

Ms King said the aim [of the policies] was to try to ensure every child was well set up for their future lives and reduce child abuse and poverty.


Started on 1 January 2011.

* 18 weeks' leave.
* Minimum wage of $732 (A$570) a week.
* Eligible if parent earned less than $192,775 (A$150,000) the previous year.
* Must have worked for at least 330 hours (one day a week) for 10 of the 13 months before to the birth or adoption of the child.
* If not eligible, may get a "baby bonus" of $6800 (A$5294) a year.

New Zealand:

Started in 2002.

* 14 weeks' leave.
* Their usual pay, up to a maximum of $441.62 a week.
* Must have worked for same employer for an average of at least 10 hours a week for at least six months immediately before the baby's due date.