Almost doubling the period of paid parental leave as Labour MP Sue Moroney’s bill promises could in time improve this country’s poor performance with children.
An international trade union conference on maternity protection in Singapore last month has adopted the extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks as a priority for the Asia/Pacific/Middle East region – the latest in a number of family-centred organisations supporting the bill.
But the bill may never be passed because the government is threatening to veto it at its third reading. The country cannot afford it, says finance minister Bill English, while continuing to borrow to pay for tax cuts for the top income bracket.
Mr English said the government still had $10 billion in overdraft.
Labour estimates that six months paid leave for parents would cost an extra $700 million over the next six years.
The NZEI suggests this cost could be offset by a reduction in early childhood education services. Furthermore, if giving mothers six months to fully breastfeed their babies, a well-known way of nurturing children’s immunity, the benefits would also extend into the health sector with fewer demands on health services.
Giving babies time to bond with their parents could also reduce the number of youngsters becoming involved in crime. Long-term, the benefits of having well-adjusted, healthy children reach into all sectors of society, not least the tax-paying workforce.
Meanwhile the government is debating putting money into a new SkyCity convention centre. Columnist Gordon Campbell pointed out last month that, the Ministry for Economic Development’s own report on the proposed convention centre suggests the centre could eventually turn a profit, but until such time, the government is up for $10 million in subsidies. However, a successful convention centre at SkyCity would take business from surrounding restaurants and hotels and a resultant boost in gambling may well harm vulnerable children
In 2010, economist Brian Easton produced a list of ways in which New Zealand lags behind other OECD countries in its treatment of children. Out of 30 OECD countries, New Zealand is:
- fourth to bottom for injury deaths among one-to-four-year-olds
- has 14 times the average OECD rate of rheumatic fever
Giving children a better start in life would address these issues and give this country a better international rating as well as boosting the common good of the whole society.
Paid parental leave does favour the better-off in our society leaving the beneficiaries on the margins.