AUSTRALIA - Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott has unveiled plans for one of the world's most generous parental leave schemes in a bid to get married couples to have more children, and to also boost his appeal among women voters.
A working woman whose baby is born on or after July 1, 2015, will enjoy up to six months of maternity leave with full pay, capped at A$150,000 (S$175,000) a year. Those who earn more than A$150,000 a year will get the maximum A$75,000.
The scheme, which Mr Abbott hopes will lead to a baby boom, will cost A$5.5 billion a year. This will be partly funded by a 1.5 per cent tax on the country's 3,000 largest firms - a move that has angered the business community.
Mr Abbott, who is on track to win the Sept 7 national elections, said he wanted to offer "workplace justice" for women and enable them to continue their career after having a baby.
"This is a pro-child, pro-family, pro-growth policy," Mr Abbott, flanked by his wife and one of his daughters, told reporters while campaigning in Melbourne on Sunday.
"If we want families to have more kids, if we want women to have a fair dinkum choice to have a family, and maybe to extend the size of their family and to have a career, we need a policy like this."
Australia has had a government-paid parental leave scheme only since 2011. It was introduced by the sitting Labor government and pays mothers 18 weeks on the minimum wage, or about A$622 a week. But this is less generous than schemes in other countries.
For instance, a working mother in Britain receives about 90 per cent of her pay for 39 weeks while Canada pays 55 per cent of her salary for 50 weeks. In Singapore, working mothers are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Australia's birth rates have dropped since the 1960s but remained relatively stable for the past 30 years at about 1.8 children per family.
The parental leave debate has sharply divided political parties and emerged as a major election issue. A Galaxy poll on Sunday found 44 per cent of voters supporting Mr Abbott's scheme and 36 per cent preferring Labor's.