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News News Aim high on baby leave, women told
THE architect of a gold-plated scheme to give Australian mothers six months of paid maternity leave at full pay has urged women not to settle for less, warning that the nation has only one chance to get it right.

As hearings began at the Productivity Commission inquiry into parental leave, former federal public servant Julia Perry exhorted parents to be more ambitious in their demands.

She said those advocating a scheme of 14 weeks' leave at the basic wage risked compromising the best possible scheme by settling for too little - likening it to unsuccessful bids to get dental treatment added into Medicare.

"If we came up with a half-baked scheme that was neither welfare nor paid leave, some of the heat would go out of it, the Government would say 'we've already dealt with that' and move on," she said.

"We should be asking for what is really needed rather than starting with a compromise position."

In a radically different scheme, the architect of HECS advocated applying the principle of income-contingent loans to paid parental leave. Australian National University economist Bruce Chapman argued that such a scheme, which would effectively allow families to borrow public funds to cover their parenting leave and pay it back once their incomes rose to more than $27,000, could exist on top of other schemes.

If the Government adopted a taxpayer-funded scheme for 14 weeks at the minimum wage, it could also offer an optional loans system so that parents could take a longer period of leave after the initial grant ran out.

Under his scheme, parents would pay a 20% surcharge - paying back $12,000 on a loan of $10,000, effectively at no interest.

Under the Perry plan, which would cost $3.5 billion, stay-at-home mothers would continue to get the baby bonus.

But working mothers would be able to draw on a national fund into which premiums were paid by workers and employers to take six months' leave at their regular rate of pay.

Workers would be levied $5 for each $1000 they earned, and companies would contribute $5 for every $1000 of payroll to generate income for the fund.

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