Jacinda risks empty promises over denying shared parental leave

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In her speech to the Address in Reply debate, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made two commitments to New Zealanders: "I promise you that things will be done differently," and "to be a champion for good ideas wherever they are found, even if they're found over there," to which she pointed to National's opposition benches.

Yet, in the past 24 hours, we've seen that the new Labour-led government intends to carry on in exactly the same manner that they were so critical of the previous National-led government for employing similar methods.

As Labour pushes through its legislation to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2020, National's Amy Adams proposed an amendment to the legislation that would have allowed both parents to choose how they split those 26 weeks between them, rather than one parent having to use all 26 weeks themselves.

The idea is simple, the cookie cutter approach of one parent taking 26 weeks on their own simply doesn't meet the often complex needs of modern families. By allowing parents to decide between them how to split the 26 week paid parental leave allocation, it would allow parents to come up with a solution that best met their needs. Whether it was having both parents at home for slightly longer after the arrival of baby, allowing a new mum to return to work sooner if she wanted to, or allowing a new dad to spend more time at home during those crucial and busy first few weeks. Likewise the idea of shared paid parental leave would recognise  for same sex couples too, allowing both mothers, or both fathers, to take take off as best suited their specific needs.

The amendment holds virtually no extra cost for the government, bar some small administrative changes required to make it happen. The amendment is also universally regarded as a good idea, recognising that, as a modern society, we want to view all roles in our lives as ones that women and men can do equally, and see them acknowledged and paid equally for those roles too.

So why, given the Prime Minister's promise to do things differently and champion good ideas, even those from the opposition, do Labour, the Green Party, and New Zealand First oppose this? While they protest it's because the change is too complex, we all know that's simply not the case. Bar introducing a new form to apply for a shared paid parental leave arrangement, the change would not come into effect until 2020, giving the government plenty of time to make any of system changes might be required.

Instead, the only way to explain the behaviour of the Labour-led government in rejecting the amendment is that it is an act of political spite. Critics have claimed that National had nine years that they could have introduced this change, but that ignores the fact that National was the only party that had this as a policy going into the 2017 election. In the prior nine years, nobody had thought of this as a policy solution, largely because we were all singularly focused on how quickly the paid parental leave entitlement should be raised.

It's a sad indictment on the new Labour-led government that barely a month into their first term, and not even a week since Jacinda Ardern made those promises to New Zealand in her first speech to the House as Prime Minister, they're already demonstrating that they were little more than empty words bandied about for show.

The real losers in this are New Zealand's parents. As I write this, I'm watching on our baby monitor as our son Alex takes his morning nap. As a stay-at-home dad, who has always wanted to be able to take as equal a role in possible in raising my children as is practical, the ability to share paid parental leave means a hell of a lot to me. We're fortunate that we were in a financial position for my wife and I to swap roles, but that's not the reality for all parents.

So often, one parent has to go back to work within a week or two, if not days, of their child being born. Amy Adams' amendment would have given these families so much more choice and flexibility about how they managed that transition back to work for one of the parents.

If this Labour-led government is to truly live up to Jacinda's promise to do things differently and champion good ideas regardless of where they've come from, they must reconsider their position on this amendment or, at the very least, commit to supporting shared paid parental leave should it come up in a Members' Bill.

At an even more fundamental level, if Jacinda Ardern is serious about her claim that she would bring kindness back, starting with supporting families through something as simple as shared paid parental leave is a perfect place to start.

Finally, if you're still here reading, I'd encourage you to sign and share a simple petition I've put together about this issue. I won't pretend that this petition is going to change the world, and being a stay-at-home parent on limited resources, I'll do what I can to promote. But ultimately the success of making this happen for New Zealand's parents rests with you.

Please head on over and sign and share the petition to show your support for shared paid parental leave in New Zealand.