National and Labour battle over parental leave plans

National have struck out at Labour for not costing their paid parental leave policy after Labour said National’s four week increase announced this week was a desperate move.

“Given how enthusiastic Labour has been about it, and how negative they were about National’s announcement yesterday – surely there must be some money put aside,” Finance Minister Steven Joyce said in a statement today.

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern told reporters at a campaign event at an Auckland school the cost of their 26-week paid parental leave policy was included in the Families Package fiscal plans. She criticised the National party for not providing a fiscal plan.

“The government hasn’t released any of its costings, we’re seeing very vague promises around its, for instance, $10 billion on roads, it would be very helpful for voters I’m sure if they did the same as what Labour has done,” she said.

National has promised to extend paid parental leave from 18 weeks to 22 weeks by 2019 as part of their Parents and Newborns Package released yesterday.

Retiring Labour MP Sue Moroney proposed an extension to 26 weeks in a private members bill in 2016, but it was vetoed on financial grounds by the then Minister of Finance Bill English.

Moroney said it was “a show of desperation from the National Party” and “a little too late” for those families who would be waiting until 2019 for their 22 weeks of paid parental leave.

The first phase of Moroney’s members bill would have come into effect on April 1 this year, raising parental leave by 22 weeks.

Labour have said they will pass the bill for 26 weeks of parental leave within their first 100 days in office.

At the time, English said the estimated cost of Moroney’s members bill would be $278m over four years, “a significant extra unbudgeted cost.”

English used the government’s veto power to prevent the bill from progressing to its third reading, despite passing its second reading 61-60.

National’s extension to paid parental leave is part of their $88m Parents and Newborns Package, which will be funded through the Budget 2018 spending allowance. The paid parental leave policy would cost $62m per year once implemented.

Parental leave advocacy group 26 for Babies welcomed the announcement as a step in the right direction and were heartened that both major parties had proposed increases.

“We are glad they are listening to people but it doesn’t quite cut it,” 26 for Babies head Rebecca Matthews-Heron said.

The case for a 26 week minimum was the recommended period to allow women to breastfeed, she said. When it came to shared parental leave, the Scandinavian model of up to two years allowed more adequate time for both mother and father.

“People tell us they need a few weeks before the baby is born so it’s much harder to share when it’s a shorter time period,” she said.

IVF treatment plans

The National Party would also be extending government funding for IVF treatment from two rounds to three as part of their Parents and Newborns Package.

Fertility Associates Auckland medical director Simon Kelly said that it was the “single biggest change to funding IVF in the past decade.”

Instances of infertility have continued to rise with one in four couples now experiencing infertility. Some couples were waiting up to 15 months for a round of IVF treatment.

“That’s pretty hard, if you’re already in your mid to late 30s, knowing you are going to have to wait a year for a round of treatment, that can be tough psychologically,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that there are 18,000 children that are a direct result of Fertility Associates.

“Nowadays there’s a much higher acceptance of fertility treatment, I’ve certainly noticed that shift in the past 10 years, people are a lot more open to the idea,” he said.

The cost of a round of IVF treatment was about $10,000. The National Party have set aside $1m in the Parents and Newborns Package to provide another 100 rounds of IVF treatment. This is the number of women the Ministry of Health estimates who still don’t conceive after the first two rounds.

National also promised one free dental visit for every mother within the baby’s first year, which would cost $22 million per year.