13 Apr 2012

Government criticised over paid parental leave veto

5:41 am on 13 April 2012

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says it is astonishing the Government has chosen to veto paid parental leave legislation before political parties have had a chance to consider it.

The bill, in the name of the Labour Party MP Sue Moroney, proposes to increase paid parental leave from 14 weeks to 26 weeks by 2014.

Finance Minister Bill English on Wednesday said the Government would veto the bill, saying Labour's plan is economically irresponsible.

Parliament's rules allow the Government to veto any legislation it views as having more than a minor impact on its finances.

But Winston Peters on Thursday urging all parties - including National - to suspend judgement on the legislation until all the financial implications are clear.

"Why is everyone making up their minds before they've heard all their facts. At this point in time, no one's got their costings accurate, no one knows what it will be if we phase it in.

"So I think these are pretty fundamental things before anyone says what they've decided or not decided."

Sue Moroney says the Government is being arrogant by making the announcement, as the bill has not even had its first reading in the House. She says the Government can't exercise a financial veto until the third reading.

The Family First lobby group says the Government is running scared of robust debate on the issue of paid parental leave.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's office has released a list of the number of times governments have vetoed legislation since 1999.

Labour used the veto 31 times while it was in government from 1999 to 2008, including on paid parental legislation changes proposed by the Opposition at the time.

In the last term of Parliament, the National-led Government used the veto five times.

Too expensive, says English

At present, paid parental leave costs about $154 million a year. Finance Minister Bill English says an extension would cost about $500 million over four years.

He told Morning Report on Thursday the decision to veto the bill was based on sensible financial management.

Mr English said the Government is prepared to spike any legislation which might worsen its fiscal situation and force it to borrow more money and any initiative which costs more than the Government can afford is unlikely to succeed.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's office has drawn attention to the Labour Party's election policy, which puts the costings at $68 million extra in 2014/15, $143 million the next financial year and rising to more than $166 million by 2018/19.

Labour's Sue Moroney says these are gross figures and would not represent the total cost.