In an appalling case of pre-emptive bastardry, Centrelink customer service employees have been sprung telling at least one new mother that she should not apply for Paid Parental Leave (PPL) because it is ‘double dipping’. The new mother, who does not want to be named, approached Centrelink on two separate occasions in late 2015, with queries about PPL. The conversations, with two separate Centrelink officers – in person and on the phone, left the new mother in tears, not least because she was essentially accused of trying to rort the system when she was enquiring about her perfectly legal entitlements.
“When I rang them they tried convincing me not to apply. That it wasn’t all that much money and I got maternity leave so I shouldn’t be applying anyway.”
The Health and Human Services website clearly states that “the current Paid Parental Leave scheme has not changed. It will continue to be available to eligible customers.”
Why then did Centrelink officers give this new mother such grossly inaccurate information about her eligibility for the scheme? Are the staff so untrained, unskilled or incompetent they do not know the facts about PPL? Or, have officers have been told to go ahead with enacting the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s planned cuts, despite the changes still facing resistance in the Senate, and even then, not planned to come into effect until 1 July 2016?
The new mother initially approached Centrelink in person at the Hobart shopfront, and explained her situation. She asked the officer:
“… could [partner] take Dad and Partner pay at one stage and then later the PPL… I was told that was double dipping and I shouldn’t be trying to get maternity leave and PPL since it’s one or the other.”
Why is a Centrelink officer deliberately attempting to mislead the new mother? Since when has it been appropriate for an employee of the Commonwealth to infuse political propaganda with providing advice on lawful entitlements?
The Centrelink website clearly states under the information for Dad and Partner Pay: “If eligible, your family can receive Parental Leave Pay or the Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement for the same child for whom you receive Dad and Partner Pay … As an individual, you may be able to receive both Dad and Partner Pay and Parental Leave Pay, but not at the same time.”
Additionally, the Centrelink website, and legislation provides for the first primary care-giver to later transfer PPL to the other parent, provided that other parent also meets the eligibility criteria. The criteria are as follows:
- be the primary carer of a newborn or recently adopted child
- meet the Paid Parental Leave work test
- meet the Paid Parental Leave income test
- be on leave or not working from the time you become your child’s primary carer until the end of your Paid Parental Leave period
Paid Parental Leave does not just apply to mothers, it applies to parents. The test is not the gender of the applicant, but the nature of the care-giving responsibilities.
“Being told I was double dipping really made me mad. They just don’t understand the concept of men taking parental leave. It is PARENTAL, not MOTHERS. [Partner] needs a bond with [baby] just as much as I do.”
Both the new mother and her partner met all eligibility requirements in this case, yet again, just days after the birth of her first child in November 2015, the new mother, who had commenced her maternity leave early due to medical complications, called Centrelink, who tried to convince her the newborn supplement was the most appropriate payment, repeatedly trying to dissuade her from applying for PPL.
“It was a few days after [baby] was born and I cried. I cried at everything for a while. She really, really tried to convince me that the new born supplement payment was what I should get. The different is very big. If it were the same dollar amount I wouldn’t mind, but there is a huge difference. She put through the claim I needed in the end. Just took ages.”
Given that two separate Centrelink officers in two separate locations and at different times provided almost identical and misleading advice, it can only be assumed that staff have been told to dissuade eligible families from accessing PPL.
“She really did not like the idea that [partner] was getting the PPL… ‘It is meant for the mother to spend time away from work with their child, you are getting maternity leave so you really should just apply for newborn supplement, it isn’t intended so that you get both’… ‘it isn’t all that much anyway, only about $600 a week, that’s not much’…”
The PPL scheme introduced by the Labor Government on 1 January 2011 was designed to work with employer paid schemes to enable the primary care-giver to take as close to 6 months off work as possible. The scheme envisaged the mother in particular, would receive her usual maternity leave entitlements as well as the 18 weeks Federal PPL paid at the minimum wage. The PPL was always intended to supplement employer paid schemes and could be transferred to the other partner if required.
However it seems that Turnbull doesn’t want to wait until his unpopular changes are forced through the Senate, if they go through at all. Turnbull is determined to leave the lowest paid workers up to $10,000 worse off immediately, without any legislative change at all.
How many other women have been told they are not eligible for PPL? How many other families have been left worse off because of incorrect and misleading advice from Centrelink officers? How many new mother and new fathers have been lied to by the Government?
In this case, the new mother persisted and eventually put in her claim.
“What I don’t understand is why they are saying this when the policy isn’t even passed? It was an idea at one stage; that PM is gone. So why are they still saying this? And why are they having an opinion on it?”
That is a very good question. Why do Centrelink officers have an opinion on Government policy? Their role is to provide advice to people based on the current law and eligibility criteria, not to spruik a policy that will leave up to 80,000 families worse off.
It is also completely unacceptable for a Government employee to call a mother who has just given birth a ‘double dipper’, and infer she is rorting the system when she is enquiring about a lawful entitlement. It is unacceptable that the officer should have such poor knowledge of the current law that they tell a new mother her partner is not entitled to his lawful entitlement either.
There is simply no excuse at all for Centrelink officers to be telling parents they cannot apply for PPL when they absolutely can. It is a disgrace. Luckily, in this case, the new mother knew enough about her rights to challenge the advice. How many other parents have not, and ended up missing out on vital financial support in the first crucial months of their new baby’s life?