When Perth GP Sarah Bailey started making plans for a family she looked into the government’s parental leave scheme and was stunned to discover she wouldn’t be entitled to a cent.

While Dr Bailey earns slightly more than the $150,000 cut off for the government’s 18-week Parental Leave Pay, her partner is currently studying and on a very low income.

But because eligibility for the scheme is tied only to the mother’s income, with the father’s making no difference at all, neither Dr Bailey nor her husband are entitled to Parental Leave Pay.

Perth GP Sarah Bailey has started an online petition calling for changes to be made to the government's parental leave scheme.
Perth GP Sarah Bailey has started an online petition calling for changes to be made to the government’s parental leave scheme. (Sarah Bailey)

It’s a situation which has been criticised for unfairly penalising female breadwinners and stay-at-home dads.

Under the current rules, mothers are only able to transfer Parental Leave Pay entitlements – which equate to about $13,800 – to the father if they both earn under $150,000.

“I was quite shocked to find out this was the case,” Dr Bailey said.

“I think it is discrimination. If my husband was a female our family would be able to get the income. If I was a male, I would be able to get the parental leave.”

Unlike doctors in the hospital system, GPs work as contractors, meaning Dr Bailey does not get any workplace benefits as part of her job, including maternity leave.

Dr Bailey said she calculated she would need to save up $40,000 in order to take time off when she and her husband start their family.

The amount of study, exams and work pressure meant it was already hard for female doctors to take time out to have children, Dr Bailey said.

Dr Bailey says tying the income test to just the mother is discrimination.
Dr Bailey says tying the income test to just the mother is discrimination. (Sarah Bailey)

“It’s already quite a difficult profession to be in, there are a lot of barriers to female doctors having kids already, then to put this on top of that, is really hard.”

Dr Bailey has started a parliamentary petition calling on the government to change the legislation for Paid Parental Leave to make it more equitable, which has already attracted close to 1300 signatures.

Dr Bailey said her objections were not just about the money, but the unfairness of the situation.

“It is ludicrous … although I see discrimination on a daily basis in my work based on my gender, I am stunned and appalled that there exists legislation that underscores this discrimination,” she writes in the petition.

“How can we expect the same working conditions as our male counterparts when our own government will not support our legitimacy?” 

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services told nine.com.au in a statement the government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme was designed to compliment employer-based schemes and allow parents to spend quality time with their child after birth or adoption.

“The scheme’s income test recognises that women who are on a higher income and are primary carers are in a stronger position to obtain paid parental leave and other family-friendly benefits as part of their conditions of employment,” the statement said.

The government’s parental leave scheme became law more than a decade ago in 2010.

In an effort to make the legislation more flexible, several proposed amendments to the act were debated in the Senate in June last year.

Changes were passed which meant the main carer can now take the full 18 weeks as a block or in parts shared between both parents, and anytime within two years of the birth.

However, a proposed amendment from Centre Alliance senator Stirling Griff – which would have helped fixed the anomaly of the income test only applying to the mother – was voted down by the government and One Nation.

Under Senator Griff’s suggestion, partners would be able to apply for Parental Leave Pay if the mother does not meet the income test.

Estimates provided to Senator Griff by the Parliamentary Budget Office at the time indicated such a change would only cost $3 million a year.

Contact reporter Emily McPherson at emcpherson@nine.com.au.

This content first appear on 9news

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