Paternity pay a rose among the thorns

THE new year will dawn brightly for expectant fathers but begin poorly for some single parents.

Partners in couples who have or adopt a child after January 1 will benefit from the Gillard government's dad-and-partner pay scheme, which provides two weeks' paid leave at the minimum wage, worth just over $1200 in total. The scheme, which is available only to individuals with incomes under $150,000, also extends to same-sex partners.

Furniture retailer Anton Assaad, whose wife Emma is expecting their third child in early January, is delighted to hear about the paternity leave scheme. Self-employed since he started Great Dane Furniture in 2003, he has never been entitled to paid parental leave.

He said childcare for Deus, 2, and Persia, who is almost 5, should be tax deductible.

''I go to Scandinavia for work a number of times a year, and they get paid maternity leave for [about] six months,'' he said. ''So any money from the government is great. We will be putting this money towards the kids.''

More than 100,000 single parents will not be so lucky, with new rules coming into effect on January 1 meaning they will lose their parenting payments and be shifted to the lower Newstart Allowance when their youngest child turns eight.

The change will have the greatest effect on parents who work part-time, because parenting payment recipients are allowed to earn more than Newstart recipients before their payments are affected. As a result of the change, a single parent who gets no income from work will be $115 worse off a fortnight, while those who earn $400 a week from work will see their income drop by $223 a fortnight.

People who have received the payment since 2006 already face these conditions. But until now, those who were receiving the payment in 2006 could keep the parenting payment until their youngest turned 16. The government expects the changes to save the budget more than $680 million over four years.

In other changes which take effect from January 1, the period of time people can receive most social security payments such as youth allowance and the disability support pension will be reduced from 13 to six weeks.

Eligibility for telehealth services (health services delivered over distance by digital communications technology) will be tightened to exclude people in major cities and outer metropolitan areas, a move which the government expects will save it $134 million over four years.

Foreign visitors will be hit by increased application charges for a range of visas, with the fee for working holiday visas rising from $280 to $360. HECS contributions for university maths and science courses will increase with the axing of discounts.

Heavy users of the court system will face higher fees and the name of the industrial umpire will change from Fair Work Australia to the Fair Work Commission.

Internationally, Australia's term for two years on the United Nations Security Council starts, and the country's free trade agreement with Malaysia also comes into operation.

In Victoria, stamp duty savings will increase from 20 to 30 per cent for first-home buyers who purchase a property valued up to $600,000. This equates to $8691 in stamp duty savings for a property valued at $565,000.

with Henrietta Cook

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