THE government has been accused of overstating the depth of its consultation with farmers and rural women over its controversial paid parental leave scheme.
Under mounting pressure from his own backbench over perceived inequities in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pet policy, acting Prime Minister Warren Truss insisted last week that the final shape of the scheme had not been determined because the government was “talking with the National Farmers’ Federation and rural women’s groups”.
But Fairfax has confirmed the leadership of the federation has never been consulted on the leave scheme, nor has Australia’s largest women’s group, the Country Women’s Association.
The federation doesn’t even have a policy position on paid parental leave.
Asked to clarify his comments, Mr Truss’ office said the National Party leader was referring to a recent meeting between the federation and the Prime Minister’s office.
But that meeting was held more than four months ago, on February 11 — well before Nat-ionals such as NSW Senator John Williams and Queensland MP George Christensen started agitating publicly against the leave scheme.
They fear women working on farms will be left empty-handed, while thousands of mothers in the city access up to $50,000 over six months.
The only one at the February meeting with a prime ministerial staff member was the federation’s mid-ranking workplace relations and legal affairs manager, Brian Duggan, who has since left the group.
A federation spokeswoman said president Brent Finlay and outgoing chief executive Matt Linnegar had not been aware of any discussion with the government about paid parental leave when Mr Truss made his comments, and the issue had not been considered by the federation’s workplace relations committee.
CWA president Noela Mac-Leod said: “Warren Truss certainly didn’t speak to us. When I saw that, I was quite amazed because we’re the biggest women’s group in Australia, with 45,000 members.”
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said the CWA had now been contacted and the government had held phone meetings with the National Rural Women’s Coalition and Australian Women in Agriculture.