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Out of touch: Liberal MP Sharman Stone hits back at Coalition colleagues over paid parental leave criticism

Liberal MP Sharman Stone has hit back at male Coalition colleagues who have criticised Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme, accusing them of being out of touch with the challenges women face in juggling work and child-rearing.

Dr Stone, who represents the regional seat of Murray in north-east Victoria, told ABC radio on Thursday that she found the criticism of the scheme by National Party colleagues ''mystifying''.

''I think a lot of my colleagues are perhaps traditionalists when it comes to gender roles,'' she said.

Asked about the comments of Queensland LNP member George Christensen, who described Mr Abbott's proposal as '''money for jam'', Dr Stone said: ''I know George well, he’s a good bloke, but money for jam? What – for having a baby? For the nine-month pregnancy?

''For perhaps managing that newborn with your previous children and your other household support tasks? I'm sure George didn’t mean it that way, I would hope so because it would mean he wasn't really attuned to what goes on in women’s lives.''


Other Liberal and Nationals senators including John Williams, Barry O'Sullivan and Ron Boswell have also publicly voiced concern about the scheme and threatened to cross the floor to oppose it.

One of the major concerns flagged by rural MPs over the scheme is that it may advantage working women in cities over farmers' wives who may be performing unpaid work on family farms.

But Dr Stone rejected this criticism, saying that a woman who signed a statutory declaration that she had worked at least 330 hours over a 10-month period in the 13 months before having a baby would be eligible to receive the minimum wage plus superannuation for 26 weeks.

''I'm just over this idea that somehow rural and regional women are going to miss out,'' she said. ''No they're not – they have been missing out and they do under Labor’s scheme but they won’t under our Coalition scheme.''

''Perhaps my National Party colleagues are not aware of those details but they need to get over them because it’s very important to understand.''

Nationals leader Warren Truss said on Wednesday that the government was still talking to rural groups about how to ensure women who worked on farms could receive the payment.

''We are talking with the National Farmers Federation and rural women's groups as to how to best design the scheme to ensure that farmers in this sort of circumstances are in fact eligible,'' he told ABC Rural.

''The test is not so much about income as about the fact that they have been actively involved in farming operations and therefore they are breaking in their employment.''

On Monday, Fairfax Media revealed a compromise proposal put forward by Senator Williams that would extend the current Labor scheme – which pays the minimum wage for 18 weeks – to 26 weeks. The scheme proposed by Senator Williams would also include superannuation payments, which are not included in Labor’s scheme.

Mr Abbott's proposal pays women their full replacement wage for 26 weeks, capped at a maximum payment of $50,000 and includes superannuation.

Labor's scheme was introduced in January 2011 and provides 18 weeks pay at the minimum wage to the primary carer of a new baby.

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