PAID parental leave is one of the push-button issues of the federal election, with each of the major parties offering universal schemes.
Local business and women's advocates agree that a good national paid parental leave scheme is important for Australian women and for small businesses, particularly in Canberra.
But they say a lack of affordable childcare is still preventing many new mothers from re-entering the workforce.
Before 2011, when the Labor government introduced Australia's first universal paid parental leave scheme, just over half of Australian working women had paid maternity leave provided by their employer.
Now more than 95 per cent of Australian working women have the benefit of paid parental leave, which is funded out of the government's general revenue but mostly delivered to mothers through their employers.
Canberra Business Council chief executive Chris Faulks said a good parental leave scheme was important for the future of businesses in the ACT.
''In the ACT, private sector businesses are competing all the time with the public sector, and losing staff, often women, to the public sector because the terms and conditions around parental leave and flexibility are regarded as much better,'' she said.
''So in the ACT, perhaps more than anywhere else, having a good paid parental leave scheme for the private sector is critical.''
The government's scheme offers 18 weeks paid leave to the primary caregiver at the minimum wage, which can be taken on top of maternity leave entitlements.
The Coalition is offering to pay primary caregivers the greater of their replacement wage or the adult minimum wage for up to 26 weeks.
The scheme will cap the replacement wage at those earning $150,000 a year and a 1.5 per cent levy on businesses with a taxable income of more than $5 million per annum will help fund it. The Opposition says it will stop ''double dipping'' by asking state public servants to choose between their existing leave schemes or the new entitlement.
Ms Faulks said the council did not back one particular scheme, but was concerned that small businesses did not have the role of administering paid parental leave.
''The Coalition as part of their policy to not require small business to be the pay master, and the Prime Minister has announced they are changing their policy so small business are not the pay master, so obviously that has removed that differential for us,'' she said.
''There is a case that if you are on a higher income and you go on maternity leave or parental leave and you're only going to be paid at the basic wage, then it is going to be a disincentive for you, rather than an incentive.
''There is a whole argument I know around equity and middle class welfare, and we would certainly leave that to the modelling of the schemes to see whether it's affordable for the country.''
Marie Coleman is the chairwoman of the National Foundation for Australian Women Social Policy Committee and sits on a committee reviewing the government's parental leave scheme.
She compares the government's ''hybrid scheme'' to the income of Australia's retirees, where people on the lowest income usually only have access to the pension and most other people had a mixture of the pension, superannuation and their own retirement savings.
About half of Australian women, including public servants, could claim their employer's maternity leave entitlement and the current government scheme.
''All these people who are banging on about how miserable the government scheme is are not telling us whether they or their partners are also accessing, in addition to the government's scheme, some of their employer's funding,'' she said.
Ms Coleman said people needed to look at the fine print of each policy before making up their minds which scheme to favour.
She said under the Coalition's policy, some women who earned between about $50,000 and $80,000 a year would be worse off because they may have employer-provided leave entitlements and could currently claim the government entitlement on top of that.
Ms Coleman said through the review process it had emerged that many women who came to the end of their paid parental leave could not get back into the workforce because they would not find childcare.
''If your objective is about encouraging women's workforce participation, there's very clear evidence that it's having some paid parental leave but also having a good system of affordable childcare, which is the defining bit,'' she said.
She said the extra money the Coalition is planning to spend on paid parental leave could be better directed into childcare.
''We don't think the level of female workforce attachment is going to be as much related to the level of their paid parental leave as it is to if a lot of extra money is pumped into childcare,'' she said.
''An additional $5 billion a year would produce a hell of a lot of better childcare.''
Ms Faulks agreed that access to affordable, high-quality childcare remained another critical issue for mothers looking to return to the workforce.
She said while it was not the policy of the business council, her personal view was that the cost of childcare should be made a tax-deductible expense.
''It's an expense incurred in earning your living, like any other expense that people claim a tax deduction for, and I think the fact that it's not a tax deduction reflects a previous era and a perception that the role of looking after children sits with the mother and they shouldn't be paid for it,'' she said.
Meredith Laverty, spokeswoman for the Australian Breastfeeding Association in the ACT, said the Coalition's parental leave policy most closely aligned with that of the association.
Ms Laverty said a Save the Children report showed parental leave schemes were linked to higher breastfeeding rates, and when women breastfed for longer it was good for public health.