The final submissions were heard on Labour’s proposal to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks this week, marking another chapter in this important debate.
Never under-estimate the power of a good submission – some of the most powerful are when people come along and tell their personal stories.
Take Donnelle Belanger-Taylor for example.
In 2014 she made a submission on our proposal to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks, the first time I had a Bill on this subject in front of our Parliament.
Donnelle told her story about why 14 weeks paid parental leave was inadequate for her when she gave birth to twins.
Even though they had saved hard before the twins were born, the increased costs were such that she had to go back to paid work when they were 22 weeks (or 5 1/2 months) old.
At that age, it meant she was awake most of the night feeding one baby or the other. In the morning, the sleep-deprived parents would get a toddler, two babies and two adults fed, clothed and out the door, where Donnelle would catch public transport to drop her children off at childcare.
She would then make her way to work. During her working day she would take public transport back to the childcare centre twice to feed her babies, finish her working day, pick up the children, get home to feed, bathe, interact and settle her children.
Then after another night of interrupted sleep, she'd get up and do it all over again, five days a week. After six (heroic) weeks, she was exhausted and she had to resign her job.
Her twins were 5 years old when she appeared before select committee. She had not returned to paid employment; losing her workplace attachment at that critical time lost her a place in the labour force.
She said it had damaged her family’s income for 5 years, had limited her children’s opportunities and had affected her confidence.
And then the clincher – if she had an additional 12 weeks paid parental leave available to her, she would have been able to stay home with her twins until they were 34 weeks (8 1/2 months) old.
Donnelle now knows that would have made all the difference. By then, her babies were sleeping through the night and less reliant on her for feeding and she could have better coped with returning to work. It would have changed her family’s fortunes.
Last week, Donnelle’s submission resulted in premature babies getting additional PPL from April 1 - she's been part of changing the fortunes of other families.
You see, her story stayed in my head. And when it was clear my Bill wouldn’t pass after the last election, I amended it so the extension would apply to multiple births, pre-term babies and those born with disabilities.
After we convinced David Seymour to vote for the amended Bill, the National Party were forced into changing their stance.
And so last week a watered-down version of that proposal passed in Parliament.
It was a victory for Donnelle and for everyone who supports our campaign to prioritise children – and it is just the beginning. The proposal to extend PPL to 26 weeks will be back for parliamentary debate and another vote in May.
As Donnelle says, let’s keep the momentum going.