Parents who are dealing with infant deaths, premature births and stillbirths will soon have access to 12 months of unpaid parental leave.

On Wednesday, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter announced the Coalition would increase the parental leave entitlement from six weeks to a maximum of 12 months for those who have experienced a stillbirth or infant death. This would bring it into line with the amount of unpaid leave other new parents are currently able to access. The changes will be made through legislation flagged for later this year.

In his announcement, the minister acknowledged that the current guaranteed entitlement of six weeks of unpaid leave for a stillbirth or infant death was “insufficient for many parents who need more time before they return to work“.

“The government understands how devastating losing a child can be,” Mr Porter said.

Rainbow in a cloudy sky

Parents dealing with stillbirth, infant death and premature births will soon have access to 12 months’ unpaid parental leave under new federal government legislation.

After years of campaigning, Stillbirth Foundation Australia welcomed Wednesday’s decision.

“This decision is much-needed, hard-fought and long-awaited. It will give families of stillborn children the same leave entitlements as parents of live born babies,” Stillbirth Foundation Australia CEO, Leigh Brezler.

“Changes to The Fair Work Act were the first recommendation made by the Select Committee following the 2018 Stillbirth Senate Inquiry and will make a world of difference to the six Australian families who experience stillbirth every day.”

According to the Stillbirth Centre of Research Excellence, there has been little improvement to the rate of stillbirths in Australia in more than 20 years. While fewer babies are being born stillborn later in pregnancy, six babies are still lost to stillbirth every day in Australia, statistics which have largely remained constant in the past two decades.

“The Federal Government has absolutely listened to the calls from parents of stillborn babies and has acted to level the playing field on parental leave,” says Brezler.

 

Leigh Brezler

Stillbirth Foundation Australia CEO, Leigh Brezler welcomes the policy changes.

The new legislation will also make it  easier for parents of premature babies, or babies who need to be immediately hospitalised due to birth complications, to return to work and restart their leave when their child can go home.

“Parents have told us how frustrated they felt by having to use up large amounts of their leave while their little one was in hospital, instead of being able to put it on hold until they needed it,” Mr Porter said.

“These changes will give parents that flexibility and ensure they will get to spend quality time at home with their child when they leave hospital.”

 

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Federal Labor has also welcomed the proposal. Labor senator Kristina Keneally, whose daughter Caroline was stillborn 20 years ago, has long been a vocal advocate for families who have experienced stillbirth.

“Stillbirth is the biggest cause of infant death in our country today and the rate of death from stillbirth is higher than the national road toll,” Keneally said.

“We must do everything to support families through the devastation of such heartbreak.”

The Stillbirth Foundation took the time to acknowledge the bipartisan approach that the Government and Opposition have taken on this matter.

“Parents of stillborn babies are still parents, and six weeks is not enough time to grieve the loss of their babies. They deserve equal access to parental leave and this announcement makes that so,” says Bezler.

“With today’s announcement, the government has taken the lead to recognise that parents of stillborn babies are parents too. This is an important move to achieve equality for all parents and remove a stigma around stillbirth.”

If you, or someone you know, needs to talk to someone, call Lifeline on 13 11 44. Or, if it is an emergency and you’re experiencing a crisis, call 000 NOW.

For information and support around stillbirth, contact: Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support (SANDS) on 1300 072 637.