The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

The Latest On Government-Funded Parental Leave

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 30, 2008

With Australia being the only OECD country other than the United States that doesn’t have some form of compulsory paid-parental leave, one could be forgiven for thinking that Parliamentary debate on the topic has been pitifully slow. Well, presently a number of reports have indicated that such a scheme is needed in Australia (a nation says, “duh!”), and the Productivity Commission has put forward a proposal that would see working couples (both hetero and same sex, which makes a nice change) who have a baby given up to $11,854 in paid leave, rather than the existing $5000 baby bonus. The bonus would be remodelled as a “maternity allowance” for stay-at-home mums.

The 18-week scheme would be at the adult minimum wage of about $544 a week, and would be expected to benefit about 140,000 mothers a year. Mothers would be able to share the paid leave with their partners, but only if they were deemed the primary carer. An extra two weeks of paid leave would be available to fathers or same-sex partners.

Only those who have been in the workforce for at least 12 months would be eligible for the proposed scheme, which would cover the self-employed, contractors, and part-time and casual workers. Employers would be “paymasters” of the scheme, initially making the payments and then being reimbursed by the Government.

Women who are not in the workforce would be eligible for a $5000 “maternity allowance”, replacing the baby bonus. They would also get family tax benefit B and their partners would still be eligible for the two weeks’ paid leave reserved for fathers.

Both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull have flagged their support for the proposals, but many – including Liberal families spokesman Tony Abbott – have suggested that the proposals are skewed towards working mothers, with stay-at-home mums getting a bum deal.

“I would have very serious reservations about a government-funded scheme that isn’t matched by equal government benefits for mothers who aren’t in the paid workforce,” Mr Abbott said.

“The baby bonus stays for stay-at-home mothers and it is rolled over and added to for working mums.

“If that means that the Government gives more to mothers who are in the paid workforce as opposed to mothers who are unpaid that raises all sorts of fairness issues and I am instinctively concerned.”

In addition to the concerns raised by Abbott (and let me tell you, it feels very uncomfortable to find yourself in something close to agreement with the man), there has also been no mention of what benefits would be available to single mothers.

Even though I am not even close to being in the ballpark of having children just yet, I have mixed feelings about the proposals so far. On the one hand, I’m impressed that they indicate that even mothers who are employed casually, on contract, or self-employed will receive “leave” (it’s unlikely that I will ever work outside of my home office ever again, so the idea that I might be able to receive pay if and when I have a baby is very reassuring, when freelancing is uncertain work at the best of times!).

On the other hand, I have no idea whether the proposed period of leave – 18 weeks – is long enough (Britain is currently looking at increasing their leave period from 26 to 52 weeks), and I agree, in essence, with Abbott in questioning whether stay-at-home mums are getting stiffed. And, as mentioned previously, what of single mothers?

I would love to hear from some mothers or mothers-to-be and their partners. What leave conditions – if any – did you have, or do you have? Are you a stay-at-home mum? What would you add or delete – or change completely – about the existing proposal?

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5 Responses to “The Latest On Government-Funded Parental Leave”

  1. Penelope said

    Much as I think the state should do a hell of a lot more to help out all parents, especially on the childcare front, isn’t maternity leave meant to contribute towards lost income as well as ensure you have a job to come back to? If you weren’t working to begin with, you don’t need to take leave from a job you don’t have or be compensated for lost pay cheques.

    There should certainly be a social-security payment for families below a certain income threshold but I don’t see that government funds are best spent compensating women in very affluent households who aren’t forgoing any income because they weren’t working to begin with.

    Also, why would one’s partnership status affect maternity leave eligibility? Surely a single mum (or dad) is just as eligible as a partnered parent?

  2. lilacsigil said

    What of single mothers? Why would their entitlements be different to partnered mothers? Women who are not working before getting pregnant are likely to be either supported by their partner (so no change in the status quo) or on benefits of some kind (again, no change in the status quo). From a small business POV, this is a very good plan, though the one worker who has taken maternity leave went from full-time to part-time before taking leave, so a plan that doesn’t affect her entitlements is a good one.

  3. Maxie said

    I couldn’t disagree more with Tony Abbott’s sentiments, and it bothers me that stay-at-home mums feel they “deserve” anything. Really, no one who has kids “deserves” a hand-out. The baby bonus was devised to encourage people to have kids, in the face of a declining birth rate.
    Kevin Rudd’s decision to means-test it was discriminatory, since it was never meant to be ‘welfare” per se. It should be open to everyone.
    Paid maternity leave is another kettle of fish. All other things remaining equal, working mums are disadvantaged when they have children. Women who don’t work, are not missing out on any income, and therefore do not need to be compensated.
    The whole point of paid-maternity leave is to assist working women who have children, and encourage them to return to the workforce, and remove the old-fashioned barriers preventing women from entering the workforce in the first place.

  4. I have been surprised in the mainstream media how many people have been anti paid maternity leave. Most of these critics seem to think that having a baby is a lifestyle choice, like a gucci handbag, and that it should be self funded.

    I find it ironic that it is probable these same people are critical of increased immigration – so who do they think is going to keep the economy going with this ageing population.

    Great blog – an issue that needs to be examined is the change to the formula to the child support scheme due to pressure by the mens groups in the Howard era. More money in the non-custodial parent (usually the father) but with no greater obligations placed on them. Some women have lost 100′s in income per month. It just keeps women in the poverty cycle.

    On a lighter note an article on the politics of coffee in the workplace would be great. It is still the women in the office who have to make the coffee for meetings even when everyone is on the ‘same level’.

  5. Joannie said

    Hi, Nice to find the site. I sent a letter off yesterday to PM, Depty PM, Treasurer and the Australian, with this statement (plus some more quanification and links to references).

    Re: Paid Maternity Leave

    Procreation and the care of children clearly make a substantial contribution to the nation’s capital, economic, social and cultural. Many couples, and individuals within families, are struggling with issues related the sharing of care after the birth of a child and the Transition to Parenthood is said to be a ‘critical life stage’ across the western world. I am arguing that the current social structuring of dependency within a gendered family form is perpetuated through current wage fixing methods. These practices are reinforced through an expectation that women will bear the economic brunt of childbearing and rearing and thus contributing to increasing levels of maternal depression along with greater marital dissatisfaction. The failure of Australian governments to guarantee Paid Maternity Leave across the board serves to reinforce these trends and is perpetuating inequitable gender outcomes. The current research on infant brain development (in terms of promoting social capital), along with calls for gender equal outcomes, highlights the need for a review of institutionalised practices (in the workplace as well as the relevant government instrumentalities) so as to overcome entrenched disparities and enhance outcomes for children. Paid Maternity or Parental Leave is only a first, but a necessary step, in this agenda. If the government were to establish a basis to achieve these ends the groundwork would be in place to unleash a new round of productivity, falling in line with an international trend in attempts to overcome critical tensions between the workplace and families.

    best, Joannie

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