April 17th 2010

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Broad approach needed to boat-people saga

DEFENCE: Unmanned aircraft needed to patrol our seas

CANBERRA OBSERVED: What is Tony Abbott on about?

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE I: Rudd and Abbott schemes will punish stay-home mums

PAID PARENTAL LEAVE II: Maternity leave and the mother wars

COVER STORY / POPULATION: The philosophical roots of 'Demographic Winter'

BUSHFIRES: Victoria changes tack on fuel-reduction burns

CLIMATE CHANGE: Criticism of 'Climategate' inquiries accelerates

UNITED NATIONS: UN body seeks 'universal human right' to abortion

CHINA: Stern Hu convicted in kangaroo court

OPINION: All in the mind: Asian strategy and Australian big talk

TRADE UNIONISM: The most dangerous man in Detroit?

PORNOGRAPHY: Call for restrictions on 'soft porn' magazines

AS THE WORLD TURNS: India launches world's largest school voucher program; Child 'spies' to snoop on teachers; Mothers and fathers disappear from UK birth certificates; Will America break up?

CINEMA: Portrait of Nelson Mandela - Invictus (rated PG)

BOOK REVIEW : THE RETREAT: Hitler's First Defeat, by Michael Jones

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Rudd and Abbott schemes will punish stay-home mums

by Colin Jory

News Weekly, April 17, 2010
Recently, federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott unilaterally announced that the federal Coalition, if elected, would implement one of the most extravagant paid parental leave (PPL) schemes in the world.

Women in the paid workforce will receive six months' maternity leave on a government maternity wage at their full pre-leave pay-rate, up to $150,000 per annum and thus $75,000 for the six months, with big business being taxed to pay for the funds. The minimum maternity wage for qualifying mothers will be the federal basic wage.

The behind-the-scenes architect of the Abbott PPL scheme is Sharman Stone, a feminist with a doctorate in economics who is the shadow minister for early childhood education and childcare and shadow minister for the status of women.

The proposed Abbott-Stone scheme resembles those in Sweden and Canada. However, in neither of these countries do salaried mothers receive a maternity wage equal to their full employment salary. Sweden gives them 80 per cent, and Canada 55 per cent.

There is deep resentment in Liberal and National Party ranks and in business circles at the Abbott-Stone PPL policy. Business is furious at the prospect of being taxed to support the scheme. Many party members and supporters believe there should be no government maternity wage; while others believe there should be one but that it should not discriminate against stay-at-home mothers.

Tony Abbott does not pretend to have worked out all the details of his scheme. However, the Rudd Government is about to introduce legislation to implement its own discriminatory PPL scheme, which is intended to come into effect at the beginning of next year; and Mr Abbott has endorsed most aspects of this.

To qualify for the Rudd PPL maternity wage, a mother will need to have been in continuous paid employment for 10 of the 13 months before giving birth. In those 10 months she will need to have done at least 330 hours of paid work, whether part-time or full-time. This equates to just under nine weeks' paid work of 38 hours per week — roughly two months' aggregated work. (The Abbott-Stone PPL scheme has this same prerequisite.) She must have earned no more than $150,000 during the previous financial year.

An eligible mother will be granted by the Rudd Government 18 weeks — four-and-a-bit months — on a maternity wage equal to the basic wage.

Although this is supposedly a "paid parental leave" scheme, it actually has no fixed connection with leave of any kind, and nor does the Abbott-Stone scheme. Certainly under either scheme if a qualifying mother is in paid work when she gives birth, her employer will have to grant her the prescribed period of maternity leave.

However, if a mother who is not in paid employment when she gives birth, and thus is not on leave, has done the minimum two months' aggregated paid work during 10 of the previous 13 months, she will still receive the maternity wage. If she does not return to paid employment when the maternity-wage period ends, but continues giving full-time care to her new baby, she will not have to refund her payments.

Thus the Rudd and Abbott-Stone maternity wages are not truly maternity-leave payments, but bonuses for prior participation in the paid workforce.

A 19-year-old female casual shop assistant on the NSW award wage of $17.56 per hour earns $5,795 in 330 hours. If she has a baby after doing this number of hours over 10 continuous months, under the Rudd PPL scheme she will receive 18 weeks' maternity wage at the current basic-wage rate of $543.78 per week, a total of $9,788. That is two-thirds as much again as her wages for the qualifying 330 hours.

Under the Abbott-Stone scheme she will receive 26 weeks' maternity wage at the same rate, a total of $14,138 — almost two-and-a-half times as much as her wages for the 330 hours. Both sums are very handsome bonuses indeed for having done two months' aggregated paid work over 10 months.

For mothers who do not accumulate the required 330 hours of paid work, missing out on Mr Rudd's $9,788 maternity bonus or Mr Abbott's minimum $14,138 bonus will be a savage punishment. Although the schemes are intended by the feminists behind them to penalise mothers who have wilfully chosen to give full-time care to their new baby's older brothers and sisters instead of outsourcing that care and working in a paid job, many mothers will not have had the chance to do the two months' minimum paid work.

Some will have been instructed by their doctors to rest as much as possible to avoid a miscarriage. Others will be farmers' wives who have had to stay on the farm, or residents of towns where there isn't any paid work for them. Still others will have been looking after aged parents. In all these cases the Rudd and Abbott-Stone maternity-wage bonuses will be denied to the unfortunate mothers.

These mothers will still get the Baby Bonus, which is currently $5,185, whereas the maternity-wage recipients will forego this. However, that still leaves the non-recipients $4,603 worse off than the recipients under the Rudd scheme, and at least $8,953 worse off than the recipients under the Abbott-Stone scheme. The recipients will also forego Family Tax Benefit B during the period of the maternity-wage, which will usually reduce their lead over non-recipients by a further $1,400 (Rudd scheme) or $2,000 (Abbott scheme). However, that lead will still be substantial.

Discrimination of such a magnitude is likely to make many mothers, intending mothers and believers in justice for families bitter towards both Labor and the Coalition — bitter enough for many to switch their votes from the major parties to the minor pro-family parties.

The preferences of these parties might well determine who wins this year's federal election; so both Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott should beware.

Dr Colin Jory is a Canberra teacher, historian, Shakespeare scholar and pro-family activist.

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