PAID PARENTAL LEAVE: by Tim CannonNews Weekly
Labour and Coalition reject equality for stay-home mums
, June 26, 2010
As News Weekly goes to press (June 16), the Australian Senate has adjourned debate on the Rudd Government's proposed paid parental leave scheme. However, comments from Liberal Senator Sue Boyce indicate that the bill will pass the upper house with the support of both Liberal and Labor senators, contrary to concerns expressed by the Prime Minister that the bill would meet turbulence in the Senate ("Boyce mocks Rudd over parental leave", Sky News, June 16).
The beleaguered Mr Rudd is keen to push the bill through without delay, providing a much needed policy victory for Labor before the election. Speaking at a media conference on June 15, Rudd warned senators: "Get out of the road, guys. Just get on with it. This [PPL bill] is really important. ... It is so key to making life easier for working families."
The comment coincided with the presentation of a petition organised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which pledged support for a PPL scheme to be in place by January 2011.
However, as Kids First Australia president Tempe Harvey has pointed out, the ACTU's petition, like Labor's PPL scheme, completely ignores the underlying dangers of discriminatory parental leave.
While it may be true that most Australians are in favour of supporting families with young children, Mrs Harvey notes that "in March 2010, Galaxy polled 1,000 Australian adults and found 71 per cent of parents and 79 per cent of 18-34 year olds believe government-funded paid parental leave should be paid equally to all mums to afford bonding time with their babies
" (emphasis added).
Indeed, the PM's suggestion that the PPL bill would help working families amounts to a slap in the face for the more-than-50-per-cent of Australian families who will miss out on PPL because they have sacrificed the mother's second income in favour of providing full-time care for their children. The funding available to these families - who are very much working
families - will be in the vicinity of $3,000 less than to families who qualify for PPL.
As the March Galaxy poll indicates, this kind of glaring and unjustified discrimination against single-breadwinner families does not at all reflect the wishes of the Australian people. Ultimately, the electorate wants equal treatment for all families. Unfortunately, the major parties want none of it.
Indeed, the issue has been whitewashed by the major parties, who have simply ignored the discriminatory nature of a government payment which is available only to mothers in the paid workforce. This is despite a concerted campaign in the community and at a political level to ensure that Australia does not implement a PPL scheme which manifestly discriminates against mothers who have chosen to provide their own childcare, rather than outsource that care to a paid stranger.
While efforts to make PPL fairer have struggled to capture media attention amidst a raft of competing political issues, they have not gone unnoticed. In a media release on June 8, the Presbyterian Church of Victoria called for an equitable and uniform family assistance regime which would not discriminate against unwaged mothers. The statement received coverage in several states.
Meanwhile, family groups, including the Australian Family Association, Kids First Australia and FamilyVoice Australia, have ensured that MPs are fully aware of the unacceptable nature of the proposed scheme. Yet neither of the major parties has been willing to throw its support behind unwaged mums.
And, as reported by Phillip Coorey in the Sydney Morning Herald
, the National Party has agreed not to voice its opposition to the discriminatory scheme until after the election ("Pass the parental leave scheme, Rudd urges the Senate", SMH
, June 16).Lone voice
A lone voice in the Senate - that of Victoria's Family First Senator Steven Fielding - has called for a scheme which does not discriminate against the thousands of mothers who work in the home and as volunteers in the community.
Despite his moving an amendment to give all mothers access to the government's proposed scheme, as well as tabling a petition calling for "Equal Help For All Mums", Senator Fielding's efforts have been frustrated in the Senate, with both the Liberal and Labor parties refusing to endorse equal treatment for all mothers.
The contempt shown for unwaged mothers under the proposed scheme was highlighted by Senator Fielding during debate over the bill in the Senate, when he pointed out that, although incarcerated female criminals were specifically deemed eligible for PPL under the Government's bill, mothers who are not in the paid workforce miss out.
It is disappointing to note that Senator Fielding's suggestions were met only with derision by his Senate colleagues, who refused to engage in the important issues he raised. But as the bill is propelled towards its inevitable passage, the sting of derision will not be felt by Senator Fielding alone. It will also be felt by that majority of working Australian families who already go without the security of a second income, so that they can provide care for their children at home.Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Australian Family Association.