FAMILY POLICIES: by Tim CannonNews Weekly
Let families decide how they structure their work/life balance
, August 21, 2010
Families want government support to raise their children as they please, and to have time together over the Sunday roast.
However, today, when parents are run off their feet working and looking after their kids, both sides of politics are bent on getting more married women with children into paid work and away from their children.
Labor and the Coalition have attached unjust conditions to paid parental leave. To receive the parental leave payment for a second or later baby, mums must put their young kids into outside care and go back into paid work for 10 months.
That's not helping mothers look after their kids. That's taking mums away from their babies and toddlers, so the federal Treasury collects more taxes from more paid-work mothers.
The starting point of a serious basket of family policies is to pay all mothers equally. Let families decide if mum cares for her children at home, or if she goes into waged work and pays for outside childcare.
The Australian Family Association conducted a Galaxy poll on the issue and found 71 per cent of parents and 79 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds want equal parental leave.
Two principles underpin equality in paid parental leave for all mothers.
First, to be fair and just, all families should be treated equitably, allowing them to decide how they use their tax and family benefits.
Second, assistance to families should be at a level where families can choose whether both parents work or if one (mum or dad) looks after the kids and the home.
These principles recognise that kids are the future of the nation, that the state should invest in the family in the same way that it invests in education and health, and that the family is the best provider of social services to the young, the sick and the elderly. The family also provides these services far more efficiently and at lower cost than the bureaucratic welfare state.
As well as equal paid parental leave, the tax-free threshold should be raised sustantially, leaving more income with families.
Ultimately, the fairest tax system would allow families to split their incomes for tax purposes. France allows families to split their incomes between parents and children. In Australia, this could be introduced incrementally until at least mum and dad can divide their income(s) equally between them for tax purposes.
Family Tax Benefit B should be indexed to inflation and families should be allowed to choose between splitting their incomes or receiving this tax benefit.
Over time, the raft of other benefits for families, including the billions spent on institutional childcare, should be wound into a single family voucher, allowing families to choose their own work-family balance and how their children are cared for.
Australia also needs an affordable housing policy. The biggest burden on young families is the mortgage. Unfortunately, Treasury and the Productivity Commission have a view that government policy should be geared to getting more women with children into paid work, even when their kids are pre-school age.
Career feminists have campaigned for a similar range of policies, because they believe in using discriminatory economic "carrot-and-stick" policies to herd women with young kids into paid work.
All three have campaigned for requiring mums to put their younger kids into outside care in order to receive paid parental leave for the second and subsequent children.
This Federal Government's push for more mums in paid work is in direct opposition to state and local government policy of encouraging more people into voluntary work - from school tuck-shops to sporting clubs, from soup kitchens to walking clubs.
According to a study by the Institute of Family Studies, the value of voluntary work of by women, aged 25-44 years, was around $130 billion, or about 40 per cent of the total value of all voluntary work and equal to about one-quarter of GDP in 1997.
So, if more and more mums are herded back into paid work, is the welfare state supposed to pick up the bill for others being paid to do this work?
Unlike some European countries, Australia has a culture where the majority of families choose to have mum at home while the kids are pre-school age. Most mums don't work significant paid hours until their children are in their teens.
Families are fed up with Treasury and career feminist bureaucrats telling them how to live their lives.
From both sides of politics, families want a basket of policies that allow them to establish their own family-work balance and time with their kids. Tim Cannon is a spokesman for the Australian Family Association. A shorter version of this article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald (August 8, 2010).