NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Colin M. JoryNews Weekly
How Abbott could have won the Coalition the election
, October 16, 2010
In the recent federal election both parties had difficulty with product differentiation. Except for Labor’s mining super profits tax which proved a major vote-loser for it, neither party had policies which were conspicuously different from the other’s.
Therefore the election was decided to an unusual degree by personality-response factors - and even in this regard the differences were not such as greatly to polarise the electorate.
Both candidates appeared prime ministerial in different ways - Abbott as potentially an assured national leader, Gillard as a dependable national administrator - and both came across as unifiers rather than dividers. Each seemed genuinely to like the other, which helps account for the election being, blessedly, the least rancorous in living memory.
Given the closeness of the final result, it would be easy to posit any number of different policies or tactics which could have brought Abbott victory. Yet there is one policy which, on any reasonable assessment, would almost certainly have carried him over the finish-line in front had he adopted it, and that is a non-discriminatory policy on paid parental leave (PPL).
If Abbott had not adopted a discriminatory policy on this issue, in order to appease the feminists by backing them against ordinary women, but instead had stood firmly for equal government assistance for all new mothers, he would have gained a considerable number of votes which went to Labor - enough to have taken him to power.
What must be especially frustrating for Abbott’s colleagues is that Abbott devised and announced his policy without consulting them. Basically, he blackmailed them with the implicit threat that if they rejected the policy they would make him look so asinine that he, and thus they, would be sure to lose the election.
The reason the policy lost Abbott the election is less that it lost the Coalition votes that it would otherwise have received - most primary votes which the policy alienated probably came back to the Coalition as preferences from the minor pro-family parties - than that it denied the Coalition a substantial number of votes which it would have won had Abbott been able to campaign against the Labor’ Party’s so-called paid parental leave scheme, and in support of non-discrimination towards full-time mothers.
The basics of the two parties’ policies are well known. The Rudd-Gillard scheme, which was passed into law in June with Coalition support and is to come into operation at the beginning of next year, gives mothers who have demonstrated a “commitment” to the paid workforce a special maternity payment of 18 weeks - four-and-a-quarter months - at the federal basic-wage rate. Recipient mothers are expected to give full-time care to their newborn infants for this period, and preferably for an additional month-and-three-quarters to make a total of six months.
The Abbott scheme offers the same class of mothers - those who have demonstrated commitment to paid work - six months’ (26 weeks) payment at their full average preceding pay-rates, up to a maximum hand-out of $75,000, but with the minimum rate for qualifying mothers being the basic wage rate.
Under both the Rudd-Gillard and the Abbott schemes, to qualify a mother must have done at least 330 hours of paid work spread over 10 straight months out of the previous 13 months, whether full-time or part-time, and whether under one employer or more. If the work was done full-time at eight hours per day and five days per week, the 330 hours equates to 8.7 38-hour working weeks - roughly two months. If done part-time over the 10 months, the 330 hours equates to 8¼ hours per week.
In reality, neither scheme is genuinely a “paid parental leave” scheme, since under neither does a mother to qualify have to be in employment at the time of giving birth, and thus have to be on leave. The grants proffered by both schemes are in reality super-baby bonuses for mothers who have done the required wage-work during the preceding 13 months - which is to say, they are discriminatory rewards for prior wage-force participation, not true leave-payments.
A mother taking either the Rudd-Gillard or the Abbott pseudo-PPL payment will forego the Baby Bonus and Family Tax Benefit B, but will still end up well in front - particularly given that she would usually not have been eligible for the latter benefit anyway, since it was designed by the Howard Government to offset partly the taxation discrimination against single-income families. There is also massive additional government subsidisation of paid workforce mothers in the form of grants made directly to childcare centres, while no kindred subsidy is available for mothers who do their own childcare.
Had Tony Abbott declared himself against all government financial discrimination against full-time mothers, direct or indirect, he would have launched a revolution against the very fundaments of the feminist-directed, anti-family social engineering of the past half-century. However, even had he merely committed the Coalition to overthrow the Gillard-Rudd pseudo-PPL scheme and make direct maternity payments to mothers non-discriminatory, he would have forced the ALP into defending the indefensible against the irresistible.
As Abbott well knew, successive polls have shown that Australians overwhelmingly oppose discrimination in government maternity payments against home-based mothers. A Galaxy Poll in March 2010 revealed that two in three voters are against such discrimination, and that opposition is even stronger among parents (71 per cent) and young adults 18-34 years (79 per cent).
This confirmed the results of polls conducted in 2009 by Kids First Australia in the Queensland seats of Ryan and in Kevin Rudd’s south Brisbane seat of Griffith. In Ryan eight out of 10 voters, and in south Brisbane seven out of 10, oppose discrimination.
It is thus obvious that had Abbott been in a position in the months leading up to the election to hammer the theme, “Unlike Labor, the Coalition will not discriminate against families in which the mother cares full-time for the children”, there would have been resounding cheers for him in living-rooms all around the country, and an appreciable shift of votes from the ALP to the Liberals and Nationals.
Furthermore, by disabling himself from attacking the Rudd-Gillard pseudo-PPL scheme, Abbott disabled himself from exposing the motives and forces behind it.
The feminists bitterly opposed the Baby Bonus, introduced by the Howard Government in 2002, because it is non-discriminatory and thus does not selectively reward paid workforce mothers and punish full-time mothers.
During the parliamentary debates over the Baby Bonus it was the Greens and their ideological twins, the Australian Democrats - the most feminist-dominated parties in the parliament - who brayed loudest against it.
Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja of the Democrats demanded that it be junked and replaced by a paid parental leave scheme for paid workforce mothers alone. The Greens’ Senator Bob Brown argued that the tax money needed would be better spent on social services such as dental care.
Abbott could have made mincemeat of both Labor and the Greens had he publicised these facts, and the associated fact that the Rudd-Gillard scheme is explicitly intended to frog-march mothers back into the paid workforce six months after giving birth.
He could have shown that in the preliminary documents which provide the rationale for the scheme - the Australian Productivity Commission’s Report on Paid Parental Leave
, the explanatory memorandum which accompanied the final PPL bill, and a Paid Parental Leave
brochure issued by the government - a central theme is that a discriminatory PPL scheme is needed as a means of “offsetting the disincentives to paid work generated by social welfare and taxation arrangements”.
The principal “disincentive” in question is the Baby Bonus. In the feminists’ ugly dogmatics, any financial measure which could assist a mother to give full-time care to her infants is always represented negatively as a “disincentive” for her to do full-time paid work.
Abbott could have scarified the Rudd and Gillard governments for the ludicrous, anti-mother, anti-child pretence expressed in these preliminary documents, for instance the claims that their PPL scheme would optimise the “health and development” of children, and that full-time maternal care for infants is only assuredly beneficial for “around six months” and is non-beneficial beyond “nine to 12 months” (Productivity Commission report).
The extraordinary inconveniences and expenses which the Rudd-Gillard scheme gratuitously imposes on employers in order to disguise its pay-outs as employer leave-payments should have been exposed, denounced and ridiculed by Abbott out of regard for economic commonsense, justice for employers and basic sanity.
Here are the main relevant facts. If a woman is in the paid workforce at the time of giving birth, her employer must not only grant her maternity leave (which is fair enough), but must accept from the government a grace-and-favour grant equivalent to 18 weeks of the basic wage, and must also contract to pay the employee the same sum in the form of a maternity-leave payment.
The purpose of this ideologically-driven charade is to pretend that in making the payment the employer is not acting as a pay-agent for the government. The government payment to him is technically a grant to his business, not to the employee; and the maternity-leave payment of the same amount which he must then make to the employee is technically not from the government but from the business.
A more ridiculous, wasteful, pea-and-thimble trick imposed by a government on its citizens, and especially on its business community, would be difficult to imagine - yet Tony Abbott has offered no objections to it.
Under the Rudd-Gillard scheme, mothers who have done the required 330 hours of paid employment during 10 of the 13 months before giving birth, but are not employed at the time of the birth, are to be paid the 18 weeks of the basic wage through the ordinary social security system.
Now, there is no sane reason why women who are in the paid workforce at the time of giving birth should not be paid the pseudo-PPL allowance through the social security system also. If they were, their employers would be spared the considerable administrative costs which the scheme imposes on them; and taxpayers would be spared the great expense of the administrative, investigative and enforcement bureaucracies which are being established to oversee the compulsory employer participation.
There are many other features of the Rudd-Gillard pseudo-PPL scheme which are ridiculous, offensive to mothers or simply illogical in terms of the stated aims of the scheme - so many that had Abbott and his senior shadow ministers effectively exposed the scheme’s deficiencies the Gillard Government would have been rendered unelectable, and Abbott would be Prime Minister.
Yet instead of exposing the scheme’s absurdities Abbott incorporated every one of them into his own even more discriminatory, and thus even more absurd, pseudo-PPL scheme.
Clearly, a drastic revision of the Coalition’s disastrous policy is urgently required, given especially the possibility that there will soon be a new election. The Coalition would not want to be caught flat-footed, tongue-tied and politically impotent on the paid parental leave issue again.Dr Colin Jory is a Canberra teacher, historian and pro-family activist.