NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
Coalition must restore the baby bonus
, November 10, 2012
Families with unwaged at-home mothers are the main casualties of the Labor government’s recent cuts to the baby bonus.
Labor’s decision is not entirely unexpected and has very little to do with the government’s budget shortfall.
First, it is not unexpected because it has long been Labor’s policy, in line with its reigning radical feminist ideology, to squeeze two-parent families where one of the parents leaves the paid workforce to work at home raising children.
The previous Howard Coalition government introduced the Family Tax Benefit Part B as a universal payment to unwaged at-home mothers regardless of the father’s income. In 2008, Labor under Kevin Rudd subjected the payment to a means test. When Mr Rudd spoke, as he often did, of “working families”, he meant not single-income two-parent families but households which enjoyed two full-time paid jobs.
The latter continue to enjoy the advantages of having two full-time incomes, two tax-free thresholds and, for the mother, paid parental leave.
If the couple put their children into institutionalised childcare, they are then entitled to receive twice the level of childcare support from government that single-income two-parent families receive for raising their children at home. (Figures are available from the Australian Family Association).
Second, Labor’s cutbacks in family assistance have not been prompted by budgetary considerations (if so, Labor should reduce benefits for wealthier two-income families), but are purely ideological in nature. Thanks to Labor’s discriminatory policies, mothers now have even less choice between going out to work or doing unwaged work in the home. Many mothers today are more or less forced, from financial necessity, to remain in full-time paid work.
Should the mother leave the paid workforce, the family loses its second income and, with it, a second tax-free threshold — even though she has more mouths to feed.
Such an inequitable policy is indefensible. Labor’s cutbacks are an assault on the most vulnerable families, a denial of choice for mothers and a blatant piece of social engineering.
The Coalition’s response has been underwhelming. Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s preoccupation with promoting his expensive paid parental leave scheme has been to the detriment of families with unwaged at-home mothers.
Abbott’s political adviser and confidante, right-wing commentator Christopher Pearson, upbraided The Australian’s columnist Angela Shanahan in 2010 for supposedly misunderstanding Abbott’s scheme. According to Pearson, she saw it as “a betrayal of stay-at-home mothers and proof positive of ‘Abbott’s glib assumption that parental leave is the only part of family policy worth addressing’.”
Pearson explained: “Had she read the whole of his speech more carefully, she’d have noticed that he said very clearly it was the first part of a two-pronged policy and an announcement on new arrangements covering stay-at-home mothers would follow soon.” (The Australian, March 20, 2010).
That was written two-and-a-half years ago, and Australian families are still waiting for the promised second part of Abbott’s two-pronged policy. Any tax relief or benefits he’s offered to date to unwaged at-home mothers have fallen very far short of the largesse he has pledged to lavish on better-off households with two full-time incomes.
Now the Coalition has the opportunity to distinguish itself from Labor by guaranteeing to restore the value of the baby bonus that has been the cut by the Gillard government.
So far, single-income two-parent families have received little sympathy or support from either side of politics.
On the political Left, the Labor Party’s Emily’s List feminists look with no friendly eye on unwaged at-home mothers. They follow the coercive approach advocated in 1976 by French feminist Simone de Beauvoir, when she declared in an interview with Betty Friedan, “No woman should be authorised to stay at home to raise her children … because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”
Nor is there much comfort to be had from the political Right. Free-market economists — with a few notable exceptions — generally estimate a nation’s wealth solely by the volume of goods and services sold in exchange for money. By this definition, a mother who leaves paid employment to do unpaid work in the home therefore reduces the gross domestic product.
Adam Creighton, economics correspondent for The Australian, recently denounced as “middle-class welfare” Australia’s pioneering measures in the 20th century to financially support families, such as Labor prime minister Andrew Fisher’s Maternity Allowances Act of 1912 and the first Menzies government’s introduction of child endowment in 1941 (The Australian, October 26, 2012).
Economists such as Creighton mistakenly see government tax relief or financial assistance for families as being akin to a welfare handout. In reality, it should be seen as a small acknowledgment of the vital unpaid work that is done in the home and a partial compensation for the substantial financial sacrifices parents are prepared to make when they decide to go without a second income.
We don’t complain about businesses being granted tax allowances for depreciation, investment and occupational expenses. And we should not begrudge providing families tax relief and financial allowances as compensation for the substantial sacrifices they make, and the expenses they undertake, as they perform the vital work of raising the next generation of Australians.