In an article for the Conversation, published in December 2014, I argued that Prime Minister Tony Abbott should dump not refine his signature paid parental leave scheme. My argument was that Australia already has a scheme that is working well according to recent evaluation. I also said that funds would be better channelled into child care.
Tony Abbott announced in his National Press Club speech on 2 February that his signature PPL scheme will not go ahead and additional funds will indeed be channelled into child care. I am sure Tony Abbott read my article, decided that I was right and that he would do as I suggest – (notwithstanding the very large amount of similar advice from other sources, as well as the outcomes of opinion polling).
I can see that there were merits to Tony Abbott’s PPL proposal in strengthening and extending paid maternity leave for women and making it an employment rather than a social welfare entitlement. Some progressive social commentators were highly in favour of it. The major problem however is that it was entirely disconnected to any broader agenda or vision for social equity or progress for women.
And that’s because the Coalition government has a large black hole in its policy in these areas. So the TA PPL scheme actually served to highlight the huge deficits in its social policies. It came across as exclusivist, elitist and aimed at well off women and families underscored by Abbott’s appalling comment that the scheme was aimed to encourage women of calibre to have children. All this, of course, is part of why Tony Abbott’s leadership is today on the rocks.
Worse still, the TA PPL was embedded in a highly regressive set of policies that had broad ranging effects across the community. It was a very bad look indeed where the 2014 Budget set out to make young people ineligible for unemployment benefits for up to 6 months, greatly increase the costs to students of higher education, introduce co-payments for GP visits, increase the pension eligibility age to 70, reduce the value of the age pension, make life harder for anyone receiving a Centrelink payment, cutback social services .. the list goes on. Tony Abbott gave a predictably weak response, avoiding the heart of the matter, at the National Press Club to a question about the community’s concerns on the fairness of the budget. (see above post for comment).
While the TA PPL was to be funded through a special levy on large corporations combined with a reduction in the company tax rate, it would still have been foregone revenue that could have been spent elsewhere.
My own view is that women should be able to take as much time off work as they want for babies and children without suffering any employment disadvantage at all. There should be some kind of basic income that would enable this. In addition, there should be more opportunities for women to combine work and caring in the combination that they want. This isn’t utopian thinking. It is how things should be in a world where care work, child raising and women’s participation are valued and nurtured – just good, basic, normal, decent ways of going about life. Apparently, it’s good for the economy too. There is really no excuse why it can’t be like this now.