How Fair Dinkum Is Abbott’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme?

Now that the Coalition’s campaign has been launched, Eva Cox has a closer look at Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme

The introduction of a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is the obligation that a serious political party owes to modern society and that an aware political parent owes to his three daughters. These days, most families need more than one income to survive and because 62 per cent of mothers are in the workforce just prior to having a baby, paid parental leave reinforces the most conservative instinct of all: the instinct to have a family.

So said Tony Abbott at the Coalition campaign launch on the weekend – and who could disagree with him? Even though Abbott does go on and on, I agree with most of his rhetorical flourishes – except this comment that the ALP version is just a re-badged baby bonus.

It’s good for women because it gives them a real choice to combine paid work and family. It’s good for families because it gives them real help when they are most financially vulnerable. Labor’s scheme by contrast is just a re-badged Baby Bonus; it’s certainly not the real wage that families need to pay their bills and to make ends meet. That’s why we will pay replacement wages like the vast majority of schemes around the world.

Why do I disagree with this comment? Because it’s even more applicable to the Coalition’s policy.

Paid parental leave is important because it legitimises the connection between paid work and family responsibilities. Neither of the 2010 competing schemes do this adequately because neither incorporates any leave entitlement, just a payment. The Coalition offers 26 weeks at replacement pay rates, plus two weeks paternity leave, versus Labor’s 18 weeks at the minimum wage. So both can be seen as an improved baby bonus schemes which significantly provides more for those women in paid work than those with little or no earned income.

The Labor scheme is in place, ready to start from the beginning of next year. It expects employers to administer the payments through the wages system so hopefully it will maintain some workplace connections.

The Coalition’s version has two significant design flaws which raises queries about their understanding the whole concept. One is that all payments will be made by the government, which undermines the workplace employer connections; the other is that, despite either parent being eligible, the replacement salary will be at the mother’s pay rate. This is obviously a money saver as women generally earn much less but it also suggests that the gender pay gap is being exploited by the Coalition.

As a win for gender equity, these factors negate much of what Abbott claims, despite their scheme being more financially generous.

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Blog Comments

This whole PPL scheme bugs me.
Having kids is a choice. So why should taxpayers have to fund that choice? It’s different to say, Medicare, where people do not choose to be sick or get cancer, and therefore I have no problem with universal healthcare. However this whole scheme seems to fly in the face of the Conservative tradition; making citizens responsible for their own wealth, and not relying on government money.

There was no PPL when my mother had me. My parents had to work and save in preparation for the time ahead spent at home. I suspect that this was the case for all parents of Generation X/Y, and I guess I don’t understand why people can’t still do this now. If you’re going to buy a house, you usually save for a deposit. If you’re planning a dream vacation, you usually save for it first. So if people know that they’re going to (or even plan to) have a family, why wouldn’t you also make sure that you have a enough money in the bank first? Furthermore, will the PPL be means tested? Will a female corporate executive making $400,000 a year get the same leave enititlements as a cashier who makes $35,000?

Now, I understand that inflation and rising costs of living, etc. probably make it harder to have a family these days, but I’m not entirely convinced that taxpayer funded leave is the answer. As I said, having a family is a choice. What about all the other Australians who choose not to have children? Are they the ones who will ultimately pay for the others to take time off work? I’m not trying to have a stab at working families, however this is one of the most expensive policies that the Coalition is proposing this election, and I guess I just hope that they know what they’re doing.


I agree with the previous poster. Let me make it clear that I feel that parents should be able to access social services aimed at making them better parents – such as ante-natal care, schools and health services for kids — and I have no argument that social wealth is of long term benefit to me and society.

However, people who choose to have children are making a private choice that should not burden people who choose not to have children. Thus, tax and workplace policies that favour parents impose unfair costs on non-parents. Children are, for the most part, are a private benefit enjoyed by their parents. Parents do not have a reduced “expendable income” as some argue. Parents have spent their income on this private benefit.

Without a hint of irony, it seems the voices of those who argue against the notion that children are a private good and insist they are social goods are, incongruously, supporters of private welfare – in the form of taxpayer-funded cash handouts — for individual parents’ pockets and they seem to revile social support such as government supplied services for mothers and their children. How incongruous.

It is morally repugnant to assert that increasing the private wealth of parents is deserved without question, that it can only be reached through compensatory monetary arrangements and it is morally acceptable to penalise the childless to achieve this. This is social engineering, not responsible social policy.

Further, taxpayer funded paid parental leave is not really a gender issue. It is not a feminist matter at all. It bugs me when paid parental leave is presented as some kind of gender equity solution. Tax-payer funded paid parental leave is not a win for female emancipation, it is middle-class welfare.

I will be the devil’s advocate just for a second and make the kind of comeback that many feminist-academics would make “…but the workplace is structured according to the male-breadwinner model…” which, apparently, discriminates against balancing parenting and a career.

Sadly, these people — in their admirable efforts to effect Equity for Wymyn ™ — would have a workplace model that creates equality of *outcomes* for people with small children. ONLY. This does not create equity for women, it merely shifts the target of discrimination/less favourable treatment to those people who are not parents.

Some feminists argue that recognising women’s “unpaid work” will somehow decouple gender from the division of domestic labour. Or in lay terms, making men pick up their lazy arses around the home. While I have no quarrel with the outcome, I fail to understand how such government intervention – that is, inflating individuals’ private wealth through cash-handouts – will decoupling the yoke of gender especially when it seems “women” here means only mothers.

Furthermore, the reality is that most women who have children are still in a relationship with the father of their newborn babies. Taxpayer funded paid parental leave is not pro-women as such. It is pro-mothers and anti-single men and childless women, because the former group will be net winners, whilst the latter will be forced to pay for this lifestyle choice. For the rest, it’s just churn, where the money they have paid in the form of taxes is given back to them – a ridiculously inefficient outcome.

Indeed, it can be arguable that taxpayer-funded paid parental leave is a new reiteration of the famous Harvester Decision. The Harvester Judgement was considered a watershed in its time. For those who need reminding, Judge Higgins established that a male living wage had to be reasonable and fair so as to “maintain a man, his wife and three children in frugal comfort”. Please bookmark the adjective “frugal”. Young people and women were paid less than this wage because it was argued that because they did not have a family to support, it was justifiable to pay them less than men. Feminists fought this demonstrable inequity and by the 1980s there was legislation to enforce equal pay for equal work. Arguably there is some disparity today between male and female income BUT it remains that there should be no difference between male and female earnings for the same work.

Today’s myriad of cash benefits for parents and the introduction of taxpayer funded PPL is the Harvester Decision by stealth. Tax deductions and rebates for child and wife related-expenses are now supplementing what was once the higher male wage. Most women who are mothers are, more often than not, in a relationship at the time of birth and so PPL supplements *household income* including the male wage earner. These reforms are not enhancements of gender equity (that is, they are not measures to keep women in the workforce), but rather, a return to the old male breadwinner policies. With four out of ten households paying no net tax and mothers being paid for not working, it is clear that childless singles and couples are paying for this largesse. Instead of wages favouring the childed household, income redistribution favours the childed household and punishes non-parents. That includes women, thank you feminists.

Writer Leon Bertrand observes:

” …feminists, including Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and Deputy assistant secretary…are suggesting plans where mothers would receive two-thirds of their pre-maternity incomes for 14 weeks. In most cases, that would be almost twice what single people who are not in work immediately before having their baby would receive… So paid maternity leave would represent an overall distribution of income away from single people and childless couples and in favour of couples and single mothers who have children. On the whole, it is therefore only very marginally pro-women. It’s far more pro-big governments, higher taxes and big spending… In many cases, paid maternity leave would mean a regressive distribution of income away from those who are poor towards those who are far less in need of it.”

It is telling that middle-class Australia did not so much as blink an eye at the imposition of conditional welfare for the genuinely disadvantaged such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, single parents and the long-term unemployed. Yea verily, they encouraged it, applauded it and made the usual ruminations about dole-bludgers, unmarried mums, b**ng-bashing and the like. Yet it seems that married middle class mothers are the special exception to the accountability rule. Hand these nice (white) married ladies an unconditional and non-means tested wad of cash and the magic of perfect breast-fed child-raising will simply come to fruition. Once again, there is more than just a touch of class warfare in this discussion.

The real truth is that most people these days keep themselves dissatisfied with their income by always comparing themselves with people who have more and never with people who have less who they rarely see up close. Today the child-burdened seem to expect to have a zero-sum impact after they have birthed; they want to continue to maintain the same consumption patterns as the DINKs they once were. The working childless, no matter how poor, are paying taxes to maintain the lifestyle expectation of already comfortable.

To hear feminists equate taxpayer-funded paid maternity leave with social equality is a slap in the face for people who DO suffer REAL social injustices. The bottom line is that despite all of the endless hand-wringing and angst about the state of the nation’s children, assistance isn’t being directed toward kids at the greatest risk. It’s a greed-driven charade designed by and for the comfortably well-off middle-class child-makers who possibly aren’t thrilled with the consequences of their own choices, or are irate at the financial impact that children have on them after having lived as DINKS – and who, after decades of funding welfare for the poor, no matter how parsimonious, are demanding theirs.

This line of argument should be disputed once and for all. In 2010, this should not even be brought up as a joke. Is Australia really stuck in the 18th century? Is this really not yet completely laughable? No, having children is not a choice, and particularly not a lifestyle choice. Having children is a human right (see Universal Charter of Human Rights). According to the same Charter, every family is entitled to protection from the society and the state. Let’s think about it that way.

I don’t see how anyone could seriously speak of child bearing as something that some people choose to do – overlooking that, as a species, we have an interest in there being children. You wouldn’t seriously dispute that there is a strong biological drive within the human race for there to be children, would you? I’m not talking about this or that woman: couples want children, grandparents want grandchildren, children want siblings, we all like there to be children, even Tony Abbott wants other people to have children. It is not at all the same as choosing home ownership over rent, or a smaller house to a bigger – and god knows Australia protects that choice with “taxpayers’ money”. In fact, “not having children” is a lifestyle choice, not the other way around – and we should keep in mind that not having children has only become a viable choice since modern contraception (and since the decriminalization of homosexuality – but oh!, one can find maternal and paternal instinct even among the same-sex couples).

The other thing that rarely gets said is that every taxpayer is someone’s child, and has had a mother. How self-centered must one be to consider parental leave as a niche interest? Certainly it would be hard to find anyone that has not been touched by the phenomenon of childbirth?

This is before we even get to the question of who does unpaid work in our society, how much of it women, whether we should recognise that work, etc. Or questions of equity. Or that Australia is still one of the only 2 OECD countries without parental leave. But of course, it’s all them that got it wrong, isn’t it?

“there is a strong biological drive within the human race for there to be children,”

Yes, copulation, fertilization and gestation are instinctive and automatic processes. If there is a strong biological drive then it follows that it does not need to be incentivised with money.

“Australia is still one of the only 2 OECD countries without parental leave.”

That old chestnut has been firmly rebutted by the Productivity Commission as little more than a semantic distinction. The squirming and inconvenient truth is, currently, Australia has the SECOND HIGHEST cash handouts (as a proportion of GDP) to people with children among OECD nations (after Luxembourg).,3343,en_2649_34819_37836996_1_1_1_1,00.html
Some even go far to say that Australia spends more money on social spending for parents than any other country.

we all like there to be children

Argumentum ad populum. Not everyone likes children but we are becoming an increasingly child-centric society. Parents with prams parking bays, a plethora of cash handouts for families, the political cliche “working families”… and yet households with children are moving to represent the minority.

How self-centered must one be to consider parental leave as a niche interest
How self centred must one be to consider their personal choice to have a child requires a cross-subsidy, taken from even the poorest of workers, and redistributed in the form of cash so that they can maintain their lifestyle?

“in fact, ‘not having children’ is a lifestyle choice, not the other way around”

Prefacing a statement with “in fact” is a poor rhetorical device and it certainly does not turn an opinion into a fact. A woman’s right not to be a mother is not accorded the same validity as those women who choose the timing and conditions of their births. Indeed, the narrative of “choice” disguises the pronatalist political context of reproductive decisions and facilitates the pathologisation of women who choose not to have children — as has been exemplified by the argument here you that has positioned the childfree as the ‘other’ and non-childfree as the default.

Parenthood is also a lifestyle choice because, as argued, ” not having children has only become a viable choice since modern contraception “. Across the blogosphere I have witnessed the fawning faux altruism from the smug middle class child-makers insisting that their children are guaranteed to be professionals who will render services to me in my dotage and, yet another old chestnut, “the taxpayers of the future”. Poppycock! No-one has children so as to render services to me or the nation in the future. Children are born today through choice to service their parents’ private pleasure.

The balance of what extent children are social goods or private goods is an arguable one. If, as the faux altruists insist, children are indeed social goods, then cash handouts of private wealth are an incongruous policy response. As I stated at the beginning of my essay: parents should be able to access social services aimed at making them better parents – such as ante-natal care, schools and health services for kids — and I have no argument that social wealth is of long term benefit to me and society.

My point, which has been missed, is that the childless working poor should not be cross-subsidising the already comfortable childed households. Call me old fashioned but I’m not sure where I can find the decency in people who are earning $15 an hour or so working in retail, hospitality, driving cabs or delivering pizzas subsidising the $100,000 pa paid maternity leave to someone who earns $50 an hour, owns a house and then enjoys an extra selling point when they sell the thing without any thought to kicking some back to the poor folks who paid for it. But that is what is behind the preferred paid maternity leave models from former public servant Julia Perry and from the likes of Tony Abbott with his full-wage replacement scheme for six months (that would eventually be taxpayer funded he admitted), generously “capped” at paying up to $75k to those earning $150k pa and above. Clearly some mothers are more equal than others.

In less than a generation family size has fallen by about one child, but the number of rooms required in a typical family home has increased. A generation ago the typical house was 3 bedrooms, a family bathroom and a combined living/dining room. Most families had one car, and if they had 2, the second was a generation old. There was no cable internet, no weekly trips to cafes, no air-con. Children shared bedrooms and the television – if there was one – was in the living room.

Today, status requires both parents to work so that the family has four wheel drives for both mum and dad, an air-conditioned four bedroom house, with 2 or 3 bathrooms, study and family room that occupies the entire block of land together with the lastest mod-cons. The trend in the latest whizz-bang and fashionable gadgetry sees the “must-have” household items superseded on an almost exponential level. What modern Australians seem to have forgotten is that having children means foregoing the overseas holidays, the cafe breakfasts and fancy restaurant meals but it appears that modern parents seem to want a zero-sum impact on their consumption habits and someone else out to pick up the tab.

And that someone else is not big business or developers that can not olny afford it but who are going to be the main beneficiaries of this mythologised future workforce. No, it is the childfree who pay. Indeed, from what I have read in discussions across the web, it also seems that there is a touch of envy from the non-childfree. Somehow there’s this twisted perception among some parents that the childfree enjoy some kind of undeserved benefit and by forcing the childless to make sacrifices in their own lives — either through fiscal arrangements or unfavourable workplace arrangements — is the best means to address this imagined inequity.

To their rare credit, at least the neo-cons and the New Right overtly support cash handouts to families as it supports or even promotes their ideological position and they make no pretence in hiding their glee at the prospect of penalising childless gays and the deliberately barren jezebels who dare to have sex for recreation and not procreation.

But for the varied vocal supporters of middle-class welfare on the left and the right, redirecting money from the childless, no matter how poor, to those with children, regardless of need, is dressed up and marketed as dewy-eyed faux-altruism. In truth, it is little more than socialism for some. It is certainly not equity for women; it is only equity for SOME women and those women must be married, middle-class [white] mothers.

Hyperbole aside, I always thought that welfare was to assist the destitute and needy to get a hand-up, not a hand-out. I am not seeking to have children starve in the streets as the strawmen will inevitably suggest. The poor and needy do deserve assistance because children should not be raised in poverty. But to expect the childless working poor and lower middle class to be taxed to the point where they should have to go without a home of their own just so the children of the wealthy can buy the must-have I-phone is repugnant.

But today middle-class welfare it most certainly is – for the working rich – at the direct expense of the working poor. How disgusting and shameful. And yet, these wealthy people who feel hard done by seem to have no shame. I still can’t believe that non-means tested compulsory paid maternity leave still passes as respectable debate. It is regressive, vile and stupid.

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