By TONY ABBOTT
As parents, Margie and I knew all too well the struggles families face when they don’t fit into the one-size-fits-all child care system which currently exists. The child care sector has to catch up with the changing family working patterns. This week I took my pledge for a Productivity Commission inquiry into child care a step further by releasing the terms of reference which highlights the key problems that need to be addressed and key proposals which must be considered, such as greater access to in-home care and the option of tax deductibility. There’s no doubt that it’s time Australia had a more flexible, more accessible and more affordable mix of child care options.
A more responsive child care system is good for families but it is particularly important for mothers who suffer the greatest impact when child care is scarce, inflexible and expensive. It provides women with power and choice in their career decisions and makes it easier for them to work how they want, when they want, which is not only critical for working women, it’s critical for our nation’s.
More flexible child care is not the only important concern facing new and expectant mothers. Australia might have been the first country to give women full electoral rights but we have been just about the last to give them paid parental leave. Some 38 countries have a paid parental leave scheme – including places like Morocco and Mexico as well as Denmark and Switzerland – but Australia still doesn’t have a scheme based on a woman’s real wage.
The scheme that the current Government cobbled together, is basically a re-badged Baby Bonus. It’s a welfare scheme rather than a workplace entitlement.
Increasing women’s participation in the economy is a sure-fire way to boost productivity. Increasing productivity is the key to building a stronger economy. By better supporting women to juggle work and family commitments, we empower them to be better economic (as well as social) contributors to our country. That’s why paid parental leave is not just a women’s issue or another a family benefit but a policy that makes good economic sense.
Of all the countries with a paid parental leave scheme, 36 out of 38 base parental leave payments on the salary that the individual mother actually earns. Just two countries – one of them Australia – have a scheme that doesn’t pay women their real wage. Labor’s scheme is based on the minimum wage. It’s not a workplace entitlement based on a woman’s real wage.
This is the key difference between Labor’s paid parental leave scheme and the policy I took to the last election and will take again to the next election. I want a scheme where Australian women enjoy paid parental leave based on what they actually earn. Women receive their real wage when they’re sick or on holidays so why diminish the contribution of raising children and make light of the inevitable career interruption this brings by paying them the minimum wage only?
Most modern families need two incomes to pay the rent or the mortgage and to keep their heads above water financially. By paying women anything less than their real wage, we devalue family life and put more barriers in the way of women who aspire to both a family and a career.
That’s why I reject any suggestion that the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme is too generous. Parental leave based on what a woman actually earns isn’t generous – it’s only what’s fair. It’s that simple.
As many people know, I was a slow and late convert to the idea of paid parental leave. That’s the truth and I don’t try to hide it. In fact, I think it’s proof that good policy can prevail provided the argument stacks up and politicians are big enough to admit getting it wrong. I got it wrong when I earlier opposed paid parental leave.
Personal experience is often the best teacher. Watching friends and colleagues trying to juggle work and family persuaded me that I had to reconsider this issue lest society condemn my daughters’ generation to having fewer life options than their male counterparts.
So I revisited the arguments and changed my mind.
What’s more, the broad framework of what was to become the Coalition’s paid parental leave was outlined in my book Battlelines, which was published months before I became Leader of the Opposition in December 2009. The fact that my paid parental leave change of heart came about before I was elected to lead the Coalition is an inconvenient truth that explodes Labor’s claim that it was a cynical ploy to gain the female vote.
The Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme pays superannuation while the mother is on leave, unlike Labor’s scheme which pays no superannuation. Paying super is essential if we are to try and arrest the growing divide between the retirement incomes of men and women. Our scheme covers the six months duration recommended for breastfeeding mothers while Labor’s scheme covers only 18 weeks.
On every measure, the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme is better for mothers, families, our community and our economy than Labor’s welfare scheme.
Still, being the better scheme hasn’t made it an easy sell. I have had to fight hard for the Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme against some fierce internal criticism. I’ve always believed that if something’s worth fighting for, fight for it you should. Anything less than a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme would leave us poorer as a society, an economy and a country and the test of good government, after all, is to leave the country better off than you found it.
Tony Abbott is the Leader of the Opposition and the Federal Member for Warringah.
Do you think there needs to be an inquiry into the child care sector? Do the current paid parental leave arrangements work for your family or do you prefer Tony Abbott’s proposed system? What other issues would you like to hear from Tony Abbott about?