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Dear Scott Morrison, Paid Parental Leave is not a "first world problem".

A letter to the Social Services Minister.

Dear Scott,

Two weeks ago you described Paid Parental Leave as a “first world problem”. Given you’re a minister in a ‘first world’ country it struck me as a curious dismissal. If you’re not interested in tackling first world issues, what kind of issues are you expecting to tackle?

Aside from that little quirk of logic though, what also struck me was your apparent lack of understanding about Paid Parental Leave. After tuning into your ABC radio interview earlier today, I had the same thought. You’re a smart man, you’re being touted as PM-material, how can this be? Is there no one in your department, or around the Cabinet table, who understands this policy?

Does anyone in this group understand PPL? Anyone?

It seems not, which is why I am compelled to write.

Right now you’re attempting to pass legislation to cut Paid Parental Leave entitlements to a number of families. To banish the ‘double-dipping’ rort that some families have been accessing as they are perfectly entitled and expected to.

Modelling by YWCA and Fair Agenda shows that nurses, teachers, ambulances and retail workers would be hardest hit by the proposed change.

The Human Rights Commission has suggested the proposed amendment might amount to a breach of Australia’s human rights obligations. Today, you told the ABC you’re listening “very carefully” to the cross-benchers’ concerns in this regard. May I suggest you also listen very carefully to the parents who will appear at today’s Senate Inquiry?

“When someone is already getting $11,800 from their employer, the taxpayer won’t be paying them an additional $11,800.”

What’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t they get both?

In Australia, the government provides 18 weeks at the minimum wage to new parents, and this can be accessed in addition to any paid leave employers provide.

Accessing both has been touted as a waste of money and a gross abuse of privileges (which is pretty rich considering some of the privileges publicly-elected representatives have been helping themselves to in recent times).

Australia’s current PPL scheme has twin objectives: enhancing child and maternal well-being and supporting parental work force participation. It’s not a warm, fuzzy cash grab. Why would 32 out of 33 OECD countries provide Paid Parental Leave if it weren’t a legitimate investment?

The aim is to extend total paid leave to as close as possible to a full 26 weeks recommended by the World Health Organisation and the NHMRC.

26 weeks is the optimal time for mothers to spend with their babies.

This creates optimal health benefits whilst also facilitating the continued work force participation of mothers. ‘Double-dipping’ was implemented because it’s a cost efficient way to meet these objectives.

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Attempting to dismember that aspect, without any explanation or acknowledgement of that, suggests you don’t ‘get’ this.

Anything that moves Australian mothers closer to being able to spend 26 weeks with their baby, moves us towards increased health and economic benefits. Reducing the paid leave offered to 79,000 Australian women is an anathema.

What about the economy? Exactly, Scott! Let’s talk about the economy.

Jobs, growth and community safety, are the priorities you listed several times today.

“The Government is focused on the serious agenda we have, on people’s jobs,” you told Michael Brissenden.

In economic terms boosting the workforce participation rate of women in Australia is an absolute no-brainer.

Last year the G20 world leaders resolved to tackle the gap between male and female workforce participation around the world. If this wasn’t a pressing economic priority, why would they do that? Hint: They wouldn’t.

Joe Hockey’s Intergenerational Report in March made it explicitly clear that due to our ageing population we need as many women working as possible.

As is often quoted, if Australia boosted female workforce participation rate by 4 percentage points we would add $25 billion to our GDP each year.  That would be a tidy little earner Scott. Think of the JOBS! The GROWTH! The COMMUNITY UPSIDE!!

Having children is not radical and neither is parents working.

And, Scott, let’s not overlook the elephant in the room. Our female workforce participation is embarrassing. Despite educating women better than any country in the world we rank 52nd in the world for women working. We’ve stagnated at around 68% while other countries have leapt ahead.

How can this be? What can we do? It requires an array of policy settings, of which an adequate PPL policy is critical. So too is access to affordable and good quality childcare. But more than that we need leadership. Scott, we need ministers like yourself to explain to the electorate why women working is a national economic priority, not a mere folly that some mothers indulge in.

Other countries are busily narrowing the gap between men and women at work, and Australia is still floating about in a place where women have to justify working. Unfortunately this rhetoric about double-dipping rorting mothers does little to help. As a senior member of a government so focused on jobs and the economy I am certain this won’t sit well with you. Perhaps it’s time for a new message?

Yours sincerely

A frustrated voter

What message would you like to give the Minister about Paid Parental Leave?

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