Kids are no prerequisite to empathy
Babies have been at the forefront of politics lately. Politicians kissing babies is never a bad thing if it serves as a reminder of their current and future responsibilities.
After countless successful missions, it was my millisecond look of sheer terror at the thought of dropping a colleague’s (former Senator Andrew Bartlett’s) four-day-old daughter that made headlines 11 years ago. It’s an award winning photograph by Patrick Hamilton. Needless to say, babysitting offers dropped off after that.
In discussing last week’s changes to the Baby Bonus and the Treasurer’s notion that subsequent children cost less, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, said: “...I think if the government was a bit more experienced in this area, they wouldn’t come out with glib lines like that.”
Mr Abbott’s comment may be more subtle than say, Senator Bill Heffernan’s analysis of Julia Gillard’s suitability to be Prime Minister (when she was Deputy Leader of the Labor Party) when he said, “One of the great understandings in a community is family and the relationship between mum, dads and a bucket of nappies”. He also described Ms Gillard as “deliberately barren”.
How dare we assess women in this way. It also seems impossible to debate the merits of Budget changes when politics is so steeped in the personal.
The reduction in the Baby Bonus payment (from $5000 to $3000 for the second and each subsequent child), makes economic sense, although the Treasurer’s theory about subsequent children costing less is a little perverse.
The Howard Government’s Baby Bonus is a blatant example of so-called middle class welfare. It was ineffectively targeted. Its inception was to appease those of us who were gaining momentum in the fight for paid parental leave.
Paid parental leave would have ensured that parents – primarily women—in the workforce did not have to leave their employment when they had a child.
Parental leave (now law) also ensures those women not only have a continuing connection to the workforce (and thus, paid taxes, received superannuation etc), but that their employers and businesses maintain productive workers.
Given that Government assistance is provided through Family Tax Payments A and B, the notion of giving money - non means-tested, at that stage – to every family was spurious.
The Baby Bonus’s introduction also coincided with a period of relative low birth rates in Australia (considered a clear sign that families were postponing having children), so the Government had to act.
The former Prime Minister John Howard and then Treasurer Peter Costello came up with one way of addressing some of the social issues (remember Costello’s call to have ‘‘one for mum, one for dad and one for the country’‘), while attempting to buy votes.
Never doubt that economic policies can impact on social outcomes, even birth rates: just look at recent cuts to IVF funding.
Maxine McKew also raises the baby issue in her book, surprised that Ms Gillard joked about “two childless women” being the policy guardians of Australia’s children.
It reminds me of Pauline Hanson saying I wasn’t qualified to develop policy for young people until I’d had children (never mind my relative youth at the time!) Of course, her experience didn’t prevent her having views on indigenous, immigration and other issues.
Our MPs can have empathy with or without experience. That’s their job.
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