Tony Abbott doesn’t have a woman problem. What he has is a radical, feminist policy proposal that, if elected, will contribute enormously to the advancement of women in the workplace.
Every woman and man in Australia should support Abbott’s proposal to pay new mums six months parental leave at their existing salary, or the minimum wage, which ever is greater.
Labor’s paid parental leave scheme – the first ever introduced in Australia - is worth $606.50 a week (the minimum wage) for 18 weeks for women who earn less than $150,000 in the year before their child’s birth. It is taxed. Women who receive it lose the $5000 baby bonus and family tax benefit Part B during the duration.
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I find it amazing that policymakers have oversimplified the paid parental leave debate, saying it will increase the workforce participation rate.
When Westpac and St George introduced paid parental leave, it wasn’t necessarily to get women back from maternity leave, but to get women into those companies over other companies. They knew that if they had something that NAB or CBA didn’t have, St George and Westpac become ‘employers of choice’.
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On 1 January 2011 Australia will get its first ever national government-funded Paid Parental Leave scheme. This is a historic reform which will benefit not just mums, dads and babies, but also businesses.
In designing our Paid Parental Leave scheme, the Australian Government engaged business as part of the process. We wanted to ensure the scheme is not only fair to business, but helps employers retain valuable and skilled staff.
Having a baby is for many people part of balancing everyday work and family life. That’s why the Government had designed our Paid Parental Leave scheme to be delivered as a workplace entitlement, just like annual leave or sick leave.
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Update 11.30am: Julia Gillard has been tinkering again. Read about it here.
Back in June 2004 I interviewed the director of obstetrics at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred hospital, who said women due to have labor induced in the last week of June for medical reasons were begging their doctors to delay until at least July 1.
It’s a weird thing to do, but the tantalising prospect of the then-$3000 Baby Bonus stood on the other side of the end of the month. John Howard might have announced the Baby Bonus in the May Budget, but instead of starting it that day delayed until the beginning of the financial year, turning it into a biological lottery.
“We would always suggest that the baby comes first,” Dr Andrew Child warned prospective mothers. “It is not worth $3000 to put your baby’s whole life at risk.’’ Thus started a run of uncertainty, competitiveness and anxiety for women and their partners planning a family, as successive leaders have played financial politics with their reproductive systems. There’s no end in sight.
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As I prepare to pack my bags for the somewhat daunting task of representing almost 200 million workers around the world as head of the global union movement, I’m proud that Australian unions – in partnership with so many other women from our community – have stood together and delivered paid parental leave after 30 years.
When I joined my first union, we had just won maternity leave in our workplace: the basic right for women to return to their job after the birth of their child. Never did I imagine that it would be three decades and more before we achieved a national paid parental leave scheme.
At last - paid parental leave for all working women.
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It’s not often that Warren Truss gets much of a look in. In spite of the small detail that if Tony Abbott wins the election Truss will be the deputy prime minister, the Nationals leader isn’t exactly high profile on the mainstream radar.
But this weekend the erstwhile half of the Coalition agreement pulled his leader up on the promise to introduce a wildly generous and inequitable paid maternity leave scheme - sort of.
I’ve written before that Tony Abbott’s plan to tax (sorry, levy) our biggest companies to pay for a scheme that would see women on $150,000 paid $75,000 when they had a baby, was only going to deepen the irrational battle going on between women over how they choose to raise their children.
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On Tuesday this week, 25,000 Australians delivered a clear message straight to the people who represent them in the nation’s Parliament.
Signing a national petition, nurses, teachers, hospitality and construction workers, uni students, school kids, their mums and dads, their grandparents demanded that their elected representatives stand up and vote for the Rudd Government’s national paid parental leave scheme.
After waiting decades, working families are set to be the big winners when the Government delivers Australia’s first paid parental leave scheme and Australia finally catches up with the rest of the developed world on this vital reform.
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Prime Minister being photographed with babies – check. Opposition Leader warning MPs they remain underdogs – check. Character-questioning stories about the Prime Minister’s past behaviour out on the town emerging – check.
When can we just call this a campaign?
The phrase “it’s on like Donkey Kong” is the first line of a 1992 song by Ice Cube, Now I Gotta Wet’cha. It was more recently popularised by Seann William Scott’s character, Steve Stifler, in the American Pie movies. Explanations of the phrase offered by Urban Dictionary say it signifies “the highest level of go time” and of course is a significant escalation to “it”, whatever “it” is, being merely “on”. The signs are that in federal politics as of this week it is indeed on like Donkey Kong.
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The Government needs to come clean on what its Paid Parental Leave Scheme really means for working families, starting with its name.
It’s a great irony that an initiative called Paid Parental Leave does not actually give anyone an actual right to time off work after birth.
In fact, if an employee has been working for less than 12 months, they have no guarantee they can return to their job if they take leave.
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For the second time in five days one of the nation’s political leaders has gone MIA in 7.30 Reportland.
It was Kevin Rudd’s turn last week, with the robotic PM overriding his own software with an uncharacteristically human snap at Kerry O’Brien over the failure of the Copenhagen summit: “It might be easy for you to sit in 7.30 Report Land and say that was easy to do,” Rudd spat. “Let me tell you mate, it wasn’t.”
But tonight, it was Tony Abbott who found himself entangled in a protracted and excruciating exchange about “the two Abbotts” over his different positions on new taxes and maternity leave. And if Kevin Rudd lost his cool last week, Tony Abbott simply got lost - and he’s given Labor some great negative material ahead of the campaign.
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Tony and Kevin are still fighting about it. John was never really interested in it. Paul only ever flirted with the idea. As for Bob, Malcolm, Gough, and all those who went before them, the concept never crossed their minds.
It is almost 110 years since Australia became a Federation, and in that time our failure to introduce paid maternity leave can best be explained by recalling the first names of those who have run the nation.
Australia had no founding mothers, only founding fathers. There was no Henrietta Parkes in 1901 and since then there has been no Paula Keating. Despite the growing representation of women in politics over the past 20 years, the combative character of our political system often owes more to the 19th century than the 21st.
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Yep, everyone should have access to childcare. It should be affordable, accessible, high-quality. But there’s a limit to what society should pay.
People are outraged that the Federal Government has decided not to build more than 200 childcare centres. Yeah, they broke an election promise. They did it because they need to claw back a whole lot of cash for a bunch of other stuff – health reform and such.
They say they also worked out that there are already too many childcare centres. According to their statistics, there are thousands upon thousands of spare places. If that’s right, then they shouldn’t spend precious taxpayer dollars on more places.
Imagine you and I own houses and they both burn down in separate incidents. The government generously steps in offering to pay for new houses.
Now, yours was a modest timber framed unit no better than a shack because you are not wealthy. Mine, on the other hand, was a grand Taj Mahal of a structure with an indoor/outdoor pool and all the mod cons. Thus, I get a cheque for a $1.5 million to rebuild. You on the other hand, well you get a lot less. Let’s say, $185,000. Incensed? It’s a fair bet you would be.
Leaving aside the legitimate question of why it is the state’s role to use scarce taxpayer funds to meet your private costs anyway, the equity of the above scenario, or rather the lack of it, stinks. It is after all, like a reverse means test: the better off you are, the more you get from the government. No one in a position of responsibility would endorse this kind of thing right?
It’s little wonder the Australian people, not to mention his own Coalition colleagues, are utterly confused about Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s sham paid parental leave scheme funded by his great big new tax on business.
As soon as his International Women’s Day thought bubble hit the airwaves, there was instant disbelief.
After all, this was the man who, as Workplace Relations Minister, declared that a paid parental leave scheme would only happen over his government’s “dead body.” And who then proceeded to kill off the paid maternity leave proposal put forward by the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
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Where are the women warriors on Paid Maternity Leave? The most extensive, economically significant policy proposal to support working women in decades is put forward by a major political party… so where are the feminists and women’s groups?
Why is there such a conspicuous silence from those who “whooped” and figuratively threw streamers when the Rudd Government finally announced its Paid Parental Leave plan (which turned out to be little more than a re-badging of the baby bonus with an administrative nightmare for small business thrown in)?
Where are Eva Cox and Sharan Burrows?
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When Tony Abbott announced his paid parental leave policy on Monday, I – like many of those at the International Women’s Day celebration hosted by Manly Council – was taken by surprise. For the 15 minutes before he took my place on the podium, I had been speaking about the challenges Australia faces in creating a society that better values children, and in particular the need to better support the critical dual contribution of mothers in exercising their skills within the workplace and nurturing the next generation of Australians at home.
Much has been written this week around the pros and cons of Tony’s policy, most of it scathing and very little of it constructive. What impressed me were his opening remarks that seem to have been lost amid the frenzied discussion his announcement generated in the media.
Having been associated with the infamous statement back in 2002 that compulsory paid maternity leave would be introduced ‘over this government’s dead body’, I was heartened to hear Tony’s admission that he had since learnt, from research and a variety of sources close to him, the critical importance of the early years and the attachment of mother and baby in laying the foundations for the social and economic future of the nation.
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There is no point in complaining to my parents about what the Rudd Government has done to people in higher income brackets. My parents paid 60 cents in the dollar, worked a six-day week, raised two kids, five cats (not at the same time) and a dog and still saved for their own retirement.
In fact, there is no point discussing any sort of paid maternity leave system with my parents or anyone else who had children more than 10 years ago. Many didn’t have access to one, they don’t see the need for one and they don’t think mothers today deserve one.
And don’t get them started on the Baby Bonus.
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Where the heart dares to tread, politicians’ chequebooks follow in an election year. Tony Abbot embraced his (sort of) inner feminist on Monday announcing his proposed maternity leave plan that would see women paid up to $150,000 for six months’ at home after their baby is born.
This, on the heels of Kevin Rudd’s maternity leave proposal that offers women the minimum wage of $544 for 18 weeks, due for delivery in January in 2011, is surely good news for women and men keen to do their bit of our nation’s population growth.
But in this mad scramble to win the hearts and minds and bank accounts of “working families” have Rudd and Abbot paused to consider whether maternity leave is necessarily a positive thing for women?
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Which political leader has just adopted a policy to champion the rights of working women underpinned by progressive taxation? Not the Social Democrat, Kevin Rudd, but the Conservative, Tony Abbott.
I have dumped on the term ’progressive’ in a previous Punch piece, but I suspect that’s how many would have described Tony Abbott’s maternity leave policy if it had been announced by Kevin Rudd.
You will like Tony Abbott’s policy if you accept the importance of parental engagement with a child in the first year of that child’s life. The policy with the longer period of paid maternity leave is a better policy.
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John Howard told The Punch at Friday’s Liberal Party get-together in Mosman that Tony Abbott “hasn’t put a foot wrong” since becoming Liberal Leader in December. It now looks like in the past 24 hours that Abbott has done just that.
The reaction from surprised business leaders, a cynical public and his own irritated MPs suggests that Mr Abbott’s maternity leave scheme is a poor bit of policy which has also been badly managed politically.
While business has a tendency to complain about any new cost that comes its way, and the public a habit of being cynical about everything, it’s the political mismanagement of the issue, which saw Mr Abbott offer a qualified apology to his own MPs today, which may have done the most damage. It certainly gave Labor its first good Question Time of the year, after weeks of drift and distraction over the insulation scandal, and successive drops in the polls in the backdraft of the failed ETS.
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Bring on the battle for the most generous publicly funded paid maternity leave scheme, in fact, let’s have all all out electoral bidding war on the issue with both sides throwing lots of money.
Tony Abbott has marked International Women’s Day by announcing a proposal to introduce a scheme that would see working women paid 26 weeks of leave at their salary level at the time of the birth.
The Opposition Leader stopped short of calling his plan a policy, saying it needed work and consultation with interest groups. Lots of women will be cheering at even the mention of it so I’m loathe to talk Mr Abbott’s plan down, but there’s one thing about it that really bothers me.
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Some time in 2003, John Howard bowed to the bleeding obvious when he formally declared the Work/Family issue to be a barbecue stopper. In the end, though, Mr Howard chose to do nothing to help Australian barbecues run more smoothly.
Indeed, his WorkChoices adventure dramatically reduced the capacity of Australians to balance their lives with the demands of paid work. Leave entitlements were jeopardised, the power of employers to impose particular rostering arrangements was enhanced, and job security plummeted.
At about the same time, Tony Abbott showed similar disdain for working families when he promised that a paid maternity leave scheme would happen over their Government’s “dead body”.
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Since recently becoming a mother, I seem to have developed an obsession with cake. And it has nothing to do with knowing I should really shun chocolate éclairs if I’m going to fit into a pre-baby size 10 again.
No, what I’ve been grappling with is my determination to have it all when it comes to balancing family and work. The desire to return to my stressful, you’d-have-to-be-mad-to-work-here job without relinquishing the joys and challenges of my newfound role as a parent.
So there it is in all its unfashionable, unrealistic glory: the desire to want the proverbial cake and eat it too.
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Close examination of the Rudd Government’s much-touted childcare reforms brings to mind the wonderful quote by Milton Friedman “the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem”.
In this case, it may in fact be worse.
Labor’s proposals for more highly qualified staff in all childcare services, and lower child:staff ratios in the name of “quality care” are, on the face of it, very worthy. What self-respecting human being doesn’t want the very best for our children? How can an emphasis on “quality” be anything but laudable?
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One positive feature of the dying days of the Howard Government was the cross party work among female MPs.
Sisters were doing it for ourselves - uniting on issues ranging from stem cell research to the removal of the restrictions on RU486; from changing the foreign aid funding criteria to seeking to ensure transparent advertising of pregnancy counselling.
We co-sponsored bills and held meetings, did the numbers and organised media.It was a rare but enjoyable and mostly successful example of networking among women of different parties, all driven by a commitment to issues affecting women. However, we were unable to attract overt cross-party support on the issue of Paid Maternity Leave (PML).
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