- Replacement wages are better because they treat childbirth as a natural thing that happens in the workplace
- It makes replacement pay something available to all working women, and not just the high flyers.
- The arguments against it do not make sense, or underestimate its positive impact and importance.
It’s impossible for me to tell ahead of time what issues do and don’t matter to voters, to confidently predict what issues will decide the election.
But the similarity of policies proposed by Labor and the Liberals have left the media and politicians clinging to the differences between the two parties on their approach over paid parental leave.
That both sides are taking some sort of parental leave policy to the electorate is a good thing. The fact that there is a substantive difference between the two policies is better. But one policy is far superior to the other. And it’s the one supported by the Coalition and the Greens.
Only that policy treats having children for what it is – a natural thing that workers do from time to time. Only it recognises that women (who take the vast majority of parental leave and are the ones who are forced out when families have to choose) deserve support and superannuation during that time. Only it is in keeping with international sentiment on the issue. Only one makes it affordable and prudent for women to be the primary breadwinner (more and more women earn more than their husbands/partner, meaning putting women on minimum wage for a few months period isn’t going to cover the bills). And only it makes good, replacement-wage parental leave something offered universally, and not just by the largest and richest corporations.
Rudd’s policy does do one thing Abbott’s does not, and that is support mothers who are not working before they have kids. But they are a minority. A far greater number of men and women are helped by Tony Abbott’s scheme.
Most importantly, as Eva Cox correctly argues, Abbott’s policy cements parental leave as a normal workplace entitlement, as natural and welcome as sick leave and long service leave. It normalises the idea of primary carers also having a job, and makes our workplaces more tolerant, welcoming places for men and women.
There are four arguments I’ve heard against the policy.
One is that it’s too expensive. This argument only holds up if you think the policy outcomes are not worth the cost. I think they are. We’re spending far more on dozens of policy areas. And this is a very, very important one.
The second argument made is that the money is better spent on childcare. I think more money should be spent on childcare. But I don’t see the need to prioritise something important over something else that is equally important. Spending money on both things boosts our economy by making it easier for women to work, and creates a fairer society where women are more able to achieve their potential. We should spend money on paid parental leave AND childcare.
The third argument, posed by Labor, is that the policy is unfair in rewarding some women more than others. The Coalition’s limit on the amount that can be paid out by the policy, $75,000, is sensible. But is the policy unfair? I don’t think so. No more unfair than all our other workplace entitlements, which are tied to pay. We don’t see the union movement mounting an argument against those. The same arguments used to defend sick leave and leave loading apply here. Namely, your costs of living don’t change when you get sick or when you go on holiday (or have a kid).
The fourth argument is that it hurts shareholders, who won’t be able to claim the 1.5% levy on company profits off their taxable income. It’s true – someone has to ultimately pay for this policy. Given it’s a workplace issue, I don’t see a problem with it coming out of shareholders’ pockets. But it won’t even necessarily do that. In many large corporations, the fact that they won’t have to fund their current schemes anymore means their profits will go up with Abbott’s policy anyway, offsetting the cost of the levy further (Abbott is also pitching a corporate profits tax that’ll benefit companies). And 1.5% less in dividends to Australia’s shareholders (which we all are) is worth a fairer society where women are supported in trying to have children and a career.
Abbott’s policy is better. And the arguments I keep hearing against it, being put by an unlikely coalition of groups as disparate as Family First, big business, the Labor Party and some women’s groups, do not convince.