Michaelia Cash: Women’s workplace participation can solve Australia’s productivity problem
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It is an accepted fact that Australia has a productivity problem. But it is a problem that can be addressed with the right policies.
The Coalition, if elected to government next year, has committed itself to taking immediate action to work to provide the business environment that will enable business to lift Australia's productivity performance so we can grow a stronger economy. The Coalition's commitment will include encouraging more people into the workforce – especially women.
Research by JBWere indicates a potential increase of Australia's GDP of 11% and Grattan Institute research indicates that greater female participation indicates a potential increase in Australia's GDP of $25 billion. Women in Australia also contribute disproportionately to the unpaid care economy, which was worth an estimated $650 billion in 2009-10.
That is equivalent to 21.4 billion hours, 11.1 million full-time jobs, or just over half of the national GDP of this country and none of this unpaid care is recognised by superannuation contributions.
The optimal way to assist women to achieve their best at work, at home and in the community is to restore stability to the economy and provide a framework, through a genuine paid parental leave scheme, reform of the childcare system and flexible and modern workplace culture and practice, for them to make decisions about how to structure their lives in the most productive way.
The main disincentive for parents to work is that they cannot find childcare that they can pay for and that meets their needs. This has been backed by ABS data that shows 110,000 Australian parents could not access employment because they cannot find suitable childcare. That is why if you want to talk seriously about improving workforce participation and productivity in this nation, you need root and branch reform of the childcare system – not a tinkering at the edges. Australia needs a better childcare system that's less geared to 8am-to-6pm institutional care.
The Coalition's promised Productivity Commission review of childcare has been backed by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick. We will look at all the options including on-site childcare, the provision of nannies, extending the childcare rebate and any other recommended measures and are prepared to "think outside the box".
The "thinking outside the box" approach was exemplified by Broderick when she was working at what was then the law firm Blake Dawson Waldron. Broderick became the first part-time partner at the firm, and then when three women in her team fell pregnant at once, she hired for a secretarial position a woman who had worked as a nanny for years and would be able to assist when childcare arrangements – as they sometimes do – did not work out.
Last month, global oil giant Caltex announced the introduction of a new scheme whereby primary carers who return to work at Caltex after their paid parental leave will receive incentives such as an extra 12% annual bonus until their child turns two. Caltex has done the numbers on this, and its chair, Elizabeth Bryan, says only a small number would need to return to work to make the program worthwhile.
In retaining more women in its workplace, Caltex is helping to boost the pool of super its female employees will have to draw on in retirement, and increasing their financial security. The company is increasing the pool of taxation the government has to draw on, and reducing the likelihood that these women will need to draw a pension when they do retire.
It's something I've written and spoken at length about in the Senate, but I again want to highlight the benefits of the Coalition's paid parental leave scheme.
Australia is one of only two countries where parental leave isn't based on people's actual wage. The Coalition's position stresses the point that parental leave should be no different than any other kind of leave, and should therefore be administered at the ordinary rate of pay. Parental leave, after all, is supposed to be a workplace entitlement, not a welfare one. That is why the Coalition's scheme will pay a woman her real wage up to $75,000 for 26 weeks' leave, and will also include superannuation at the statutory rate.