It’s been over a week since we learned that the government had opted to make working mothers – past, current and prospective – the losers in this year’s budget. Public enemy number one. My head is still spinning from the backflip on paid parental leave but it’s not just the backflip itself that’s perplexing. Here are 5 things that are still making my head spin.
- +26 weeks versus -18 week = Doesn’t Add Up. There is a BIG difference between introducing a new paid parental leave scheme that will pay most mothers 26 weeks of leave at their salary and undercutting the existing scheme to remove 18 weeks at the minimum wage from 79,000 mothers. There is no logical or consistent policy rationale to take a government from A to B on this issue. That this government has forged that path unfortunately underscores its flagrant lack of understanding in this realm.
- I’m not taking the blame. Shortly after the announcement was made that mothers would no longer be able to receive paid leave from their employer and the government I began to see comments and columns popping up that anyone who didn’t support Tony Abbott’s original scheme were to blame for the backflip. Say whaaat? Ordinary folk like you and I are responsible for the Prime Minister not simply not proceeding with his original scheme but gutting the existing arrangement. Not his own party. Not him. But those of us on the sideline with an interest in the policy. Didn’t see that coming and couldn’t agree less.
- Playing politics or offering a nuanced critique? Why did I, or anyone else, criticise Tony Abbott’s original policy? Is it because we were recklessly cavalier in playing politics? Is it because we are so dogged in our criticism of Tony Abbott that we could never accept his policy? Or is it because we had a nuanced understanding of the issue and offered a genuine critique? If you’re inclined to select option one or two chances are you are just playing politics. Because if you’d been playing “policy” you’d recognise that’s where the discussion and critiques sat. The context in which the PPL policy has been debated is relevant: we had/have (and now mysteriously don’t have) a budget emergency. A $5.5 billion ticket item was a big deal. The PPL arrangement in place now isn’t perfect but it’s funded between government and private enterprise and it provides a safety net of 18 weeks at minimum wage for every working mother. A safety net, that until 2011, didn’t exist at all. If a new investment to the tune of $5.5 billion was going to be made into anything that would improve a woman’s ability to engage in work after having a child, childcare was the area some of us argued it would be more effective. Did we argue that because we are selfish and were playing politics? Or did we argue that because that’s what the Productivity Commission had found? Did we argue that because we know that finding affordable, available good quality childcare is what legitimately impedes many families from working to the extent they would like? That’s not to say there isn’t compelling evidence for a more generous paid parental leave policy. There is, but some of us recognised we were unlikely to get both. (And guess what? We were even worse than right. We got less than both. We get an investment in childcare at the expense of the existing PPL arrangement). The reality is this policy area is rich in opportunity. Unless, of course, you don’t delve into any of the details in which it might be possible to construe any or all criticism of Abbott’s signature policy as disingenuous.
- Double dipping? Only if you don’t understand the policy. The only way it’s possible to argue that mothers receiving consecutive payments from their employer and the government is akin to a rort is if you have no understanding of the rationale behind parental leave. Getting as many new mums as possible to get as close to 26 weeks with their new baby as possible delivers optimal health and economic benefits for the family and the country. The current framework doesn’t by way of coincidence enable mums to receive two payments: it is designed that way. This “fraud” is central to the efficacy of the policy. Politicians or commentators arguing otherwise simply reveals their misunderstanding.
- It’s the hardest RORT I’ve ever tried. The grave insult to many women described as double-dipping rorters is that being home with a new baby is about as vulnerable a time as many of us will ever experience. Far from counting their pennies and scheming elaborate ways in which they can defraud the government (IN PLAIN SIGHT) most new mums will be entirely consumed by existing. By meeting the demands of their new baby whilst trying to tend to a few of their own most basic needs. Like having a shower and eating a meal. It is a time when support and community matter more than anything else; criticism and denigration are never less needed, and sadly, never more obvious. Many new parents feel fraudulent with their first newborn: they’re desperately trying to trick themselves into believing they are up to the task of caring, loving and raising a child.