Everyone is buzzing with the talk of the budget and specifically, the changes to the government Paid Parental Leave Scheme.
The government Paid Parental Leave scheme was first introduced by the Labor government in 2011 and granted all working women 18 weeks of parental leave paid at the national minimum wage.
The Liberal government came in on the back of (among other things) a promise to increase the amount of leave and the value, with 6 months of leave for mothers at full pay plus super, capped at salaries of $150K. There was heavy criticism of the policy, with inequity and the expense cited as major factors. In response, the cap was then dropped to salaries of $100K. Then in February this year, 5 months before this policy was meant to begin, it was announced that the Liberal Paid Parental leave scheme, hailed as the “signature policy” of our erstwhile Minister for Women and PM, was being dumped entirely.
You’d think that if that signature policy proved untenable, they would instead look at improving the existing scheme, right? For example, one aspect of the Liberal scheme was ensuring superannuation was paid on top of the leave entitlement. When you consider that on average, women live longer and have less superannuation, in part due to time out of the workforce due to child rearing, surely adding that to the existing policy would be one way to improve on it? But, no.
Instead, according to Treasurer Joe Hockey, women who are entitled to some form of paid maternity leave from their employers will no longer be allowed to “double-dip” by also claiming the 18 weeks of minimum wage provided by the government. He says it’s “basically fraud”. I can’t even get in to how categorically unfair and false that statement is because frankly, it’s too maddening.
The fact is, anyone who has claimed paid leave from both their employer and the government has done so lawfully and has hopefully enjoyed more time off with their baby. Hopefully they have created a stronger bond, been able and supported to breastfeed if that is what they wanted to do and not felt pressured to return to paid work before they were ready. That was, after all, the idea behind introducing the scheme; a progressive, evidence based policy that would ultimately contribute to saving Australia money.
“Hold up!” I hear you say, “How could paying mums to stay home SAVE money? That doesn’t make any sense!”
Au contraire, my friends.
Paid maternity leave is indeed saving money. Why? In short, because it’s a public health measure. The World Health Organisation recommends mothers have a minimum of 26 weeks parental leave. 18 weeks does fall short of the recommended minimum of 26 weeks, which is why being able to couple it with any paid leave from your employer potentially made all the difference. A minimum of 26 weeks of maternity leave helps to facilitate breastfeeding and exclusive care and is what is recommended for the best possible maternal and infant health outcomes by not only the World Health Organisation but also our own Australian National Medical Health and Research Centre. It makes sense- healthy mums and healthy babies aren’t a burden on the public health system. I know about these recommendations because I read them here, in the Liberal Party’s Paid Parental Leave Policy that they issued in August, 2013.
As far as I’m aware, the evidence based health recommendations around paid maternity leave have not changed. It is still regarded as a key factor if we hope to achieve better health outcomes for mothers and babies. In fact, a review has shown statistically significant positive outcomes for mothers and babies as a result of the Paid Parental leave scheme so far. So not only have the recommendations not changed, we also know that the current scheme is working. The only thing that HAS changed is that the government, in a spectacular show of political gymnastics, back–flipped on their own promise and disregarded their own research. They are doing a quick and dirty cash grab now even though they know this will have a negative impact on the health and well being of mums and babies in future. Perhaps evidence is only important when it can help you win an election?
It’s likely that this will need to get through the senate to come into effect. You can add your name to this petition to help prevent it.
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