Over the weekend, the Abbott Government came up with a term for people like me.
He referred to us as ‘double dippers’, implying we were going in for seconds that we didn’t really deserve.
It’s estimated there are 80,000 or so people like me in Australia, greedily licking both sides of the spoon on paid parental leave and then going back in for more.
The party’s (almost) over. The $3.5 billion childcare package to be officially unveiled in today’s budget comes with a caveat for new mums: no more taking government paid parental leave if you’re lucky enough to be with an employer that is also forking out such leave on your behalf.
As Social Services Minister Scott Morrison told radio yesterday all this double-dipping is, “just not fair”.
And this government is certainly about fairness.
It’s not about figures that show the current paid parental leave scheme is actually improving the health of babies and their mothers, and has seen an uptick in the rate of female workforce participation.
Back in 2013 I left the workforce for a period to have a child. I graciously accepted paid maternity leave from my employer, before moving on to the Gillard government’s paid parental leave scheme.
My baby was born a few days before Tony Abbott was elected Prime Minister. Given his campaign centred on his signature, “fair dinkum”, paid parental leave policy, promising a very generous replacement salary of up to $150,000 for six months (capped at $75,000), it was difficult not to reflect on how much better off we would have been had Abbott’s policy ever seen the light of day (which I never believed it would), and had little junior arrived a couple of years later.
Now I can’t help but consider how much worse we would have been off under the latest twist in the very long saga that has been this government’s stance on ‘fairness’, and who deserves what when it comes to parental leave.
Well, I would only have been worse off if my employer had continued to call the incentive it paid to me ”parental leave’. As the Australian Chamber of commerce and Industry told The Guardian, employers may find other ways to offer the incentive, ensuring new parents can still collect the $11,500 on offer from the government. That would see the planned $1 billion in savings Scott Morrison has projected this policy will achieve, fail. Things could get messy. For new parents, it merely complicates the system, potentially leaving some vulnerable to the whims of their employer.
When our current system was passed in June 2010, the Coalition said the “Poor relation scheme offering only 18 weeks of the minimum wage” would not be enough to cover household expenses and was, “No match for the scheme to be implemented by the Coalition when they are in office.”
To say this new policy is a backflip from Abbott is an understatement.
Paid parental leave has been Abbott’s signature offering for women. Pretty much, his only offering. When it was first announced, it did look overly generous, a little sporadic and ill-advised – and many women, including some published on this site, have publicly stated so – but it provided something for Abbott to point to when it came to the matter of women, a great justification for why he should be serving as the Prime Minister for Women.
The World Health Organisation recommends 26 weeks of paid parental leave for new mums – the optimum time to help women breastfeed and bond with the babies. Currently, many employers help women reach and even exceed this recommended period by topping up the 18 weeks provided by the government.
Now the Abbott government is saying 18 weeks at the minimum wage is more than adequate. That’s $11,500, designed to keep you on top of your household bills, as long as you can then find and afford a childcare place and return to work within five months of giving birth.
I never once felt guilty about double-dipping, I never once thought of myself as taking twice of what I deserved. I returned to work after seven months with the majority of the time I took off covered — most of it by the paid parental leave scheme and the remainder by my small business employer that wished to offer an added incentive for new mums in the business.
It felt ‘fair’ to me. But then I’m the one doing the ‘double dipping’ so perhaps I’m not in a position to talk.