On Monday the social services Minister Scott Morrison dismissed arguments about paid parental leave as being a “first world problem”.
Can someone please let the minister know he’s living, governing and “ministering” in the first world? If he’s more interested in fixing non-first world problems perhaps he’d consider a relocation?
Because, it seems a pretty sure bet, in the short-term at least, Australia is by and large going to present first world issues to solve, address and govern.
The deficit, economic growth and employment are also first world problems but I’ve never heard Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott or anyone else in the front bench suggest the government resist tackling them.
But for the small chuckle I had on Monday on hearing Morrison’s aside, I nearly choked on my coffee yesterday when I read that Australia ranks between El Savador and South Sudan for our representation of women in parliament.
Out of 140 countries Australia sits at 42, with the Philippines slightly better at 41 and Iraq and South Sudan being only marginally worse at 43.
Liberal MP Sharman Stone then pointed out that Australia has only a 2% improvement on Saudi Arabia. They have 20% women in parliament; we have 22%. Sobering stuff.
But when the minister for social services dismisses an issue like paid parental leave as a first world problem is it any wonder? Or is that the other way around? When women are so poorly represented in parliament is it any wonder issues like paid parental leave are, apparently, so poorly understood?
On Monday the Human Rights Commission outlined its concerns that the government’s proposed changes to PPL, in reducing the current PPL entitlements, could breach Australia’s human rights obligation. It’s not an argument Minister Morrison particularly likes and so he replied about this problem being in the first-world domain.
Executive Director of The Parenthood Jo Briskey said “first world parents” are pretty bemused, again, by the government’s apparent disregard for PPL.
“At the last two elections, Australian parents were promised a world where they could get time off at their rate of pay when they have children – that’s not the world they got,” Briskey said. “This government is “first world” in its talk about PPL but third rate when it comes to delivery.”
It seems clear, Briskey says, that the government doesn’t understand the importance of paid parental leave.
“The Minister’s outright dismissal and mockery of the concerns raised by the Human Rights Commission in relation to the proposed cuts to Paid Parental Leave are very concerning for parents, mums in particular,” she says.
Australia lags well behind much of the developed world when it comes female workforce participation and Paid Parental Leave.
“The 18 weeks provided is the lowest level of parental leave support to families of any OECD country outside the USA,” Briskey says. “The stripping back of our already inadequate scheme will no doubt take Australia backwards in terms of female workforce participation, maternal and infant health and wellbeing and the long-term productivity and prosperity of our nation.”
Paid parental leave isn’t welfare: it’s about providing support to families to ensure they can balance their paid work with their family obligations.
And as research showed last week, those who will be impacted most by the proposed cuts are teachers, nurses, ambulance drivers and retail workers.
The current arrangement which allows new mothers to receive some paid leave from their employer and the government’s assistance is “efficient and effective in sharing the responsibility for PPL between employers, employees and the government” according to Jo Briskey.
In response to the Federal Government’s announced changes to PPL The Parenthood launched a national survey to gather the parent response to these changes.
Ninety-four percent of the 1430 respondents did not support the changes. When asked what best described their use of their combined Government and Employer Paid Leave entitlements 84% responded with – ‘…to extend the time of paid leave I was able to take’. Of those 62% indicated it was so they could afford to stay home longer with their newborn. There is clear evidence that a mother being able to stay home with a baby for the first 26 weeks creates optimal health and economic outcomes for the family and a nation.
Women, work and children are not mutually exclusive. They can and do co-exist, despite some well entrenched resistance. And there is plenty of compelling material – both economic and social – for investing in infrastructure to ensure families can more easily combine their work and family obligations.
Joe Hockey’s intergenerational report published earlier this year makes this crystal clear: with an ageing population leveraging older employees and females in the paid workforce is a critical economic challenge for Australia.
It’s a challenge we have to meet regardless of whether the social services minister considers it a first world problem or not.