Labor MP Amanda Rishworth has recently reutrned to work after having her first child and knows the importance of a supportive workplace. In this opinion piece, she looks at the Coalition’s proposed paid parental leave cuts, and urges the government to address the issue particularly in male dominated workforces, like the Australian Defence Force, which is still just 15.4% female.
Not only is the Government pitching families against people with a disability with its latest cuts to family payments, but it is taking us backwards when it comes to balancing having a family and a career.
The Government is sacrificing significant progress for women who are balancing work and family by cutting paid parental leave. This will hit hard especially in workplaces that are still male dominated, such as the Australian Defence force.
The breadth of industries in which women can now forge a career have expanded over the last couple of decades, as women move into areas which have traditionally been dominated by men. This has transformed workplaces into more productive, responsive and dynamic environments.
But there are still many occupations and workplaces dominated by men. The Australian Defence Force is one such organisation, which is only 15.4% female. For Australia’s defence force to be its best, we need to attract more women to join its ranks.
The ADF is an incredibly unique employer which once upon a time traditionally only saw males serving. It is now a place of employment where women’s participation is slowly (but surely) on the rise. As the transition to include more women in these workplaces becomes a reality, it is important that traditionally male dominated workforces look to how they can best support women to become part of the team.
The number of women employed in the ADF is too low. More women in our defence force will only develop, broaden and strengthen its capabilities. That is why it is important we make it attractive for women. For some women this will mean being supported to take time off to raise a family.
It is critical that women thinking about pursuing a career in the ADF know they have the support to raise a family, should they make the decision to do so. Not only is this the responsibility of their employer but of the Australian Government who ask so much of their service men and women.
That is why the Turnbull Government’s reintroduction of their plan to cut the Government’s Paid Parental Scheme, to thousands of women across the country including defence personnel, is so egregious. The Government’s proposal will only make it more difficult to support women in the ADF balance work and family.
This was highlighted in evidence provided to the Senate inquiry, when a member of the ADF stated that the paid parental leave scheme “was the difference between [her] being able to stay at home with [her son] for six months versus three months.” Taking three months of maternity leave is not enough time with your newborn. The current Government paid parental leave scheme allows mothers to extend their maternity leave beyond what is available to them from their employer. This really makes a difference in the first weeks of their child’s life. We know these weeks are so precious, you will not get them back.
Within the ADF in particular, there are career paths that provide opportunities to develop unique skills and enjoy an interesting and meaningful career for both women and men. These jobs are challenging, involve long periods away from home and often involve dangerous work. Instead of providing support to these women who are serving our country, the Liberal Government has sort to demonise them and many others who couple together their employer and government leave by characterising them as ‘double dippers’.
When the Government infers that its own employees are “gaming the system”, they are tarnishing these women’s reputation. As a member of the ADF put, women in the defence force “are an instrument of Government”, and by ripping away the Paid Parental Leave scheme “devalues the work women are doing.”
Our female police officers, Border Force officials, firefighters and Defence Force personnel are all working hard to forge careers serving our country in areas that have not traditionally been open to women. Rather than encouraging women into these professions, the Government is ripping away vital support that would allow precious time with their newborn.
Becoming a parent is a huge undertaking. It comes with more worries than many of us realise. But we wouldn’t trade those early mornings and late nights with our children for a thing. The time spent with our children in the early years is invaluable, and yet Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t seem to understand its worth.