Mr Abbott I’m disappointed. In my budget reply last year I was scathing of the lack of vision you showed in your first budget as Prime Minister. It was necessarily harsh, I understand that. This year’s budget is far more populist and I understand the need for that too. What I can’t understand is the total back flip on incentive schemes for parents and in particular working mothers.
When your original Paid Parental Leave, (PPL), scheme was announced I was all for it. It was remarkably progressive for a conservative would be PM. I was surprised, and impressed, that someone who had so many times been accused of having archaic views towards women could produce a policy that would likely improve working opportunities for so many mothers. I wasn’t sure we could afford it, so I wasn’t taken aback when it fell from the agenda, particularly given the lack of support from the senate.
Now it seems you have had a complete turn around on the issue and again I question what your vision is. Let me be clear. I do not see a PPL scheme as welfare or entitlement. I consider it a necessary incentive scheme with the purpose of improving the level of opportunity for women in getting back into the workforce, and therefore increasing overall productivity of our nation and future opportunities for its citizens.
Necessarily, women take time off when they have a baby. It’s simple biology. Careers are put on hold, salaries are sacrificed and lifestyles are changed in order to bring new life into this world. This will not change any time soon because until science catches up with evolution itself, women carry and bare children and men do not. You have never been a women, so I suppose its difficult for you to understand the pressure put on women to be a stay at home mum and the equally compelling pressure from opposing elements of society to go back to work. So you see, not only do we have financial setbacks when having a child, we have a million voices second guessing our working and parenting decisions. We have taken time away from our vocation, so we may have a bit of a crisis in confidence in starting up our career again. Not to mention actually getting a child care place, which you may have to sell your first born to do anyway.
There are many barriers to returning to the workforce and given the current level of incentive for many people its just not worth it. They are making an economically rational decision to stay home after their first child and never return to the workforce.
You seemed to understand this when you originally announced your PPL policy. You seemed to want to level the playing field a little to make it more attractive for women to return to work. I’m not sure we had the funding to do it, I’m not sure you had fully thought through the child care needs it would potentially arouse, but it was good progressive policy. Tying the scheme to income (as it is in most parts of the world) meant people were sacrificing less to have children and were more likely to go back to work between children. This is good for everyone, and helps to secure a very productive future for all of our children.
Now I see that you are slashing the PPL fund in the new budget. Worse, you are interfering with employee entitlements as offered from corporations. This is very much in opposition to the economic liberalist policies you supposedly value. Liberation of the market means allowing free enterprise agreements to stand between employers and employees. The only outcome I can see from this is that corporates will stop offering maternity schemes to women. This is a loss for women, for corporations and for progressive thinking. I understand cost cutting measures are needed, but this one will be short lived because as companies stop offering these entitlements the government will pay out more and more in PPL anyway. Aside from the lack of economic principle, this is a very short term horizon approach.
As for child care, as the husband of someone who is clearly passionate about this topic I would have hoped you would understand its significance. Early childhood education is not a babysitting service. It is a means of education and a way to identify children that need early intervention. It is in the best interests of our nation to have the option of subsidised child care for everyone, regardless of working circumstances. Somehow, you have conflated the issue of child care and leave entitlements and it concerns me that you don’t see the distinction.
This budget will not affect me or my family much in any way and neither did the last one, and I do understand the need for prudence after so many years of overspending. But there are other political minefields you didn’t even consider in fear, I assume, of considerable political fallout. Tax reform, negative gearing – these are areas which could provide huge windfalls for the budget but have largely been ignored by your government. Though they may be unpopular, these are traditionally policies which an economic liberalist would at least entertain. Coupled with the backflip on your most progressive policy to date, I am left wondering what you underlying core beliefs are, and I question if you even have a vision for our future. A true leader can listen to the voices of the people without bowing to populist opinion.