Feds intent on stripping support for babies, parents

Anna Uren
Women's Coordinator
Kevina O'Neill
Assistant Secretary, Women's and Social Welfare Issues, Queensland Teachers Union

Diminishing of policies that invest in families

On December 15 last year, just as most of us were looking forward to winding down for the holidays, the Turnbull Government used the Mid-Year Economic Financial Outlook to announce changes to Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave, cutting entitlements aimed at supporting babies and their families in their first crucial months of development.

Unable to get those cuts through the Senate, the government made some changes to the proposal and tied it to childcare and Family Tax Benefit changes in the hope of convincing Senate crossbenchers.

The government’s plan is now to change the measure used to restrict access to the Commonwealth payment. Under its previous proposal, people would only have their employer payment topped up to a maximum of $11,826 (the dollar value of 18 weeks at the minimum wage).

Under the new plan, the payment will now be capped at a maximum of 18 weeks’ total leave irrespective of the rate of pay. The amount families will lose under this proposal will depend on the number of weeks’ leave given by the employer.

Most teachers, because the employer leave entitlement is 14 weeks, will be entitled to only four weeks of the federal PPL (currently worth $2628). For most Federation members, this is slightly more than under the previous cuts but still represents 14 fewer paid weeks with a new baby.

Teachers working part-time who have not yet reached the top of the salary scale could find themselves even worse off than under the previous proposal.

It is also unclear whether taking the employer leave at half-pay will have an impact on the payment.

The proposed cuts continue to undermine the social and public policy positon that all major parties took when the payment was introduced. They run counter to a raft of evidence on the benefits — social, medical and economic — of the current payment.

Everywhere one looks, there is a diminishing of proactive social policies that invest in people, in families, in communities and in Australia’s social wage.

Join the ACTU Paid Parental Leave campaign and tell the Senate that we must not cut the support and care available to babies and families.

Paid parental leave history

  • Prior to the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010, Australia and the United States were the only two OECD countries without a national PPL scheme.
  • In 2008, the Productivity Commission recommended a publicly-funded scheme to promote child and maternal health and to support parents’ ability to maintain a connection with the workforce.
  • The payment, introduced in 2011, is modest in comparison to family support in many European countries, where the six months recommended by the World Health Organisation is common.
  • The Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 had bipartisan support at the time. In fact, Sharman Stone, then Opposition spokesperson for women, reportedly argued the “poor-relation scheme offering only 18 weeks of the minimum wage does not go near covering the household expenses of two-income families working hard to pay their mortgage and the cost of living”.
  • One of the features the Turnbull government is now trying to strip away is one which they actively supported when in opposition. The payment was always meant to be able to be used in conjunction with an employer contribution to enable everyone to have access to at least 18 weeks and more parents to get to the recommended six months.