Statement made by Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey to the Senate Committee Hearing for the Inquiry into the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill 2016
Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Members in attendance: Senators Dastyari, Duniam, Kakoschke-Moore, Watt.
“Founded in 2000, The Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (ACLW) is committed to women’s advancement and gender equality through a range of national leadership development and recognition programs as well as research and publications aimed at identifying and challenging systemic barriers for women, maternal leave policies being one of them.
It is clear that the evolution of maternal leave policies in Australia has been slow in comparison to other countries, and influenced rather than being the influencer of international developments in this area. Nevertheless it can be said that the intent to protect maternity at work and take into account the needs of workers with family responsibilities in terms and conditions of employment has enlightened its evolution. With the proposed Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill 2016, this trajectory will reverse in my view and in those of the signatories to ACLW’s online petition on the proposed changes to the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010.
The focus of my statement is to draw the Committee’s attention to the key themes that reverberated in this petition which despite running for only 17 days in October and November 2016 accrued 617 signatories including 20 state and national women’s organisations, 525 women and 72 men. The themes that have emerged strongly echo my views and feelings to reject the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill 2016.
Australia’s government-funded PPL scheme offering 18 weeks at minimum pay is currently one of the least generous schemes across the OECD’s average of 54 weeks and the proposed changes will render the scheme inadequate to give many parents the option of taking the WHO and Productivity Commission’s recommended 26 weeks of leave to bond with and care for the newborn baby.
This theme indeed framed a multitude of comments for example, quote “Being in the paid work force is NOT discretionary for women, it is essential - therefore with only minimal paid parental leave they are forced to return to work before the child is old enough to benefit from child care services... Good nurturing is the foundation of the nation and is compromised by ANY reduction in time a mother spends bonding with her baby.”
Australia’s government-funded PPL scheme stated that the parental leave pay can be received in addition to other entitlements including employer-provided parental leave. Referring to mothers who have taken their legitimate government entitlements and their employer parental leave payments as ‘double dipping’ is sexist and discriminatory and has no basis with the original policy direction being promoted as a workplace entitlement and not a welfare benefit. Comments about double dipping resoundingly echoed that it was outrageous and “completely misrepresents the nature and design of the scheme.” It was said that “Negotiating their own workplace entitlements should not disadvantage women from accessing the govt. scheme. Suggesting this is double dipping is akin to suggesting parents who send their children to private schools are also double dipping as the govt. subsidises this too.”
There was a sense of anger and frustration about the amendments. A number of comments stated out that PPL is every mother’s right, “a workplace entitlement and not a social welfare benefit.” It is essential to “achiev(ing) both parenting and careers.”
While the existing policy aimed to encourage gender equity and in some way reflected an understanding of the widening wage gap between women and men after the birth of their first baby, and in bringing business on board, diminished perceptions in business that maternity is a liability, the proposed changes usher in a withdrawal of commitment to continue to progress gender equality through the PPL as employers will look at providing other additional leave entitlements to attract and retain employees.
There were more than 20 pleas to just stop moving forward with these amendments.
In conclusion it must be noted that Maternity protection is a fundamental human right and an indispensable component of work–family policies and gender equality. It is crucial to promoting maternal and child health in the short and long term. We need to enhance frameworks to reflect this reality and demonstrate legislatively this valuing of women and children in Australia.