The Federal Government’s paid parental leave scheme bill passed the Lower House this week. The scheme, which is due to begin on 1 January 2011, will provide 18 weeks paid leave for working mothers at the minimum wage of $543 a week, subject to eligibility. Mothers who don’t qualify for the payment can still access the $5000 baby bonus, but will be $2000 worse off under the scheme.

ACL is supportive of paid parental leave because it gives working mothers an opportunity to spend more time bonding with their new-born children. However, every mother should be paid equally in recognition of the financial sacrifices all families make to raise children, and because we should value both the paid and unpaid work of women. Women who decide to stay home to raise their children should not be financially disadvantaged.

The Opposition has stated its intention to support the bill in the Senate but would make the scheme even more discriminatory against women who work exclusively in the home by offering up to $75,000 to working mothers to take six months away from paid work, whilst offering stay-at-home mums the baby bonus alone.

The Greens have a position very similar to that of the Opposition, but Family First Senator Steve Fielding is likely to push the bill in the opposite direction when it comes before the Senate shortly. He is currently running a petition calling on the Government to remove the provisions from the bill which are discriminatory against stay-at-home mothers. Click here to support the petition.

The Australian columnist Angela Shanahan recently wrote an excellent opinion piece arguing that the Government’s paid parental leave scheme creates two classes of mothers. She says that the scheme doesn’t offer women real family choices, but induces them to stay in the workforce with the promise of greater financial assistance. To read the article click here.

From ACL’s vantage point it appears that much of the debate about the paid parental scheme has focused on purely economic considerations, rather than on honouring the contribution that women make, whether that be in the workplace or in the home. A non-discriminatory payment to all new mothers would value all women equally and better address the social aspects of the debate.
At the time of writing, the Senate Community Affairs Committee was due to publish its report into the paid parental leave scheme.