paid maternity leave

Laura writes about the paid maternity leave scheme proposal that’s currently being considered by the Australian productivity commission. I can see where she’s coming from in her distaste for the proposal – it’s a case of throwing more government money at people to get them to breed – but I find myself in favour of it.

When you look at parental leave around the world, you can see that Australia is neither the best nor the worst in offering amounts of leave. Proponents of the scheme say “it’s about time we increased the amount of leave”, while others suggest that parenthood is something that should be budgeted for, as an important part of life.

What’s on the table? To pay for mothers to have 6 months of paid leave (and fathers to have 4 weeks paternity leave), there will be an extra 0.5% tax levied. Employers will be given some of the extra money, so they can afford to pay for the leave, and put someone on in the place of the absent worker.

In round figures, for someone earning $52k per year, the levy is $5 per week. Obviously, there will be complaints that single people, and people who have had kids, are stuck paying for the “breeders”. And indeed, that’s how it will pan out – but aren’t they already paying for the “baby bonus”?

The main benefit I see in the system is that it will encourage working people both to have children, and to spend time at home with them, at least for six months, before mortgage payment commitments have the child into childcare and the parent back to work: in the case of subsequent children, this would make it possible for at least one parent to be home looking after a small horde of children, while the mortgage payments continue to be made.

It’s not a policy that will fix the bigger societal problems of greed, and consumerism, but a house price structure that requires two incomes to make a mortgage payment is something that has moved in slowly over the last 50 years, and won’t be overturned by a single policy.

Sure, it’s not perfect: it doesn’t help you if you’re self-employed, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

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  1. I think the national maternity scheme for Australia is a great idea, but it needs to be worked out differently. It does seem unfair to make all workers pay for this (as well as the baby bonus) as many may not be able to have children and some also decide (for whatever reasons) NOT to have children. This type of scheme would be ignoring this minority, taking money that they will not benefit from later. Maybe one idea to improve this is to offer people that aren’t having children a few months of general paid leave (sort of like long service leave). Then if people who have taken this leave ever change their minds and have children, they will not get the offer of this maternity scheme and need to do it on their own. Does this suggestion make it a fairer scheme for everyone? What are your thoughts?

  2. Hey Ellie,

    Thanks for chipping in on this. I guess my argument for keeping this just as maternity leave is that the children who are born *do* make a difference to the society – hopefully an improvement. Without kids being born somewhere, there’s no-one to look after the people who don’t have kids in their old age, there’s no-one to ask them if they want fries with their burgers. In agreeing to have children, the parents are taking on a financial and legal responsibility to raise these kids, and this paid maternity leave is a way for society to pay them back.

    If this leave was handed out as a general paid leave, then it would be harder to regulate: how many sets of paid leave would you get as a non-child-having person, for example.

    I think the paid slab of leave isn’t about rewarding everyone with leave, but it’s about society providing a means for its children to be given a better start in life (by having at least one parent around full-time for longer), and an encouragement to its workers to actually have children in the first place.

  3. Yes, maternity leave really benefits everyone in some way. Allowing women to take at least 6 months off to bond with their newborns and also allow time to breatfeed (which is said to increase immunity etc) would perhaps create healthier and more balanced human beings in the long run as well. Parents still take the brunt of the costs of raising their children- they only become more expensive throughout the following 18 years (and more) of their lives, so what’s 6 months in the scheme of things?

  4. But why should a mother be paid by the government to take time to choose what we were created to do? 6 months doesn’t even come close to satisfying any mother I know who has had a child, then returned to the workforce.
    For many families, the income brought in by a working mother when calculated to take out daycare, after school care and takeaway meals (a woman can’t be expected to do it all) plus an extra car, petrol etc could be considered barely worthwhile. And that’s not mentioning the emotional toll on both parents and kids. When I am functioning solely as wife and mother, living in our house rocks – nice meals are made, Eli gets fun and attention from me, and Ben gets lunches, clean house, conversations etc. When I’m juggling work in the equation, the intensity and meltdown moments accumulate with astounding velocity.

    Society would be better off providing tax benefits, such as splitting a sole income salary into two at tax time (over both parents) reducing tax bills, and encouraging the mum to stay at home permanently rather than telling us that we really should be thinking about getting back to work after a pitiful 6 months adjusting to motherhood.

  5. hey laura,

    I agree with you that 6 months isn’t enough: it’s not a total solution to the problem, but it’s an improvement over the 0-12 weeks that’s currently on offer.

    As far as “why should a mother be paid by the government to take time to choose what we were created to do”, I think that you could go so far as to say that it’s in the government’s interest to encourage people to give birth to the next generation of tax payers: if no-one is having kids, then the whole of society will literally stop.

    There are bigger problems at play here, that a different taxation structure could certainly make progress on. I think that this paid leave idea is a good starting point from where our current attitudes as a society, and our current economic situation has us.

    Encouraging a mother to “stay at home permanently” may be a much more complex proposition in a culture where both mothers and fathers have amazing education, employment and parenting opportunities, and are no longer looking at traditional one-worker, one-at-home roles.

    To have a parent in the home at all times goes beyond a mere taxation problem, and starts to impact the ideas of what people want to do with their whole life.

  6. Interesting conversation! I am a business owner, and a women who employs may other women (one of which is due to go on maternity leave in a month) so I have a slightly different view on this topic. As far as paid maternity goes, I think it’s a great idea; it’s well past time Australian women are given some support to have kids.

    It’s also in the governments best interests to have more women become mothers (as Dave rightly pointed out) as we are an ageing population. And as 6 months not being enough pay, it’s better than the 0 we have now! But on the other hand I don’t think the people of Australia can afford to support every new mother for a full 12 months! What would we have to pay in taxes to cover that?!

    Now I really disagree with Laura…nothing personal but not everyone wants to be a stay at home mum for their whole life! Like dave said it makes you think about what you want to do for your whole life which is way to long.

    Encouraging mums to stay at home permanently is almost going back to the stone ages when the women stayed at home and men went out hunting, it’s a rudimental and well outdated philosophy.

    With that out of mind what about the economy! There is already the lowest unemployment rate in history, if women were to stay home after their first child who would be working??? There would be unemployment of 0% and wages in SOME fields would rise, small business would be forced to close, inflation would go through the roof and interest rates would go up. When business close people will start to loose their jobs and you would start an economic recession just because women aren’t going back to work! Then how would a one income family pay the mortgage? It’s all well and good for people to give up on working when they become mums but the economy needs women to work, and women can’t stay at home forever. Children grow up, what then?

  7. I think I have been misinterpreted slightly. My use of the word “permanent” was only in so far as meaning with young children (which I must admit I didn’t clarify). I also run my own business from home, and enjoy the fruits of my labour, and intend on increasing my workload once our children are at school.
    That said, those that I have met who have chosen to stay at home throughout their children’s schooling would feel quite offended at being considered as living in the stone age. My own mother chose this route, and it was a real blessing having her in the home.
    I’m not sure how it can be considered as outdated, considering the benefits once weighed up. The stay at home mum’s I know have a very busy schedule – scripture teaching, making meals for unwell friends, visiting people and being generally available to drop everything and arrive at pre-school/school as required. It is definitely the less glamorous way of life, and has it’s negatives, but the overall benefit to family health cannot be overlooked. It may not be a lifestyle all of us desire, but is NO LESS worthy.

    Many may feel that cannot or don’t want to choose this lifestyle, but I for one, intend on bringing up my own children, rather than paying someone else to do it for us. Our family will make sacrifices for this to happen, but it is something that we feel great value and worth in – placing a priority in our children above that new plasma or dishwasher, or even my own pride at telling people that I’m a mum before mentioning the word Architect.

  8. I defiantly had the wrong impression of “permanent”! When you said that I thought you meant forever. Oh course staying at home while your children are young is a blessing, and a choice that some women take (and unfortunately not all can afford). I still believe that some form of paid maternity leave (no matter how small) would be helpful. Obviously I think women should return to the workforce (I’m not saying after 6 months) once the children have grown up a little. I suppose the use of the word “permanent” probably wasn’t the right description of what you were thinking.

    I just thought to say women should never return to work after having kids is old fashioned!

  9. Chipping in belatedly on the ‘why should the childless pay for a benefit they’ll never receive’ argument; I think it’s worth pointing out that tax is not a user-pays system. I pay taxes for roads on which I’ll never drive, for Medicare benefits I may never claim and for education systems I may never utilise. I’m happy to know those things are there if I do want them and I’m happy to pay for things I know for sure I’ll never use if I think that having them in place benefits our society as a whole. Indirect benefits are often overlooked, but they’re worth taking into account…. unfortunately they’re almost impossible to quantify so they don’t really appear on budget statements! 🙂

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