The Guardian • Issue #2068


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Skye Dannaher

Paid parental leave is one of the most important forms of social security, as it enables parents to be able to care for their children while they are at their most dependent. If children are not properly cared for and developed into healthy, happy adults, the future labour on which society depends for production would be torn from under us. Why then, is Australia so far behind other developed nations in providing paid parental leave? Even in a capitalist society, it seems like a no-brainer that children should be cared for to the greatest extent enabled by the material conditions under which they exist.

Currently in Australia, parents have access to twenty weeks of paid parental leave under the National Employment Standards through the Australian Government Paid Parental Leave Scheme after the birth of a child or the adoption of a child under the age of sixteen, but only if they have worked for their current employer for at least twelve months on a “systematic basis.” On top of that, the pay is calculated based on minimum wage and only comes to $882.75 per week. To put this into perspective, Bulgaria has four hundred and ten days of leave paid at ninety per cent of the parent’s income, Norway has forty-nine weeks at one hundred per cent of income or fifty-eight weeks at eighty per cent income, and Japan allows both parents to take paid parental leave without regard to how much the other parent has taken. How can Australia consider itself developed when it refuses to enable parents to care for their children in their most crucial period of development?

The brunt of this terrible state of affairs falls mainly on the working class women of Australia. Despite changing attitudes regarding gender roles among the Australian public, women still do the heavy lifting when it comes to childrearing. In 2016, ninety-five per cent of primary parental leave was taken by women. With such low pay for parental leave, women give up much of their financial autonomy in order to have children, and without financial autonomy women are often subjected to domestic violence that they otherwise would be able to escape. Relationship abuse often begins after the birth of a woman’s first child, as the lack of financial autonomy, which is even worse for women who are unemployed as they won’t receive a cent of this leave, is compounded with the fear that the mother has of not being able to provide for her child. This situation is exploited by men who want to control their partners. The children of these women are then brought up in abusive households, which irreparably harms their wellbeing both growing up and in their adult life, leaving psychological scars that will never fully heal.

If we are to have a society that is worth living in, that prioritises the safety and wellbeing of women and children, paid parental leave must be overhauled. In a country as rich as ours, a country that can supposedly afford to spend at least $368 billion dollars on a submarine vanity project to provoke a peaceful country that continually reiterates its commitment to cooperative development, the government should be providing for parents and their children in a comprehensive manner.

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