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Families: the sinking middle

By Wayne Swan - posted Friday, 8 November 2002

As Australia’s birthrate continues to tumble, debate about babies, families and work has burst out from the behind the backyard fences of Australian suburbs and into the political mainstream.

The declining birthrate – down from an average of 1.75 births to 1.73 in just twelve months – has become a de facto measure of the environment for families.

In other words, the reason families and babies has become such a hot topic is that the all the evidence shows that average Australian parents are slowly sinking.


They are the ones who daily face the growing pressure of a market economy that makes few concessions to workers who have children.

Too many now work in a 24/7 economy where babies and children are viewed as lead in the saddlebags.

Now more than any time in our history our mothers and fathers are feeling squeezed.


At an institutional level we are undercutting the concept of parenting.

Our tax, social security and industrial relations systems no longer furnish parents with the two most important things they need in raising a family – more time and enough money


Take the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling’s (NATSEM) discovery that more than 800,000 Australian workers now face effective marginal tax rates (EMTRs) of more than 60 per cent – a significant increase since 1997.

Seventy-four per cent of those with high EMTRs come from the ranks of Australia’s 3.2 million families who have children under the age of 16 years.

In layman’s terms this means that more Australian parents lose 60 cents or more out of each extra dollar they earn than they did five years ago.

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About the Author

Wayne Swan MP is the Member for Lilley (Qld). He is Federal Labor Shadow Treasurer and author of Postcode.

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