The job of government is to carry out the wishes of the people with sensible policies. The will of the people is that women should be able to combine work and families. It has been expressed plainly by numbers. The job of the government is to make that feasible and equitable in the interests of the whole population, especially the children.
Paid maternity leave is the logical expression of this.
The release then, of the Productivity Commission’s Issues Paper earlier this month, was a welcome, albeit long overdue, start to the national inquiry into paid maternity, paternity and parental leave.
Momentum on this issue is growing fast. In South Australia a few weeks ago, a landmark parliamentary committee report recommended that the State Government introduce 14 weeks government-funded paid maternity leave immediately; in order to alleviate the work and life pressures facing working families.
If ever a nation was ready, in its collective and individual family interests, to institute this great and fundamental reform it is now.
The recent decision by Myer to offer paid maternity leave (PML) shows that even large retail firms accept the compelling arguments in its favour, and in its own, shareholders' and family interests.
It is all very well for "working families" to be used as a mantra day in and day out in the Rudd Government's rhetoric, but few will be convinced it means anything unless families are supported with paid maternity leave as a basic right.
Some have expressed concern over Labor’s referral of paid maternity leave to the Productivity Commission as yet another delaying tactic, especially given the number of already available, reputable economic costings and models that have been presented to both the former and current governments.
Even the vastly different ACTU, Australian Industry Group, and HREOC’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner have joined forces calling for a national government-funded PML scheme - so why the delay?
Minister Nicola Roxon has recently defended the Government’s delaying tactics on PML, claiming the Government was "determined" to introduce paid maternity leave "in a sustainable way and in the best way both for mothers and the economy". When this would occur, and in what form, however, remains unclear.
Six years ago, I introduced Australia’s first fully-costed paid maternity leave scheme: for 14 weeks leave at the minimum wage. Six months later, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, when Pru Goward was Sex Discrimination Commissioner, called for the same model. I reintroduced my updated Bill to the Senate in September last year. It also allows for superannuation payments to continue during the period of leave, as well as improved workplace attachment, in contrast to the existing baby bonus which does not even ensure time out from the workforce.
After two separate and extensive inquiries into the feasibility of PML (the HREOC inquiry and a Senate inquiry into my bill) we already know that a 14-week government-funded scheme at the minimum wage not only represents the International Labor Organisation standard for support, but would be affordable and avoid burdening small business.
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