15 February, 2021
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) there are around 2.6 million families with dependent children aged under 15 in Australia;
(b) Australia has one of the least generous paid parental leave schemes in the OECD;
(c) the McKinsey Global Institute found that in Australia, participation in early childhood education is lower than the OECD average and costs over 40 per cent more than the OECD average; and
(d) perinatal discrimination is the top discrimination complaint in Australian workplaces;
(2) acknowledges that:
(a) Australia lags behind other developed countries in the provision of best practice, evidence‑based policies that support families and children; and
(b) there is significant economic benefit to Australia from increasing female workforce participation, gender equity and outcomes for children; and
(3) calls on the Government to:
(a) increase health and wellbeing support for parents and children by amending parental leave legislation and providing for a year of paid parental leave to be shared by both parents;
(b) lower the cost of early childhood education for all families; and
(c) improve access to paid carers' leave for parents of sick children.
The motion outlines the need for a comprehensive approach to the reform of Australian parenting policies. Today, The Parenthood group and Equity Economics released a report titled Making Australia the best place in the world to be a parent—an ambitious but important goal. The report highlights the economic and social benefits of the policy proposals, including an estimated increase to GDP of 4.1 per cent, or some $166 billion, by 2050. And if we can get female workforce participation up to the same level as male participation, GDP would increase up to 8.7 per cent—some $353 billion.
There are 2.6 million families in Australia with dependent children under the age of 15. In Warringah, we have 20,000 of those families, and many have told me of the need for a more supportive approach and that there is a disincentive to return to work due to the costs of child care and the discrimination experienced in the workplace. A more consistent and supportive approach to parenting strategy in Australia is required to address these concerns. From my own experience with young children, starting my career as a lawyer and then at the New South Wales bar, it was already incredibly frustrating that conferences to exotic overseas locations, holidays and ski trips were all tax deductible, but the real everyday cost of child care was not. It was, and remains, so high. The tax system is not gender neutral and it's time our system caught up with the 21st century and the reality of working parents.
COVID-19 threw into stark relief the inadequacy of the current policy suite at supporting families in Australia. Parents across the country were homeschooling their children. Many struggled without access to carers' leave and were without access to child care. The government intervened to provide temporary relief through free child care, which was welcomed by many parents, but it was a minefield, and some providers, for example, were unable to afford the rent or staff required to stay open in many areas. There is a lot of complexity around this area, but if we've seen one thing it's that the COVID recession impacted the jobs of women and female-dominated industries far more than the jobs of men and male-dominated industries.
The budget response last October to this pink recession was unfortunately a very blokey budget, and it was heavily criticised. It's now clearly squarely on the agenda for the Prime Minister and the government to address this in the May budget. In preparing the May budget, I urge the government to consider The Parenthood report, which delivers a blueprint for a comprehensive Australian parenting strategy post-COVID. The tools for achieving this include universal health and wellbeing support for parents and children through pregnancy and early years, and a parental leave scheme that provides one year of paid leave, to be shared equally between parents.
Australia has one of the worst rates of participation by fathers in parental leave. We need this to improve, and we need sufficient parental leave, across both parents, to ensure that it is not one parent—generally the woman—who is disproportionately disadvantaged and disincentivised from returning to the workforce. And we need free and high-quality childhood education and care for all families, and of course flexible and supportive workplaces with universal access to paid carers leave for sick children.
So, paid parental leave is something that's very important. Australia has one of the least adequate parental leave schemes among OECD countries. The average length of paid parental leave among OECD countries is 55 weeks, while Australia has 18 weeks. Paid parental leave in Australia is granted to one parent, the primary caregiver, whereas in other OECD countries it can be shared. More-equitable paid parental leave schemes are important because they will encourage fathers into caring roles, improving their long-term bond with children, improving participation in unpaid work in households and creating an appreciation of the work involved in raising a child. It will also provide primary carers with the opportunity to return to their careers sooner and more sustainably.
Child care is commonly viewed as child minding rather than the early education of children, and that needs to change, because some great gains can be made. We need an attention to women in the next budget, and I would encourage the Prime Minister to have better female representation on the Expenditure Review Committee to ensure an equitable budget.