The “I can do it better” principle for policy making

Tony Abbott’s latest thoughts on paid parental leave have been said to have created uncertainty for families who might be planning to have a baby, ripples of discontent in his own party due to the lack of collaboration, and in the business sector that has been unwillingly nominated to pay for the scheme with a $3 billion tax. Questions about his lack of credibility in back pedalling from his commitment to a paid maternity scheme and the Baby Bonus continue to abound. 

What is interesting to observe is the game of conflicting politics in the context of a looming election.  This particular scenario, however, is marked by a parallel goal of both the Government and the Opposition wanting to help Australian working women.  The marked difference is that Abbott believes that he can do it better than Rudd.  Abbott is offering 26 weeks of leave at replacement salary as opposed to the Government’s offer of 18 weeks of paid leave at the minimum wage. 

It is clear by virtue of Abbott’s generosity that his and his party’s drive to finally address the issue of providing a “decent” national paid parental leave scheme excels that of the Government.  It must follow then that the only way forward for Abbott and his Party is to build on the foundations the government has made in establishing the case for a national Paid Parental Leave scheme that rests on the extensive Productivity Commission Inquiry of 2009.  This Inquiry, conducted in consultation with business, employees and with parents about the type of scheme that is feasible considered the economic, productivity and social costs and benefits of providing paid maternity, paternity and parental leave. It identified the models that could be used to provide such parental support assessing these against a number of criteria including their cost effectiveness; impacts on business; labour market consequences; work/family preferences of parents; child and parental welfare; and interactions with the Social Security and Family Assistance Systems. The Inquiry assessed the impacts and applicability of the various models across the full range of employment forms (such as the self-employed, farmers, and shift workers) and the efficiency and effectiveness of Government policies that would facilitate the provision and take-up of these models.

Does it make sense for two parties who appear to be mutually wanting to shift this type of relentless discrimination against women go head to head on the same issue, and in doing so, obstruct the very first crucial stage of it coming into being as Australia’s legislation for families?  In an election year, while the focus remains on getting votes, it is easy to find policies at opposing ends of the spectrum being touted.  Here, however, the electorate is faced with different angles of the same mirror.  The mirror reflects the long-awaited vision of an Australia that will join more than 163 countries, including most of the industrialized nations that already, and have for some time, been operating a Paid Parental Leave scheme. 

With Labor’s scheme due to start on 1 January next year, we are so close to this contemporary vision and yet so far. What is needed is for our leaders to cement the foundational blueprint which we have finally arrived at and then, by all means, continue to build its structure in discussion with key stakeholders and the electorate to improve its effectiveness.   Election year or not, it is imperative that paid maternity leave is not seen as one of the issues on the agenda, but is acknowledged as a right for women in the workplace, as has been done internationally.   

The “I can do it better” principle for policy making 

By Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey, Founder, Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (CLW) 

Released 10 March 2010

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