I am an Australian expat and mother-to-be who has been living and working in the United States for the past 14 months. Safe to say, living in America during an election cycle has induced regular migraines from the excessive face-palming and eye-rolling I do whenever I turn on the television. So imagine my profound disappointment when the Turnbull government's parental leave policy rollback flooded my Facebook feed, and email inbox -- often accompanied by expletives and exclamation points.
Especially in the context of my current job -- working for a national non-profit advocacy organisation that is fighting for paid parental leave in the US. Yes, the United States of America, 'land of the free', the Twinkie and the Trump remains the only remaining developed economy in the world that does not have a national paid parental leave policy.
In the absence of this policy, the US sees:
- One in four women going back to work within 14 days of giving birth;
- Over 2,300 preventable infant deaths;
- Annual losses of $900 billion (5 percent of GDP) in economic activity due to low female labor force participation;
- 87 percent of private sector employees and 94 percent of low-wage workers having no paid family leave.
The landscape here for families is so poor that one of the first campaigns we ran -- the story of a liberal family from Brooklyn and a Republican family from Oklahoma who lost their four-month-old children in their first days of childcare, shocked people to the core about 'the land of the free' and made headlines around the world -- including a viral HuffPost Politics video.
Strictly speaking, the government's new policy approach will do exactly what Social Services Minister Christian Porter believes is the fundamental tenet of parental leave -- having new parents re-enter the workforce as quickly as possible.
By creating a financial stalemate for Australian families -- the choice between making ends meet and caring for a newborn who is only months old -- an estimated 80,000 new parents will be disadvantaged, with little alternative but to return to work before they and their newborn children are ready. If expediency is the marker of success, then the Turnbull government should be pleased with this policy's anticipated trajectory.
However, if we look past this media cycle and the incomprehensible desire to demonise new mothers, this very policy decision flies in the face of World Health Organisation recommendations for up to six months of parental leave, and countless international examples -- from the UK to Sweden to Estonia -- that have time again demonstrated that adequate, universal paid parental leave results in:
- Improvements in child development and health outcomes;
- Higher levels of staff retention and job satisfaction in businesses;
- Increased economic productivity and female labor force participation -- with women returning to work in the longer-term and earning higher wages -- rather exiting the labor force in the face of insufficient leave, expensive childcare and poorer family health and development outcomes.
There are women who currently are in their final trimester of pregnancy, receiving news of this proposed legislative change. These families now have approximately nine weeks to deal with the $12,000 financial blow that could come as early as January 2017. Nine weeks? That's less time than Myer has Christmas decorations on sale.
Perhaps if Mr. Porter's justification of the "best direction of taxpayer funds" actually redirected the $12,000 from each of the estimated 80,000 families who would no longer be eligible for the full 18 weeks towards increasing the paid parental leave base for households where parents return to work early, simply from an inability to survive on $672.70 per week, or sought to improve childcare availability -- then, let's talk.
Or perhaps, a further investigation into corporate incentives for businesses to offer better paid parental leave as part of their employee's entitlements would maybe, just maybe, give the current government the much-needed platform of seriously considering the wellbeing of Australian families, businesses, health outcomes and the economy in the long term.
Instead, we've opted to demonise mothers-to-be as 'double-dipping' welfare frauds (cheers, Joe) and hard-working Australian families as 'looking for handouts' (the sisterhood truly thanks you, Pauline).
How about, Mr. Turnbull, this time we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater?
Let's not be the nation who steps backwards and ignores the indisputable short, medium and long-term health, social and economic benefits that a robust paid parental leave policy brings to Australian families.
This post was first published on Medium.com.