Paid Parental Leave
Paid parental leave is profoundly important. Bringing a baby home is life-changing and paid leave enables parents to recover from childbirth, bond with their baby and adjust to their new life. The caring pattern set in the early years persists over the course of a child’s life so the way that parents use that time has a huge impact longer term.
It is fantastic to see the Albanese government recognise the case for improving support for children and parents in Australia - but there is more to be done.
The Federal government’s commitment to expand paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks by 2026 represents overdue and welcome reform that will positively impact children, parents and families.
By 2026, every family with a new baby will be able to access a total of 6 months paid leave, shared between parents. Single parents will be able to access all 26 weeks.
For 11 years there’s been no meaningful change to the policy so increasing the entitlement from 18 to 26 weeks is a significant improvement. But, what’s even more significant, is the Prime Minister himself has specifically stated that this is the baseline - a national minimum standard. This is good news because Australia has a way to go to catch up. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD), the average length of paid parental leave available to families is more than 50 weeks. Getting to 26 weeks is welcome but we need to go further. Ensuring that some paid parental leave is specifically available to dads represents a big step towards a more gender equal society where work and care can be more equitably shared.
Reforming paid parental leave is one of the key levers in a government’s toolkit to influence caring patterns set in homes and families.
By supporting parents to share the responsibilities of caregiving in the first year of a child’s life, an equitable paid parental leave policy is a gamechanger for mums, dads and children. It gives parents the ability to truly share the care. Recognising the important role that men can play as caregivers is key to dismantling one very stubborn barrier to women’s workforce participation. At the risk of oversimplifying, men sharing the load at home means women can share the load at work.
Extended paid parental leave will enhance gender equality through the redistribution of unpaid care and increase women’s workforce participation. The benefits of paid parental leave are wide-spanning - for children, mums and dads.
Caring patterns set in the first year of a child’s life persist, so supporting parents to share the care early leads to more equitable division of unpaid and paid work.
Currently, Australia offers parental leave pay of up to 18 weeks and Dad and Partner Pay of up to 2 weeks at the minimum wage. The average among developed nations is more than 50 weeks of paid parental leave.
Australian dads take less than 20 percent of the parental leave that dads take globally which increases isolation for new mothers and perpetuates the expectation that mums will assume the responsibility for caring. It creates and perpetuates the situation where mums are considered primarily responsible for raising children, while dads are primarily responsible for breadwinning.
Men taking more parental leave is terrific for child development, improves the mental health of mums and the strength of relationships and reduces the ‘motherhood penalty’.
Expanding paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks by 2026 is a huge win for children, parents and families - but it is still short of the 50+ weeks that families in the OECD have access to. Creating policy - and shifting attitudes - to ensure mums and dads in Australia have the opportunity to access extended paid parental leave is critical.
More affordable early learning is another part of the challenge: ensuring that every child - regardless of their postcode or their family’s socioeconomic status - has access to quality, inclusive early childhood education and care is our ultimate end goal. That’s going to take a stack more campaigning!
So will making sure families have access to quality, affordable outside school hours care and to ensure all parents and carers can work in a family friendly environment.
,These are the policy changes necessary to make Australia the best place in the world to be a parent and raise a child. It’s an audacious goal - but it’s worth fighting for.
We refuse to believe Australia cannot be world leading in setting children - and families - up to thrive. But it’s going to take more advocacy, more research, more campaigning and more organising.
If you want to help us keep pushing for more affordable early childhood education, better paid parental leave and more family-friendly working conditions, please join our community of over 75,000 supporters - we are stronger together!
Words: Georgie Dent
Georgie is the Executive Director at The Parenthood
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Summer 2023