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Albanese's paid parental leave scheme: The good, the bad and the ugly

😃 The Good: More paid leave for both parents
😔 The Bad: Paid leave is not enough
😥 The Ugly: Will Dads actually use it?

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced that paid parental leave will be extended to six months (from 20 weeks previously) and can be shared between more than one carer.

From July 1, 2024, government-funded paid parental leave will start expanding by two weeks a year, until it reaches the full 26 weeks from July 2026.

While this is better, is it enough?

More paid leave for both parents means child care can be shared more equally

The data shows that women still do the heavy lifting when it comes to caring for children and taking parental leave.

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At the same time, women’s participation in the workforce has increased and many women plan to return to work after having a child.

This means that rather than moving towards equality, women tend to end up with the lion's share of caring responsibilities and also working (not to mention doing more unpaid housework too).

Data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency found that less than 50 per cent of women in the workforce worked full time but, with better paid-leave options, this could change.

Having a shared-leave scheme also means the secondary carer (usually a man) will have more time with their children in those critical early years.

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth said boosting women’s workforce participation and encouraging more dads to take parental leave was a priority for the Government.

“This will benefit mums, it will benefit dads, it’s good for children, and it will be a huge boost to the economy,” Rishworth said.

“We know that treating parenting as an equal partnership helps to improve gender equality.”

A man holds a toddler while cooking in the kitchen to represent a father taking paid parental leave.
Giving men more access to paid parental leave would help share child care duties more equally. (Source: Getty) (The Good Brigade via Getty Images)

MORE GOOD:

Offering paid parental leave is a solution to only one problem

Yes, six months of paid parental leave is great, but what happens to your child when that time is up and you have to go back to work?

If you don’t have a support network of people who are able to care for your child during the work day (which, let’s face it, is most people) then paid child care is the other option.

But child care can be extremely expensive, and workloads and low pay have been pushing childcare workers out of the sector - leaving families in the lurch.

The Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority estimated we would need an extra 39,000 early-childhood workers by 2023.

“The bottom line is that a huge number of families experience the stress of not being able to access the child care they need,” Grattan Institute CEO Danielle Wood said.

“Meanwhile, the country is missing out on the contribution of tens of thousands of skilled workers - mainly women - who have no choice but to pull back from paid work because they can’t find child care.”

So yes, you can have more time at home in those first few months but then you might be out of options.

MORE BAD:

Just because men can take more leave, how can we know they will?

The scheme allows parents to decide between themselves how they wish to divvy up the paid leave.

But if one parent earns more than the other (which, in the case of hetrosexual couples, is often the man) then what are the chances the paid leave will be evenly split?

Research published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies in 2019 revealed that just one in 20 fathers had taken primary-carer parental leave, which was low by global standards and pointed to the establishment of shared care as a way of increasing that number.

However research from Bain and Company found that, early on in life, men and women prioritised flexibility equally in their careers, but as men got older that priority declined.

The research also found that men valued flexibility to have a better work-life balance but women prioritised it for caregiving purposes, Bain partner and diversity, equity and inclusion lead Lars Verheyen told Women's Agenda.

“This indicates that there is probably still a bias existing around the responsibility that females and males are taking and assuming around caregiving,” Verheyen said.

“And it’s this social expectation which continues to hinder the career aspirations of women.”

MORE UGLY:

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