Mums and dads can now access up to 20 weeks to share the care
Since the introduction of PPL in 2010, there’s been relatively no movement to the scheme’s cornerstone design (18 weeks for primary carers (women) and later, 2 weeks for secondary carers (dads) whilst internationally PPL standards across other OECD nations have continued to evolve.
That’s why the sweeping changes announced by the Federal Treasurer are significant and it’s worth pausing to reflect on how it might be the beginning of a game-changing policy shift in how we value caregiving and structurally design future work and family policy in Australia.
The economic and social return on investment benefit of paid parental leave has long been debated and the case for action is clear.
Paid parental leave positively impacts maternal and infant health, childhood development and parental bonding, continued attachment to the labour market, improved gender equality outcomes and more.
Advocates have championed to advance Parental Leave Equality and introduce a ‘shared care’ scheme in Australia for some time. Recently, the Grattan Institute released research and modelling illustrating how an investment in gender-equal parental leave would improve the lives of Australian families.
So, what are the changes and who benefits?
- Under the proposed scheme new mums and dads will be able to access a combined 20 weeks of paid parental leave.
- Dads and partner pay will be integrated with the existing 18-week primary carer scheme, effectively thereby eliminating the definitions of primary and secondary carer to create ‘one’ shared parental leave scheme.
- Importantly, parents will now have up to two years to use it allowing families more flexibility to determine how they share – particularly beneficial for those with access to employer funded PPL providing both parents more weeks to share between them. Single parents can have access to the full 20 weeks paid leave.
- The eligible household income threshold of $350K will be introduced making it fairer for women who may have previously been ineligible as primary earners under the $150K individual earning threshold (which meant they were unable to transfer the leave entitlement to a partner earning under the threshold).
- These policy shifts, intended to be introduced before March 1, 2023, after consultation, could pave the way for greater discussions in how Government and employers can recognise and value caregiving as something all parents (not just women) need time and financial support for.
- Importantly, it provides the opportunity to put the development of children at the centre of policy design as well as tackle the gender bias and stigma associated with parental leave and caregiving.
Whilst the changes are welcome, it will be important for the government to continue investing in measures that genuinely support both men and women to take the leave and ensure Superannuation is paid on the leave payment. 20 weeks PPL is still below the OCED average of 50+ weeks paid parental leave. It’s critical mothers remain supported with adequate leave provisions to support with maternal and infant health and breastfeeding.
Countries with a ‘use it or lose it’ component of leave specifically reserved for mums, dads and ‘to share’ like Sweden, Iceland and Germany see a greater take up of men accessing the leave; however it’s important to acknowledge that these countries also offer substantially more than 20 weeks of combined paid weeks of leave to share.
Is there still room for improvement? Yes, absolutely. And it will take a group effort from Government, employers, community, and other carer support organisations.
“We need to ensure we continue to work towards greater universal access to well-funded PPL and quality early childhood education, but these changes are a certainly a very welcome step forward.”
CEO, Parents At Work and Founder, Family Friendly Workplaces
Read the press release from our partners at UNICEF Australia