Yesterday I heard Joe Hockey interviewed. When asked about Tony’s pet Paid Parental Leave Scheme he had the unmitigated gall to say that Labor hates paid parental leave. Does he forget that it was Labor that brought in our first PPL on January 1 2011? Does he forget Abbott’s history on this issue?
In 2002, Tony Abbott’s hostility to paid parental leave reached a crescendo, when he declared to the press: “Compulsory paid maternity leave? Over this Government’s dead body, frankly.”
Writing for The Australian in October 2008, he claimed that paid parental leave – like abortion – was part of a “radical women’s agenda” championed by extreme feminists in the Labor movement. He spoke out about his opposition to the scheme based on the ways it reduced stay at home mothers to second class citizens, lambasting then Prime Minister Rudd’s commitment to women workers as an example of “Political Correctness”; extreme lip-service to the feminists in Labor ranks.
In 2009 a Productivity Commission Report stated :
“Payment at a flat rate would mean that the labour supply effects would be greatest for lower income, less skilled women — precisely those who are most responsive to wage subsidies and who are least likely to have privately negotiated paid parental leave. Full replacement wages for highly educated, well paid women would be very costly for taxpayers and, given their high level of attachment to the labour force and a high level of private provision of paid parental leave, would have few incremental labour supply benefits.”
Despite this advice, in 2010 “Mr Abbott first announced his paid parental leave after he emerged from a luncheon event on International Women’s Day. The scheme would pay new mothers their regular wage for six months, up to a maximum of $75,000, and is to be funded by a 1.5 per cent levy on more than 3000 big companies.”
On May 6 2013, Malcolm Turnbull refused to comment when asked if he thought there should be a review into the scheme.
“I’ve said again I am not going to comment on whether it should be reviewed or not. I don’t believe there is any need to review it. I think it has been very carefully costed by Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb so it is certainly in the policy budget envelope but any further deliberations on that or any other policy is obviously something we do in the four walls of shadow cabinet,” Mr Turnbull said.
“This is a key policy of Tony Abbott’s and it is something that we have as part of our policy and I don’t see any probability or likelihood that of that policy being shelved. Tony is very committed to it.”
The next day we hear a little more about Tony’s rationale of wanting women of calibre to breed.
TONY Abbott’s expensive paid parental leave scheme is “all about” encouraging women of “calibre” to have children, the Opposition Leader said today.
“We do not educate women to higher degree level to deny them a career,” he said.
“If we want women of that calibre to have families, and we should, well we have to give them a fair dinkum chance to do so. That is what this scheme of paid parental leave is all about.”
On that same day
Internal dissent about the policy went public this morning, with federal Liberal backbencher Alex Hawke calling it an “albatross” that must be “scrapped”.
Writing for the Institute of Public Affairs backbencher Alex Hawke blasted it as an “unjustifiable impost on business” and said the policy should be reviewed.
“An expansion of the PPL scheme is ill-suited to an economically Liberal agenda,” Mr Hawke wrote.
“Most importantly for Australians, the policy does not pass the fair-go test.”
“Now would be a very good time to revisit this policy with a view to scrapping it before the next election, so we can go to the election without this albatross around the neck of the party,” he said.
In June 2013, when asked to guarantee Tony Abbott’s “signature policy”, Mr Hockey responded: “You will see our initiative in that regard prior to the election…I’m not going to get into speculating about where we’re at.”
The following month, big business and the IPA added their criticism of the scheme.
LABOR is on its own believing a parental leave plan should be paid at “welfare” rates rather than a worker’s real wage, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says.
But that’s not quite true. Big business joined critics of Mr Abbott’s signature paid parental leave scheme as Coalition MPs prepare to pressure their leader to modify it.
Mr Abbott’s predicament has been summed up by a shadow minister: “There’s only one vote for it in the party room.”
It is one of the most generous proposals in the world but the cost, the need for a tax increase, and the lack of consultation has turned some Liberal MPs against it.
Business is also fighting the plan with the head of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox Monday night saying: “There are no positives, no upsides in this policy that we can see for business.
“It’s inequitable,” Mr Innes told ABC TV.
“Only the top 3000 or so companies would be paying and they’d be subsidising for everyone else. That doesn’t make sense on that level.
‘”The current system is operating well. It has very broad business and community support. We don’t see any reason to change.”
John Roskam of the economically dry Institute for Public Affairs said “There’s widespread concern that the Coalition is supporting a tax increase. And at this time, the Coalition should be talking about cutting taxes and cutting spending, not increasing taxes.”
More recently we have had the commission of audit and the Productivity Commission (again) suggesting the money would be better spent on childcare.
The commission (of audit) also wants Mr Abbott’s generous paid parental leave scheme wound back and the money directed into a streamlined childcare support mechanism. Paid parental leave wage replacement should be capped to average weekly earnings – $57,460 a year, much less than the current proposal of $100,000. The savings should be used to offset the cost of expanded childcare assistance.
The Coalition has dismissed a Productivity Commission suggestion that funds be redirected away from Tony Abbott’s paid parental scheme and into childcare services, arguing that the two are “separate things”.
On a government website there is an article titled Comparing the Paid Parental Leave Schemes. It states
The designs of both the current and Coalition/Greens schemes contain elements that make them as much like an Australian Government welfare payment as they are workplace entitlements. For example, rather than being funded and run privately by employers or funded (as occurs in most OECD countries) through a social insurance scheme, they are:
•fully or substantially funded from taxation revenue and
•fully or substantially administered by the Department of Human Services.
Critics of both the Coalition and Greens schemes have tended to argue that PPL should better reflect the existing framework of Australia’s welfare payment system, based around targeting flat rates of payment at those most in need. As the Henry Tax Review noted, ‘the primary purpose of government assistance payments to individuals is to provide them with a minimum adequate standard of living’. A further value underlying the Australian system is that there should be incentives for private provision, with the benefit system seen more as a safety net.
The government argues that their scheme aims at gender equity and workforce participation. This is hard to sell when you look at the guys and doll that form their cabinet and the reports from the PC and commission of audit suggesting affordable, flexible, quality childcare is far more important.
Despite a so-called budget emergency and criticism from every direction, regardless of advice from every expert review, unheeding of internal dissent, Tony forges ahead with his “I like women and women like me” campaign. Does Tony really believe that he knows better than all experts on every matter? It’s all just a political game for him and he increasingly shows he has no idea how to prioritise.
Abbott’s signature policy may be something to aspire to in the future but he is signing the cheque with money slashed from those most in need. This mantra of “we took it to the election” won’t wash in light of all your other broken promises from your infamous “no cuts” speech. Give it up Tony!
Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.
-John C. Maxwell
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