The Government’s New Paid Parental Leave Still Kind Of Sucks

Krystal Neuvill
The Australian government has officially released its plans for the 2022-23 federal budget. As we pore over the amendments, sorting the 'winners and losers', one of the main talking points includes extensions to paid parental leave (PPL).
Under the changes, single parents will get an extra two weeks of government-funded paid leave under a $346 million plan, set to see an extra 2,200 families gain access to the benefits for the first time.
The federal government is adding the weeks onto its current Parental Leave Payment scheme that currently only sees one primary carer given 18 weeks of leave at minimum wage (90 payable days). This will be merged with the Dad and Partner Pay Scheme which sees secondary carers given a measly two weeks — which is about the general wait time for online shopping orders.
The proposed changes mean that a single parent will be eligible for the full 20 weeks of paid leave, while two-parent households can split the PPL as they see fit, as long as they take it within two years of the child's birth or adoption.
The amendments will also see higher-earning households gain eligibility. Where the leave is currently limited to women earning up to $151,350, the changes will see this double to allow earners of up to $350,000.
This will hopefully work to address the bias built into the existing scheme that sees women on higher incomes, who are often the primary breadwinners for their household, miss out on external support.
As for whether super will be included in these payments? Despite the widespread call for it, the answer is still a resounding no. The opposition hasn't commented on whether they would change this if victorious in the upcoming election, despite making a point to promise the inclusion of super to PPL throughout their 2019 election campaign.
Aside from the glaring fact that this scheme only works for nuclear family households, the scheme is still deeply flawed.
To put those timelines into context, here are some other figures about birth and child-rearing:
6+ weeks: the average time it takes for a vagina to heal after birth — and that's if there aren't any complications.
3 months: the average age a baby starts sleeping through the night.
6 months: the average time it takes for a baby to be able to hold its own head up.
165: the average number of diapers a baby will go through in a month.
12 months: how long the average baby requires breastfeeding.
900: the hours of average sleep lost in the first year of having a child.
$70-188: the average daily cost of childcare in Australia.
To reiterate, this is all while someone is on the national minimum wage of $772.55 a week. These extensions to paid leave are a step in the right direction, but let's zoom out a little and look at how we fare on a global level.
In 2021, Finland announced that they would be offering paid parental leave to all parents, regardless of gender or whether or not they are the biological parent of the child. Each parent can take up to 164 days (seven months) of paid leave, with single parents able to access double this (328 days).
Sweden offers new parents 480 days of leave at 80% of their regular pay. That's on top of the 18 weeks reserved just for mothers, after which the parents can split up the time however they like. Secondary partners also get 90 paid paternity days of those 480 reserved just for them.
In Norway, primary caretakers can take 49 weeks of leave at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay. Depending on their partners' income, secondary caretakers can take up to ten weeks of paid leave. Together, parents get an additional 46 weeks, or 56 weeks at 80% pay, to distribute how they like.
It's worth noting that, according to a report by McKinsey & Co, Australia is the seventh wealthiest country in the world. Sweden comes in at #10, while Finland, which has taken out the winner of 'happiest country' for four years in a row, has a GDP ranking of #42 within the global economy, while Australia sits higher up at #13.
So yes, our scheme is comparatively pretty lacklustre.
In the lead-up to this upcoming federal election, let's keep some perspective as to what meaningful policy-making really looks like. The changes announced are positive, but it's far from a victory for parents.
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