Paid parental leave changes to further gender equality

Women from across the political spectrum have shared their experiences having children while pursuing a career as the federal government makes the first step towards increasing paid parental leave.

The lower house is preparing to pass a proposal to extend paid parental leave from 18 to 20 weeks from July 1. It will then be considered by the Senate.

When Labor MP Susan Templeman started her family in the early-1990s, she wasn’t entitled to maternity leave.

Returning to Australia with her husband after working as a freelance journalist in the United Kingdom, Ms Templeman realised she would have to work through her pregnancy and immediately after giving birth.

“My husband and I didn’t have an economic choice about that,” she said.

Ms Templeman said just because she experienced those difficulties didn’t mean it was acceptable for families today.

“My children are in their late-20s and early-30s (and) their generation is looking to us to help them find a way to be able to make their next steps in the world,” she said.

Liberal MP Jenny Ware said Australia still had a long way to go to improve gender equality, but increasing paid parental leave entitlements would be a start.

Ms Ware did not have access to paid parental leave when she had twin boys in 2006 and said if she had it would have made her time as a new mum far less stressful.

The bill aims to modernise the paid parental leave scheme by removing the notion of primary, secondary and tertiary claimants.

Ms Ware said the current requirement means families are treated differently depending on which parent has the higher income.

“This is grossly unfair to women who are the primary income earners and does not accord with modern Australia,” she said.

The requirement for the birth parent to be the primary claimant will also be removed.

Independent MP Allegra Spender said her sister had experienced the negative implications of this requirement after giving birth.

A business owner and fashion designer, Bianca Spender was the primary breadwinner and had to get back to work quickly after having a baby.

“To enable her partner to be able to take on primary care responsibilities and be supported by the government, (Bianca) effectively had to sign that she was no longer the primary carer,” Ms Spender said.

“I remember her saying it made her feel like she wasn’t an adequate mother because she wasn’t doing what was expected.

“It’s absolutely crucial that we really cement this change in culture that says that parenting is a joint responsibility of the parents, not just of the mother.”


Maeve Bannister
(Australian Associated Press)


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