Skip to main content


Valuing Parenthood - Foreword

Back to Table of Contents

Valuing Parenthood - Options for Paid Parental Leave: Interim Paper 2002


It has been a long
journey from the male breadwinner family of the 1907 Harvester judgment
to the modern families of today. The transformation of families has
been one of the most significant social changes since the Second World
War and arguably over the entire century. Landmark decisions by governments
and industrial tribunals have endorsed and encouraged social changes
along the way.

Modern Australian
families live in a new social paradigm, where a majority of mothers
are in part or full time work. Women and men struggle with combining
responsibilities to their work and their families, not wanting to forego
either part of life. Many couples decide to delay childbirth while they
meet work and training commitments, and some decide not to have children
at all.

The confluence
of the demands of biology and economic security means that today families
are faced with bringing up children at the same time that they are paying
off high mortgages or establishing themselves in increasingly competitive
workplaces. The inexorable shift to both women and men contributing
to the family income and the increase in sole parent families mean it
is highly unlikely that the numbers of working mothers will decline.
A sensible family policy needs to work within this new framework and
a national paid maternity leave scheme is one legitimate policy response
to this paradigm shift.

Women are an integral
part of the Australian workforce. While significant progress has been
made to remove systemic discrimination in the labour force, women continue
to suffer disadvantage because of their responsibility for bearing and
caring for children. The social revolutions of the last half century
have seen tremendous change, but have not resulted in men taking equal
responsibility for child rearing or domestic labour. In workforce terms,
this is reflected in pay inequities: women still only earn 84 cents
in the male dollar, when comparing average weekly ordinary time earnings.
When all earnings are taken into account, the disparity is even greater.
A national paid maternity leave scheme would go some way to addressing
this disadvantage and compensate women for their loss of income resulting
from family responsibilities. It also supports working women at a time
of great vulnerability, the period surrounding childbirth. For this
reason, paid maternity leave as a workforce entitlement is a starting
assumption of this paper.

In developing this
interim options paper I have consulted widely with employer and employee
groups and a range of analysts, including critics, and many in the Commonwealth
Public Service. They have generously given their time and knowledge
and proposed a variety of approaches, informed and tested the arguments
and proposed a range of options. I expect to further consult with these
stakeholders over the next few months before the release of a final
Options Paper.

There are a number
of national objectives that a paid maternity leave scheme is potentially
able to meet. Whether or not it can in fact do so depends on the nature
of the scheme and for this reason the paper ranges widely; from the
decline in fertility rates to the need to reduce indirect discrimination
against women in the work force to the health and welfare needs of small
babies and their mothers. Ambitious objectives generally require ambitious
schemes and several such schemes are advanced in this interim options
paper. The final paper is likely to be more specific in approach.

Currently Federal
Government assistance for families is in excess of 10 billion dollars.
The case for paid maternity leave requires government and the community
to be satisfied that existing measures do not meet the objectives or
fulfil the requirements of mandated paid maternity leave.

While at this stage
realistic costings for a national paid maternity leave scheme are both
premature and unavailable, a number of proponents of such a scheme estimate
that certain options could cost in the vicinity of $300 million a year,
modest compared with some current government assistance programmes for
families. Again, the final paper will gather the available data to clarify

It should be emphasised
that most of those consulted in the preparation of this paper were concerned
that an individual employer funded scheme would prove disadvantageous
to women in employment and to commercial competitiveness generally.

Paid maternity
leave is one measure that recognises the social realities of modern
Australian families, and supports them in their choices. You are invited
to propose other or better alternatives as part of the national discussion
I trust we will now have.

Pru Goward

Sex Discrimination Commissioner