There are mounting calls for the federal government to respond to a policy idea that garnered strong support at the Jobs and Skills Summit – to help narrow the gender pay gap.
Treasury Secretary Katy Gallagher said the women “got it on point” at the two-day event.
But some are wondering why the government didn’t include an increase in paid parental leave in the 36 emergency initiatives announced on Friday, even though the issue was raised several times during the summit.
Unions and business groups both called for an increase in Commonwealth-funded paid parental leave from 18 to 26 weeks to narrow the gender pay gap.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions suggested merging the categories of “primary” and “secondary” carers into “parents” to encourage couples to share the burden.
President Michele O’Neil said Australia is lagging behind on family support.
“Australia has the second worst state-funded paid parental leave system in the developed world,” she said.
“In 2022, women should not have to do without a family and men should not have to do without raising children because the paid parental leave is not enough.”
Advocacy groups like The ParentHood also backed calls for an increase, and chief executive Georgie Dent warned the cost of inaction would be higher.
“By allowing parents to share care responsibilities without having to worry about their finances, increasing paid parental leave to decent levels can allow hundreds of thousands of women back into the labor market (according to the ACTU report) . and contribute to the nation’s economic growth,” she said.
Government urged to act
More and more crossbenchers are campaigning for an extension of paid parental leave.
Independent MP Kylea Tink argues the government should act by 2024 at the latest.
“The fact that we didn’t see 26 weeks of split paid parental leave as one of the most important reforms [from the summit] is disappointing,” she said.
“It’s something we know we can do to change gender choice in Australia and for that reason I think it’s something we as Parliament should prioritize.
“We know from international experience that the quickest way to close the gender pay gap is to introduce shared paid parental leave.”
Crossbencher colleagues Zali Stegall and Allegraspender also want an increase in paid parental leave, as well as incentives for parents who share leave.
The government’s top banker, Patrick Gorman, defended the government’s decision not to include the policy as a priority in the 13-page outcome document of the Jobs and Skills Summit.
“With a trillion dollars of debt left behind by the previous administration, not every good idea can be implemented immediately,” he said.
“That’s something we can’t prioritize at this point.”
Earlier in the week Treasurer Jim Chalmers said changes would depend on budgetary circumstances.
“There are cases where you have to balance things against other priorities,” he said.
“And as it stands now it’s going to be difficult to get it up and running in October, but if and when circumstances allow and budget allows, there are some of these ideas that I’d like to take and implement.” “
Independent Senator David Pocock said that argument doesn’t hold water.
“The government cannot have both,” he said.
“You can’t say we want to support women, we want to adopt sensible proposals that will find consensus at the Jobs and Skills Summit, but at the same time we can’t afford it.
“The community wants this to happen, the unions want this to happen, business wants this to happen, the balls are in the government’s hands.”
In the run-up to the October budget, government ministers have repeatedly said spending needs to be measured by budgetary circumstances.
However, Crossbench lawmakers and senators have argued that paid parental leave is a necessity that has wider economic benefits.
The Grattan Institute has estimated that it would cost about $600 million a year to expand the program to 26 weeks.
The government made some new, smaller spending commitments after the summit, including allowing retirees to earn more without hurting their payments.
Senator Pocock said the government could raise the money for paid parental leave by not moving ahead with planned 2024 tax cuts.
“You can’t keep saying we can’t afford it if you refuse to reconsider $243 billion in tax cuts that are coming for the richest … mostly wealthy men,” he said.
But Kylea Tink said the planned tax cuts should stay and the government should look at how to generate more money.
“To get that tax benefit, we have to look at revenue generation,” she said.
“Those ways to approach revenue generation were in looking at multinational corporation taxation, the super-profit tax, and looking at how wealth is taxed.”
The previous government made minor changes to the paid parental leave system, merging basic and partner’s pay, and it is still set to be introduced in March next year.
Deputy leader of the opposition, Sussan Ley, did not want to get involved in the debate on whether a further increase in support was needed.
“These proposals should all be worked through with sensible political discussions,” she said.