On Mothers’ Day, 2015, the Liberal National Coalition government famously announced its plans to cut access to the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave Scheme for thousands of Australian women, including a great many AEU members. At the time, then Treasurer, Joe Hockey, called mothers who accessed the Commonwealth scheme along with their own workplace based scheme “double dippers”. Scott Morrison went further and suggested these women were “rorting” the system, simply by accessing their legal entitlements.
Fifteen months later the cuts remain LNP policy, however, your activism, along with that of feminist groups and the broader union movement means that the cuts are looking increasingly unlikely to proceed.
The then Abbott government first attempted to make the cuts via the Orwellian named Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill which passed the lower house of parliament in September 2015. The Department of Social Services went so far as to advertise on their website that as of 1 July 2016, the cuts would be in place and new mums who were affected should make other arrangements.
Sympathetic Senators referred the matter to a Senate Inquiry where a range of unions, feminist groups and academic experts gave evidence about how the cuts were not only mean and sexist, they made no economic sense because they would simply push costs across to the childcare and health sectors.
AEU members met with cross bench Senators and talked about the devastating impact the cuts would have on their families. Due to the action of activists, cross bench senators including Glen Lazarus, Nick Xenophon and John Madigan along with the ALP and the Australian Greens declared that they would not vote for the bill. Without the numbers to pass the bill, the Fairer Paid Parental Leave Bill was quietly shelved.
However, the story didn’t end there. Cuts to Paid Parental Leave joined the list of so-called “zombie” budget measures; proposed cuts that the government didn’t have the numbers to pass with the Senate at the time, but which were still government policy and would be pursued with a new government. The December Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook included the cuts, and soon after, the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter indicated that they remained LNP government policy.
AEU Members took the fight to social media. Two of those AEU activists were Grade One teachers, Lisa Noto and Derrinda Blake. Both were pregnant at the same time, but Lisa was due before the 1 July 2016 cut-off while Derrinda was due soon afterwards. If the changes went through Derrinda would have lost over $11800 worth of parental leave payments compared to Lisa.
In the lead up to the recent Federal election, unions and community groups again lobbied political parties to declare their hand on cuts to Paid Parental Leave. Just prior to the election, the Nick Xenophon Team, Jacqui Lambie Network, Australian Greens and Australia Labor Party all publicly pledged to vote against any cuts to paid parental leave. These parties now hold a majority in our new federal Senate, which means that, unless they back down on their pledge, the LNP’s cuts to Paid Parental Leave have no hope of being enacted.
The AEU fought long and hard for the paid parental leave our members enjoy today. Our goal, along with that of the ACTU, is six months full pay plus superannuation. This is not an unreasonable ask. In fact, 6 months or more, is common throughout Europe and the UK and is based on World Health Organisation recommendations. When it comes to Paid Parental Leave, we refuse to go backwards!