But there is still much to dislike about the Libs. Take, for instance, their family policy. Tony Abbott wants to introduce a much more ambitious paid maternity scheme than the Labor Party. It would give mothers six months maternity leave funded by the Government at full replacement pay of up to $150,000.
Now I know that many of my own readers will benefit financially from this. What I'm about to write might not be a popular thing to point out.
But the purpose of such paid maternity leave schemes is not really to help out families. It is to integrate women into the paid workforce and to make women more independent of men.
In the Liberal Party's own policy document it is stated that,
The Coalition’s scheme will signal to the community that taking time out of the workforce to care for children is a normal part of the work-life cycle of parents.
It would also help promote increased female workforce participation because it creates a financial incentive for women to be engaged in paid work prior to childbirth and to return to the workforce after their period of leave. Greater female workforce participation will have positive impacts on the individual, families and society at large.
An effective paid parental leave scheme tackles head on the need to improve population, participation, and productivity – three key ingredients for stronger economic growth.
Australia should not go down the path of some Western countries where birth rates have fallen well below replacement levels. Today’s children are tomorrow’s workforce ...
Female participation in the workforce is important for our economic future as well as a robust birth rate. A study by Goldman Sachs published in November last year forecasts that Australia’s income would rise by up to 11 per cent if women’s workforce participation matched that of men. There is plenty of scope for improvement. According to the Productivity Commission, workforce participation by Australian women falls by a greater amount than for women in other OECD countries during child bearing years. Australia languishes 23rd out of 29 OECD countries in workforce participation rates of women aged 22-44 years of age.
The Coalition’s Paid Parental Leave policy could significantly ease re-entry to the workforce and encourage women to enter the job market in the first place. The Productivity Commission finds that longer parental leave (of six months or more) is likely to stimulate greater lifetime female workforce attachment. ("Paid Parental Leave: A New Approach" p.5)
It's that right-liberal obsession with Economic Man again. Women are to be measured by their labour force productivity. Our lives are to be organised not around families but around workforce participation. Women are to have time off to create future units of labour.
And what about the place of men within family life? Up to now, a woman did at least still need the support of a stable male provider during the period of her life when she was pregnant and looking after babies. Now it is the state which is to take over that role. The state is to guarantee a woman's income during this period of her life.
What effect is this likely to have? No doubt there will still be some women who will look to men to provide the "dual income" effect. But there will be other women who will feel less need to partner with men who are the stable provider types. And there will be more women who will think it viable to go it alone.
And will men have the same motivation to work if their efforts are less necessary for the financial security of their families?
Another effect: once family life is organised through the state, the state can then dictate patterns of parenting. The state can, for instance, decree that child care must be carried out on a unisex basis, with no distinction between the role of mothers and fathers, with each having to take the same amount of leave to perform the same duties.
It is not wise for the state to (artificially) make the male role within the family an optional rather than a necessary one. This might in the short term seem appealing to women as a promise of independence. But the longer term effect will be to undermine stable male commitments to both family and work.
There are better ways for governments to support families, such as tax breaks for families with children.