Crikey Clarifier: how the parties’ policies compare on women
Whether it’s the women in Tony Abbott’s life giving interviews about “the real Tony” or Julia Gillard sharing drinks with the power women of the blogosphere, the battle for the “women’s vote” is already on. But what policies have been put forward that specifically target women?
Labor is heading into the 2013 election having introduced Australia’s first government scheme for paid parental leave. Since January 1, 2012, most working women have had access to up to 18 weeks of paid leave. The scheme sees primary carers, most of whom are women, paid the minimum wage by the government for that period, with the pay administered through their employers. Partners can take two weeks of leave at the same rate. Women and men earning more than $150,000 per year are not eligible for the scheme.
While the scheme is shorter and cheaper than many other countries, and critically, doesn’t include super contributions, the paid parental leave scheme was an important step forward for working women.
The Coalition under Tony Abbott proposed a much more generous parental leave scheme during the 2010 election. Abbott’s scheme would pay new mums (or primary carers) their replacement wage and super contributions for up to 26 weeks. If the recipient’s weekly wage is lower than the minimum wage, she will be paid the minimum wage. Replacement wages are capped at $150,000 per year, so anyone earning more than that would receive the rate for someone earning $150,000 per year. Partners would have access to two weeks’ leave at their usual rate of pay.
The funds for the leave will come from a 1.5% levy on business earning more $5 million in taxable income. It would be administered through the Family Assistance Office, rather than employers.
There are a range of initiatives designed to make childcare more affordable and accessible being promised by both parties. Childcare quality is also a major focus after Labor introduced the National Quality Framework in 2012.
Heading into the 2013 election, the Gillard government has promised to continue the Child Care Rebate (CCR) of up to $7,500 per child per year. The rebate was introduced to cover half the cost of any out-of-pocket expense associated with childcare. After a rebate reduction and a freeze of indexation in 2011 and the following year of budget cuts, there has been some concern about the CCR being reduced again.
The Labor party has announced it will re-index the rate from 2014, effectively protecting the amount from being included in any budget cuts. The Coalition also intends to re-index the Childcare Rebate but hasn’t specified a timeline for this yet.
The Labor government has reduced the $5,000 baby bonus to $3,000 for the second and subsequent children. The Coalition did not support the reduction. It has also created a schoolkids bonus, available since June 2012, granting parents $410 per primary school child and $720 per high school child per year to help cover costs.
For parents raising children with significant disabilities including sight and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or Fragile X syndrome, the Labor government will provide up to $12,000 until the child is seven.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) was introduced by Labor in 2012 and supported by both parties. Funding legislation is expected to be introduced at the May budget. The NDIS will not only benefit women living with disabilities, but also many carers.
Labor has created a set of new rules to better the quality of care in the sector. These include all long-daycare centres with more than 25 attendees must have access to a university-trained early childcare teacher. The party has also legislated new ratios of educators to children, with one educator to four children (under 24 months), one educator to five children (24 months to 36 months), one educator to 11 children (36 months+).
The Coalition’s childcare plans include a Productivity Commission into childcare and reworking the National Quality Framework.
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