Peter Costello wants to make “Australia the most female-friendly country for the workforce in the world”.

Unveiling the second intergenerational report yesterday, the Treasurer said that planning ahead for an ageing population means “developing policies, making it easier for families to have children and to have more children … It means workplace flexibility, support for families …”

Which is great news. In fact, Crikey can suggest some areas for improvement. Happily, they exist within the Government’s own policies: that should make them easy to target.

There’s WorkChoices, of course. Since the IR changes were introduced, women’s pay relative to men’s has dropped, according to Professor David Peetz, of Griffith University, in his report Assessing the impact of ‘WorkChoices’ one year on:

Combining the public and private sectors, for women as a whole the gender pay ratio had risen from 82.9% to 84.6% in trend terms between February 1996 and February 2006, but in the nine months to November 2006 some 55% of these gains were lost, with the ratio falling back to 83.6%.

Only 43% of Australian women with two or more children (that extra child for Costello) are currently in the workforce. In Sweden, it’s 82%, in the UK, 62%. More comprehensive child care and family-friendly employment policies could help, starting perhaps with maternity leave, which is crying like a newborn for some attention.

Australia and the US are the only two countries in the OECD without legislated paid maternity leave. A study of 166 International Labour Organisation member countries found that Australia is one of only five countries which does not provide paid maternity leave, notes the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, along with Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and, yes, the US.

In 2002, John Howard said it was “naive” and “simplistic” to believe that introducing a paid maternity leave support scheme would “on its own suddenly reverse the declining fertility rate in this country”.

In 2001, a key government strategy to address falling fertility rates was a one-off baby bonus.  

We look forward to the government’s female-friendly announcements.