What a difference a year makes.

Yesterday’s man John Howard praised stay-at-home mums in May 2007 thus: “I am a very strong believer in the proposition that the care provided full-time by a parent is the most precious child care of all” and “every time we have increased benefits for child care, we have also increased the benefit for the stay-at-home mothers.”

Truly, they were the guardians of our beloved offspring. The selfless rearers of the young ‘uns. The noble protectors of babies and toddlers everywhere. The salt of the earth. This year? Wayne Swan’s budget failed to mention them at all amid grandstanding about increasing child care rebates for PM Kevin Rudd’s much vaunted “working families”.

Julia Gillard went further, bringing the saintly ones crashing down off their pedestals, musing “the child care tax rebate is about supporting workforce participation, it’s obviously in the national interest for us to be maximising the participation of working age adults in the labour force.”

Stay-at-home mums are p-ssed. And not on those evil alcopops.

It’s a very emotive subject — deciding whether to live on one income until the kids are at school or having both parents work with children placed in child care. Parenthood partnerships which have one partner (OK, there are a very few stay-at-home dads) who does not work generally tend to make decisions based on emotions not money. Those parents are feeling emotionally dudded by the Rudd Government’s first budget at the moment. Unless they’re “obscenely” rich of course (earning more than $150,000 per annum according to the Treasurer…).

Both full-time and part-time working mothers may feel vindicated by the message currently emanating from the new Labor Government. They do contribute more to Canberra’s coffers but they shouldn’t get too smug. How long before child care centres hike their fees in response to the government’s latest rebate? Let’s face it — the likes of ABC Learning Centres need the extra revenue now more than ever.

No doubt some trusted ALP advisers have crunched the numbers with modern demographics and cultural norms showing they can afford to lose the stay-at-home vote. However, despite the danger of being isolated, stay-at-home mums do have their own online social networks and can mobilise rapidly via forums on websites such as www.essentialbaby.com.au and www.bubhub.com.au if they feel the need to make their views heard.

Stay-at-home mums might not have the numbers but nowadays perception is everything. And the Rudd Government — with all its talk of “social inclusion” — does value its image as a caring, sharing kinda gang.

So there you have it — families are only valued by this brave new Labor Government if both parents work and pay tax. That much used and increasingly derided “working families” phrase may have to be quietly dropped by government ministers as it increasingly irritates a minority of parents that could get very vocal very quickly.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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