Today’s SMH story about Tony Abbott’s parental leave plan is basically old news since Tony Abbott outlined his six month scheme of paid parental leave in his book Battlelines. Abbott suggested it was to be funded by a levy of 0.5 on payroll tax, rather than from general revenue, and presumably this is still his view, since he was critical of the government’s proposal.

I agree with Abbott’s views on some aspects of the current scheme, so maybe his proposals will be a useful goad to improve the present government plans.

Firstly, six months is what most people wanted for paid parental leave and Rudd’s 18 weeks plan was a compromise with future expectations, so perhaps the six extra weeks could be a vote winner for Abbott.

Secondly, Abbott will abolish the means test (Rudd’s plan only applies to primary carers who earn less than $150,000), which will please a few higher income parents and denies its workforce connection. Abbott also suggested in Battlelines that his version would pay replacement wages for those who earn more than the minimum wage, which would attract some higher income earners.

Thirdly, Abbott’s version might cover those 20% of new mothers who will not have a leave entitlement because they haven’t had at least 12 months with the one employer, and they may be pleased.

However, I remain sceptical about Abbott’s genuine commitment to women’ paid work roles, as even in Battlelines his ambivalence shows.

He wants women to have more children and wrote extensively about the problems of the low birth-rate. He praises the Costello call for families to have three children. He was once deeply opposed to paid maternity leave and stated it would happen over his dead body during the Howard years. He strongly supported the baby bonus because it wasn’t related to paid work and is still concerned about the equity of payments for those mothers not in the paid workforce.

In Battlelines, the section previous to the one describing ‘maternity’ leave (he never mentions the paternity option) is called The Child Drought. Following this with a section called A Fair Go for Working Mothers suggests his basic intention is to make higher family payments and leave an attractive combination to tempt women back into traditional roles. The next section is called A Stimulus Payment for Families and is about more money and there is no real discussion on paying for these costs except raising the pension age.

So in sum, I wouldn’t trust Tony Abbot to be a serious supporter of policies that would make it easier for us to combine parenting and paid work. He claims to have had a recent conversion, but I suspect it is fairly superficial because his other views seem to have stayed much the same. However, he has put parental leave back on the public agenda and it still needs attention.