Paid parental leave, being angry

So Sue Moroney’s private member’s bill to extend paid parental leave has been drawn from the ballot again. Recap: currently 16 weeks, to be extended to 18 next April, and the bill would extend it to 26 weeks. 

Paid at less than the fulltime minimum wage, by the way. So not overly expensive for the taxpayer. 

The Finance Minister has already made comments suggesting that the Government will once again block the bill. 

The first time it was drawn from the ballot, I wasn’t even thinking about getting pregnant. By the time it had finally been defeated, in a deadlock vote, after the Governement used every stalling technique imaginable and eventually proposed the more modest extension of four weeks in two increments, the little dude was a year old. Yeah, that’s how long it took to shoot it down.  

Meanwhile, women keep having babies, and those babies need to be cared for. 

We carry our children in our bodies, we birth them, we raise them and nurture them. We are members of this society, and so are they. 

They are tomorrow’s citizens, tomorrow’s workforce. 

When they are very small and need constant care, we provide it. We feed them and we change their nappies, we soothe them, we play with them, we tend to them when they are sick. We are the women who take time out of the workforce, unpaid, because 16 (or 18) weeks paid leave is not enough. And we are the women who return to the workforce sooner than we’d like, because we cannot afford to take unpaid leave. 

We are police officers and bus drivers and social workers and lawyers and engineers and doctors. We pay taxes. And we have children.

We are people who are called “breeders”, like livestock, and “leeches”, like pests, for daring to suggest that society value our contribution. 

Our time spent out of the paid workforce is liken to a “holiday” by those who object to the idea that mothers who care for children should receive financial support from society. 

Our children are called “spawn” by those who seem not to realise that children are people. 

We are ignored, politically marginalised, insulted, dismissed and belittled. 

We are told that if we can’t afford to take time out of the paid workforce to look after our children, we shouldn’t get pregnant in the first place. We are told that our value is dependent on whether we have partners, and how much they earn. We are told that if we want to return to the paid workforce before our children are walking and talking, we are bad mothers. We are told that we are emasculating our male partners if they take some time to be at home while we are in paid employment. 

No politician would ever say that caring for babies is unimportant or unnecessary. They might say that it was extremely important, very valuable. But the Finance Minister emphasises that the government books are in a precarious position, blah blah blah blah blah, and we have to be careful about extending social support and make sure it’s affordable given the goal of returning to surplus. 

For fuck’s sake, we’re talking about a very modest level of paid leave being extended by a very modest amount, and a very modest cost to the state, in the context of work that is currently being done but not remunerated. Superannuation costs $10 billion a year and extending paid parental leave would cost $150 million, bringing the total cost to $300 million. It’s not nothing, but it’s not that much in the scheme of things either.

The whole world takes advantage of women’s unpaid labour. Society would crumble if caring work went undone. 

It’s not just that the extra cash from extending paid parental leave would have helped my family out last year, or when number two baby arrives in the future sometime. It’s that money is a tangible way of demonstrating that something is valued. Paid parental leave is the most politically palatable way of starting a conversation about the idea of valuing work done caring for children. 

Next year the length of paid parental leave goes up to 18 weeks. Most daycare centres don’t even accept children younger than six months. The little dude was still breastfeeding every couple of hours at five and six and seven months. It wasn’t until he was about eight or nine months that I could really imagine leaving him in someone else’s care for long periods of time. I know some women go back sooner, by choice or necessity, and if that works for them, all to the good. But this bill extends paid parental leave to 26 weeks, which is still not very long. The reality is that the vast majority of babies are cared for by their mothers for longer than the current period of paid parental leave, which means that every year, tens of thousands of women in this country are working hard, day and night, without pay. 

And caring for a small baby is kinda nice, but it’s also hard work. When people comment that taxpayers shouldn’t fund people to stay at home, IT FUCKS ME OFF. It’s like saying taxpayers shouldn’t fund people to be police officers. Yeah, this is rewarding work, but that doesn’t mean that the people doing it don’t deserve financial recognition. 

“But why should we pay for your children?” Because they will grow up one day and pay taxes themselves and those taxes will pay for things you need! Because that’s how the social contract works you idiot! Because children aren’t indulgences, luxury goods, personal assets, pets or hobbies: they are the future of the world. They are PEOPLE who need to be cared for. How can such a simple concept not be considered politically obvious?! Society needs some people to have children. Hey guess what, there are people who are happy to take on that role. But guess what else, you can’t look after a child and also go to work. So when you are doing the former, you take a break from the latter, but that means you’re not earning money. Yet amazingly you still have expenses! Gee I wonder if there’s some sort of solution, like maybe everyone in the society pooling resources and giving some of the resources to those people who are doing the whole fucking world an enormous favour by physically creating and then bringing up the new people?! 

C’mon, it’s not that hard a thing to understand! 

Here’s the deal. I will have two or three kids. I will spend months of my life feeling horrifically tired and nauseous, feeling weakened, drained, and physically awkward while pregnant. I will go through immense pain to give birth. I will deal with life-long and limiting physical changes from the process. I will breastfeed, for years. I will change thousands of nappies. I will spend countless hours rocking and soothing sick children. I will feel my heart grow. I will hold my babies tightly and whisper to them that they are my precious darlings. I will do this happily, with tenderness and love. I will raise them to be accountable to society. I will raise them to be conscientious and generous, they’re going to be great future citizens. 

Now, National Party MPs, here’s your end of the bargain. Look deep into the government books, and figure out a way to make it so that the people who look after kids get some monetary recognition for their essential contribution to society. 

And stop stalling.