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OPINION: Why is Tony Abbott punishing us for procreating?

The new paid parental leave scheme makes it even harder to balance a career and motherhood, writes Zoe Arnold.

By Zoe Arnold
Double-dipping. It sounds more like something a poor-mannered guest would do at a lazy Sunday afternoon BBQ than a method to get more time off with your newborn child, but turns out 'double-dipping' is the new way for women to afford to have babies in this country.
The premise is simple: as a public-sector worker (think teachers, nurses, bureaucrats et al ), you can claim your parental leave once from your employer - then again as part of the government's paid parental leave scheme.
For NSW public school teachers, it means 18 weeks of paid leave on your teacher's salary, and another 18 weeks paid at the federally mandated minimum wage = 36 weeks, or around 9 months off with your newborn. Similar leave provisions exist across the public sector.
The same applies for some larger corporations and non-for-profits, while small businesses tend to rely on the government's scheme.
Enter the Abbott's Mother's Day 'gift' to women: as of tomorrow's budget, you can double-dip no more. Women will be instead be eligible for one payment only - meaning for an estimated 80,000 parents-to-be across Australia, they will be forced back to work sooner.
In principle, double-dipping seems unfair to me. Why is it that public sector employees should get a bonus for their career choice, but I should suffer because of mine? Many commentators agree - claiming a billion dollars a year is handed-out to so-called 'double-dippers'.
However, these commentators are missing something quite fundamental: even with double-dipping, our parental leave schemes are nowhere near generous enough.
Four-and-a-half months to work out breastfeeding, sleeping patterns and childcare arrangements just ain't right. At that time post-partum, I was an exhausted mess. Sleep-deprived, dealing with multiple rounds of mastitis, vomit-covered ... I was in no state to switch off my baby-brain and head back into a work environment.
If you had told me that I had to front up to an office, I know I would have done little more than sobbed into my cold cup of tea. However, by the time my kids were 10 months old respectively, I was ready to re-join the workforce, and eager to be a 'productive' working mother. I ached for adult conversation that didn't revolve around sleep-cycles and infant bowel movements, and was ready to make the transition.
My experience isn't for everyone - and there will always been some women who feel confident about re-joining the workforce shortly after birth. That's okay too.
The point is that in 2015, women deserve to have a choice.
In Norway, parents get 37 weeks shared parental leave at full pay, on top of their 'mother-only' and 'father-only’ leave. Ditto in Denmark, where mums and dads receive 32 weeks parental leave. How novel – long periods of leave – and a choice between which parent can take it!
Double-dipping isn’t right: women shouldn’t be forced to choose an employer or career path based on leave provisions alone. Equally, a woman in the public sector shouldn’t get double what someone does in the private sector just because they have different employers.
But cutting parental leave payments isn’t right either. If women are supposed to balance a career and motherhood, there needs to be some incentive to do so. We shouldn’t be punished for procreating.
What the changes mean for you:
If anyone tells you they actually understand childcare benefits and payments, they’re probably lying. It’s a quagmire: a mess of statistics and hourly rates, of rebates and benefits (which are not the same thing). Budget 2015 brings a whole new system – explained in plain English, below.
So will I be worse off?
Stay-at-home mums are the losers. No longer will you be able to claim a benefit from using childcare – if you use childcare; it will be 100% out-of-pocket, unless you start working part-time.
Additionally, Family Tax Benefit B is being cut. It’s currently provided to single parents or single-income families on a means-tested basis, for kids up to age 16.
Now it will stop when your kids turn six. It’s a punishment for single parent families, who appear to be the losers from this arrangement.

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