Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra


Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Traditional gender roles plague PPL

Feb 13, 2020 | News

Written by Pia Rowe

This is not 1950s Australia. But looking at the design of our government-funded paid parental leave (PPL) scheme, there are strong undercurrents that suggest your may be forgiven for thinking it is. PPL is an important policy for supporting women’s workforce participation and father’s equal access to it has been found to support more equal sharing of unpaid caring duties. The Australian policy falls far short of this promise as it assumes a gendered division of labour, whereby men remain the primary breadwinner and women the primary caregiver.

Despite the superannuated notions inherent in the current scheme, we have still come a long way since 2010 when Australia became the second-last OECD nation to introduce a PPL scheme. Despite attempts by advocates to shape the PPL narrative around supporting parents’ workforce participation and contribution to the economy, what lingers is the idea that the primary role of women is to care, and the primary role of men is to work.

The key aim of Australia’s PPL policy is to support women in their roles as mothers, rather than their labour market participation. The primary and secondary caregiver distinction embedded in the policy makes the equal sharing of leave and care responsibilities so difficult that women take 99.4% of primary carer leave. This reflects the legacy of policy making in Australia whereby the ideal worker has no visible care responsibilities inhibiting the equal sharing of care work and women’s full participation in the labour market.

These gendered roles were embedded in the policies of the Howard Government and still impact policy making today. The Howard Government claimed that PPL represented “discrimination” against non-working women, and that it would be introduced “over this government’s dead body”. ($-site) Under the Howard Government, the families that benefited the most from government support were those where one partner contributed 80% of the family income and the secondary earner contributed 20% of the household income. Primary and secondary earners create primary carers and secondary carers.

The Howard Government’s policy platform and supporting narrative set the scene for the Rudd Government’s attempts to fulfill its 2007 election promise of introducing PPL. Wary of the thorniness of the issue and that the policy was likely to be perceived as an attack on traditional families, the Rudd Government referred the issue to the Productivity Commission for a rational, economic assessment. While the Productivity Commission recommended the introduction of the scheme, it did so on the basis of supporting women in their role as mothers, rather than their role as workers. PPL was targeted at mothers and designed around giving women the financial breathing room to stay at home longer with their newborns, which would have child and maternal health benefits. Any benefit to preserving mother’s connection with the labour market was secondary.

Since the introduction of the 2010 scheme, ($-site) PPL remains contested. In 2015 the Turnbull[J7] [LN8]  Abbott Government followed by the Turnbull Government attempted to dismantle a core component of the PPL scheme, that it built on existing privately negotiated entitlements and that workers were able to access both government funded and employer funded leave. This was labelled “double dipping” and presented as an oversight of the design of the policy. Treasurer Joe Hockey said accessing both schemes constituted “fraud”, as Minister for Social Services, Scott[J9] [LN10]  Morrison said it was a “rort” and unfair. Despite being eventually abandoned, the Fairer Paid Parental[J11] [LN12]  Leave Bill reflects the ongoing narrative that working parents’ claims are illegitimate[J13] [LN14]  and vulnerable in times of budget cuts.

Economically, PPL is a crucial policy for increasing women’s workforce participation[J15] [LN16]  and ensuring our future stability as the population ages and the tax base shrinks. A more robust, generous and restrictive design will be important to move towards the dual care-giver, dual earner model that other advanced nations aspire to. At a household and societal level a movement away from the male breadwinner is fundamental for a more equal society.


 [J1]Evidence? At least a link…

 [LN2]Added a link

 [J3]This is a good sentence.

 [J4]Need a sentence explaining on why it is so backward looking.

 [LN5]Have added a sentence

 [J6]Once again, need an example or two

 [J7]Was it the Turnbull or Abbott government? Hockey made his comments when he was Treasurer (under Abbott)

 [LN8]Quite right, good pick up – this started with the Abbott Government and then continued under the Turnbull Government

 [J9]What position did Morrions have then?

 [LN10]Have added position

 [J11]Was this an attempt to stop double dipping? Were there other components of it?

 [LN12]That was the core part of the bill  – this is the description at the beginning of the Bill – let me know if you would like me to make any adjustments

Amends the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 to: provide that parental leave pay under the Paid Parental Leave scheme will only be provided to parents who have no employer-provided paid primary carer leave, or whose employer-provided paid primary carer leave is for a period less than 18 weeks or is paid at a rate below the full-time national minimum wage; remove the requirement for employers to provide paid parental leave to eligible employees, unless an employer chooses to manage the payment to employees and the employees agree for the employer to pay them; extend the application of the four-week backdating rule; modify the paid parental leave work test to take into account the circumstances of pregnant women in hazardous occupations and to extend the permissible break from eight to 12 weeks; and make amendments contingent on the commencement of the proposed Regulatory Powers (Standardisation Reform) Act 2016.


 [J13]Illegitimate? Seems a trifle strong …

 [LN14]Delete illegitimate

 [J15]Can you provide evidence of this please

 [LN16]Have added link

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