By Ella McEwan
Australians have a double standard about paid parental leave, political commentator Annabel Crabb argues in her Quarterly Essay: Men at Work: Australia’s Parenthood Trap.
Speaking with author, broadcaster and columnist Jamila Rizvi, Crabb told a Melbourne Press Club audience in early September how men are excluded from the scheme and that policy change could create a cultural change for parents.
The Australian Parental Leave Pay scheme is “pretty minimalist,” Crabb said, as it is only applied to the primary carer, typically the birthmother, unless it is proven they’re unable to take on the role.
“The underlying message is that this is for women,” she said, noting how the present policy could permanently impact parents’ roles within the household. Most notably, Crabb said women are less likely to return to work when they are seen as the primary caregiver.
Data in Crabb’s essay demonstrates that as a mother’s paid work decreases, domestic work increases, which is not the case for a working father’s domestic contribution.
“You’d think with women moving out of the home and into work there’d be a rearrangement, but men haven’t changed their work patterns very much,” she said.
In 1991, the number of stay at home fathers was at four per cent. That number currently sits at five per cent, which Crabb said is a reflection of the ways Australian culture hasn’t escaped the expectation of men to be primary breadwinners.
In stark contrast to the Australian system, Crabb mentioned Scandinavian countries like Norway intentionally embed incentives for fathers to be primary caregivers into their parental leave schemes. “They said, what about if we made one chunk of the parental leave available to each family only claimable if the dad claims it,” Crabb said.
The resulting change in behaviour was dramatic, Crabb said, with the number of men taking parental leave increasing to 40 per cent, which she noted could be due to the appeal of men still being able to maintain their provider status.
Looking back home, Crabb emphasised the work of private companies like Medibank, who “revolutionised their paid parental leave policy” 18 months ago.
Medibank’s decision to remove the designation of a primary caregiver from their scheme led to a 25 per cent rise in men taking parental leave.
Crabb stated that given changes in company policy can affect long held ideas about parenting, permanent legislative changes would be an “explicit invitation to men to get involved with the conversation.”