Parents naturally want to provide the best possible environment for their kids to grow up in. The Australian Greens believe that governments have a responsibility to develop and implement policies that assist parents to provide a safe and supporting environment for their children.
Investing in the care and education of our children is a smart way of investing in the future prosperity of our nation. Cutting corners on the health and well-being of today's generation of children is a false economy, as the consequence costs to society of poorer lifetime health and lower educational achievements and social engagement are massive.
Unfortunately many recent policy changes are pulling us in the wrong direction. In particular, we have seen changes to workplace relations (‘Work Choices') that make it harder for working parents to balance their working commitments with their family life; we have seen changes to our welfare system (‘Welfare to Work') that takes money and entitlements away from parents on income support and introduces harsh compliance conditions; and we have seem changes to the funding of our schools which creates a two-tiered system that takes money away from public education.
The Australian Greens have a vision of a smart and caring society which is committed to the long-term well-being of all its citizens and works to build a brighter future. We see nurturing and educating our children as a critical means of ensuring the future well-being of our society and our environment.
Greens policies focus on areas such as paid parental leave, childcare and early childhood education, and work/life balance provisions within our workplace relations system as ways in which these outcomes can be achieved. There are a number of key areas where governments have an important role to play in supporting parents in caring for their kids.
Australia, and the United States, are the only two OECD countries without a paid maternity leave scheme. The overwhelming majority of Australians support such a scheme, with a Newspoll survey in July 2007 finding 76% of us support paid maternity leave for working women. There is no longer any valid reason why a country like Australia cannot support parents in caring for their new-born children in the first few vital weeks of life.
A paid parental leave scheme makes good economic sense, as well as being good social policy. International comparisons show better health outcomes for children where parents have access to a paid parental leave. Furthermore, a paid parental leave scheme encourages women to maintain attachment to the workforce - which is better for individual employers and the economy as a whole.
The Australian Greens are committed to a government-funded parental leave scheme for 18 weeks paid leave, a further 34 weeks unpaid leave (covering the current right of 12 months unpaid leave) and the right to request a further 12 months unpaid leave. The Greens support a paid parental leave scheme, which includes giving fathers the right to access paid leave to be the primary carer of
More than 20% of Australian employees work more than 50 hours a week, with increasing numbers of people working overtime, much of it unpaid.
More than 60% of Australian workers regularly work weekends or work between 7am and 7pm. Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that fathers in full-time jobs with children under 15 are working an average of 42 to 43 hours a week, with one-third working more than 50 hours a week and 16 per cent put in 60 hours or more.
When parents are working unreasonable hours (that is, either long or unpredictable hours) it means less time for their children. A report produced by the Relationships Forum entitled "An Unexpected Tragedy" highlighted the link between long and unpredictable working hours, the breakdown of family life and the consequential effects on children. The Report notes that the long and unpredictable hours worked by many are making employees unhealthy, putting relationships under extreme stress, creating angry, inconsistent parents, and reducing the well-being of children. The Report concludes by saying that "...the cold statistics hide immense human tragedy."
The Australian Greens believe that we should place the wellbeing of our community and all of its members ahead of short-term economic considerations.
In recent years we have seen increasing public concern with the impacts of working longer hours on the well-being of Australian families. We believe this represents emerging community values, with more Australian now placing family and community life ahead of merely increasing personal prosperity.
The Australian Greens are calling for the implementation of some specific measures to enable employees to achieve a sensible work/life balance.
These measures are:
- A right to flexible working hours for employees, including the right to return to work part time after parental leave. Genuine flexible working hours are important for balance caring responsibilities and work. The Greens want employees to have the right to genuine flexible working hours, including the right to move to part time work and the right to return to full-time work.
- Regulation of unsocial working hours, including genuine limits on working hours and financial disincentive through decent penalty rates for working long or unsocial hours. The specific regulation would occur through a mix of legislation and award provisions on an industry basis.
Childcare and Early Childhood Education
The key objective of a quality childcare and early childhood education system is the well-being of children and their future development. A further objective is enabling parents to balance their working lives with their family responsibilities so that they can fully participate in the social and economic life of their community. Access to affordable childcare is a crucial issue facing families around Australia.
There is a lack of appropriate childcare places, quality assurance issues remain and there is a danger of a two-tiered childcare system emerging, with the most disadvantaged children receiving poorer quality care.
The Australian Greens believe community-based non-for-profit childcare centres provide the best option for affordable, accessible, quality childcare and should supported through increased funding. We support providing incentives for community-based on-site childcare facilities in workplaces.
Quality early childhood education improves the social and educational outcomes of children, particularly for disadvantaged children. An OECD study last year found that Australia spends the least on preschool funding of any OECD country. With the lack of affordable quality childcare and no comprehensive system of early childhood education, many working parents find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place - having to choose between expensive childcare options or leaving the workforce.
The Australian Greens believe there should a coordinated approach to the increased provision of publicly-funded early childhood education, with particular attention to meeting the demand for early
childhood education services for the most disadvantaged children. The Greens support the establishment preprimary centres in primary schools as one means of addressing these issues.