The federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese has attempted to seize the initiative with his response to the Morrison government’s 2020 October budget by focusing on the issue of subsidizing child-care and advocating that this service should become near universal. The reason for this emphasis on childcare is to increase the female participation rate in the workforce. This policy paradigm is reflective of the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) five-point National Economic Reconstruction Plan, the first pillar of which is an Early Childhood Education and Care Strategy.

However, this emphasis on increased female participation in the workforce does not consider the issue of ‘choice’ regarding those parents who wish to stay at home to raise their children. Unfortunately, there seems to have been a paradigm shift in public policy regarding family assistance in which there is now an orthodoxy that both parents wish to be in the workforce. If both parents want to enter the workforce then the subsidization of child-care is a legitimate policy option.

But there are instances where one of the two parents wish to stay at home to look after their children. This choice should be respected by the federal government providing much greater financial support to stay at home parents. Such a policy paradigm can be facilitated by providing tax rebates to high income families based on the number of children that they have so that it becomes financially feasible for one of the parents to stay at home. For families who are less well off the rate of payment under the Family Tax Benefit A should be substantially increased to a level commensurate with the Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) proposed child care subsidy level so that one of the parents will have the option of staying at home if they so choose.

Why the Liberal Party Needs to Go Back to the Future

Alas, there is probably little chance that the current federal coalition will return to the Liberal Party’s past tradition of supporting the family unit by providing financial relief to those parents who wish to stay at home to raise their children. This is because since the 1980s there has been an ideological shift within the Liberal Party which seeks to drive down wages on a collective basis which constitutes a repudiation of the Deakin/Menzies tradition. By increasing the participation rate in the workforce an oversupply of labour is facilitated so that wages can be driven down by creating an employers’ labour market.

The main victims of this labour oversupply are employees who do not have specialized skills.  For example, cleaners, no matter how dedicated and effective that they are in doing their job will lack the leverage to be adequately paid or to obtain the requisite number of hours to be fairly remunerated when there is an over-supply of labour.

In the grave contemporary environment in which Australia finds itself in due to the covid 19 pandemic there is a need for the federal government to shrewdly apply public policy regarding welfare payments to assist in facilitating the availability of employment. So far, the Morrison government is to be commended for its initiatives of ‘Job Keeper’ and ‘Job Seeker,’ which to date have staved off a socio-economic collapse.

Further 2020 budget initiatives such as wage subsidies and tax cuts indicate that the Morrison government is innovatively responding to the covid 19 pandemic. Nevertheless, there still needs to be a radical return to past Liberal Party traditions such as greater financial support for stay at home parents. It should not be forgotten that one of the eminent founders of the Liberal Party in 1944 was Dame Elizabeth Couchman.  She took the Australian Women’s National League (the AWNL, which was founded in 1904) into the Liberal Party to become that organisation’s women’s division.

An argument could be made that without the AWNL’s entry into the Liberal Party that this new party could not have won the December 1949 federal election let alone have been a viable political party.  The impact of the AWNL’s tradition of emancipatory feminism was that policies such as child endowment were adopted, meaning that families received financial support so that both parents did not have to go out into the workforce.

Give One of the Parents the Right to Stay at Home

It is true that due to social change that the role of women in society has radically changed for the better so that there has been a transition toward equality of the sexes. Consequently, the previous expectation that women should be the primary care givers in a family context is now no longer universally accepted.  This should not mean that if a spouse/partner wants to stay at home to be the primary care giver for her / his children that he /she should not have the of choice of doing so.

For this choice to be exercised by either the woman or the husband/male partner, there needs to be much greater level of government financial assistance for families. In the current challenging covid 19 socio-economic environment it is imperative that financial support be provided to families so that one of the parents will have the option of staying at home if they so choose. The positive dividends of substantially increased financial support for families will be profound. By ensuring that there are less people competing for jobs, younger people will have a greater chance of gaining employment, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors which are key components of the overall service sector.

Due to the impact of the post-1983 economic rationalist reforms Australia has transitioned to a context where the service sector is (or was) the main generator of employment. Therefore, Australia is particularly vulnerable to the economic shocks which have been induced by the covid 19 pandemic. The federal government’s unveiling of a manufacturing policy reflects this massive vulnerability regarding the services sector.

The services sector cannot be pump-primed to generate employment levels which existed prior to the pre-covid 19 pandemic levels. However, younger people will still have a greater chance of gaining job entry into the service sector if a substantial component of the potential workforce is provided with financial support to stay at home. The provision of family tax rebates for high income earners and much increased family tax benefits for those who are on a lower income will not only help open up employment to younger job seekers but will also provide the economic confidence which will be needed if the federal government’s various stimulus measures are ultimately to be successful.

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The current uncertainty concerning the continuity of Tony Abbott’s prime ministership has raised the distinct and welcome possibility of Malcolm Turnbull succeeding him to that high office. Should there be a Turnbull prime ministerial succession then hopefully the leadership uncertainty which has bedevilled Australia since the Howard government’s demise in 2007 will end.

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The question arises: Is this FTA a good thing for Australia?

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The Australian newspaper’ editor-at-large, Paul Kelly has a deserved reputation as one of the nation’s pre-eminent journalists and authors. This has been confirmed by his latest work, Triumph and Demise The Broken Promise Of A Labor Generation (Melbourne University Press, 2014). This book carries on from other Australian political masterpieces of Kelly’s such as The Dismissal: Australia’s Most Sensational Power Struggle (1976), The End of Certainty, The Story of the 1980s (1992) and The March of Patriots, The Struggle for Modern Australia (2009).

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