"...the first of the three big lies is that inequality in Australia, gender inequality in Australia, in some way reflects some form of choice. That women are making the wrong choices, and because they’re making the wrong choices they get bad outcomes. If only women would make better choices, some of their inequality might go away."
~ Richard Denniss, "Money. Power. Freedom." (Keynote Address), Breakthrough, Victorian Women's Trust, 2016, [https://www.vwt.org.au/richard-denniss-money-power-freedom/]
Two months into mothering my daughter, I knew something was very wrong with our societal priorities around raising children. Having been out with family for Mothers' Day lunch, I changed my daughter's nappy on the floor of a restaurant that had no nappy-changing facilities, then drove home listening to the then Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, call parents (mostly mothers) 'double dippers,' for accessing government and employer parental leave payments.
Quite aside from the fact that the government paid parental leave scheme was designed to be supplemented by employer payments, there was a deeper discordant bass note that rang through me as I headed north on the Calder, singing 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow.' The tone of the whole political conversation from all sides seemed very....hostile. Underneath the ostensible policy detail, seemed to be this simmering resentment and unanswered question: why *should* the government pay for people to care for their own children? In the thick of breastfeeding through the night and walking kilometres with the pram each day, I knew in my bones, what science confirms: tending to a newborn and consistently responding to their needs, profoundly shapes their bodies, brains and future capabilities. Mothering, may be at times joyful, but it is not a soft headed, sentimental or solely self-indulgent activity. It is an act of national service.
To say it plainly, it's much better for everyone, to live in a society made up of humans who were nurtured, loved and supported as infants and children. It's the same reason we make public investments in education. It's an inherent, long-run, public good; the very kind of thing that governments should be supporting and investing in. So, do we collectively respect and support the investment of care, time and attention required to tend to babies, so they can become the kind of humans who will help our country thrive?
Well, no. While you're probably familiar with the debates around the big ticket items like paid parental leave and childcare costs, the devaluing of caring for young children shows up all over the tax system. If you have an investment property, you can claim a deduction for having it cleaned. Not so if you're parenting young kids and want to have the house you actually live in professionally cleaned. If you do paid work outdoors, you can claim a tax deduction for your sunglasses and hat. Yet we don't give tax deductions to parents for prams or car seats. Governments love to bang on about increasing women's workforce participation; yet you can't claim a tax deduction for the expense of buying a breast pump in Australia. We have tax deductions for self-education expenses but not early childhood education expenses.
If Australia respected raising children as the valuable and divine investment that it is, our systems and structures would look very different.