Australia: the difficult birth of paid maternity leave

Deborah Brennan

in The politics of parental leave policies

Published by Policy Press

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9781847420671
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447303961 | DOI:
Australia: the difficult birth of paid maternity leave

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The absence of a national system of paid maternity or parental leave in Australia caused puzzlement, particularly because this country, regarded as a ‘social laboratory’ and known for its progressive social and industrial legislation, does not provide entitlement to working parents. Even if a minimalist scheme of paid leave is introduced in the next year or two, the lack of such leave to date requires elucidation, specifically because ‘work-life balance’ and ‘family policy’ have been prominent political issues in the past two decades. This chapter begins by providing an outline of the distinctive features of the Australian approach to social protection and industrial relations. The second section discusses the country's support for families with children and specifies some of the mechanisms the country has adopted to meet its international obligations under the United Nations Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the ILO Convention on Workers with Family Responsibilities. The section also illustrates the current patterns of access to parental and maternity leave and other forms of family income support. The chapter also considers the politics of paid maternity leave by examining the ways in which political parties, trade unions, women's groups, and employer groups have framed and formed the issue of financial support for new mothers. The chapter ends by assessing the prospects for paid parental leave in Australia.

Keywords: maternity leave; parental leave; Australia; paid leave; work-life balance; family policy

Chapter.  8023 words. 

Subjects: Marriage and the Family

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