Paid parental leave needs an overhaul if governments want us to have ‘one for the country’

It’s time for Australia and New Zealand to assess whether their governments are doing enough. It’s important to ask if their governments are doing enough to encourage more people to have babies.

New Zealand’s fertility rates have reached an all-time low at 1.71 children for every woman. The National Party is calling for a NZ$3,000 baby bonus to be used to fund family services.

Australia’s population growth rate is predicted to reach 0.6% by 2021. This will be the lowest level since 1916.

The Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg encouraged Australians to have additional children, reminding them of the encouragement given by then treasurer Peter Costello to those who could have “one each for mom, dad, and for country.”

If governments want to encourage people to have children for the benefit of their country, they need to be willing to assist them. This includes increasing paid parental leave.

The current system

New Zealand implemented paid leave as a cash payment in 1999. It was first introduced as a tax refund and then as an actual payment. The length of the rest was gradually increased from 12 weeks to 26. It is currently paid at a maximum amount of NZ$606,46 per week.

Dads and partners are not entitled to paid parental leave (although they have a legal right to two weeks of unpaid leave). Mums can transfer some of their 26 weeks to dads or partners.


Ten years ago, Australia was one of the last countries in the developed world to adopt government-funded maternity leave.

The primary caregiver ( 99.5% of the mother ) is entitled to 18 weeks of paid leave at minimum wage. The secondary caregiver is only allowed two weeks of minimum wage.

If you compare parental leave payment rates to the average annual salary in each country, Australia’s 18-week period drops to 7.9 weeks and New Zealand’s 26-week period to 15.5 weeks.

The low payments are even more regressive when compared with the average of the OECD of 54.1 paid weeks for mothers and eight weeks with respect to fathers or partners.

It is not always true that employers will pay for parental leave in addition to the state. Workplace Gender Equality Agency in Australia found that more than 70% of financial services firms offered paid parental leave, but over 80% of retail businesses didn’t.

Earning or caring

It’s not surprising that dads and partners on both sides choose to continue working in order to provide for their families.

In a 2014 Australian Human Rights Commission survey, we learned that 85% of dads and partners took up to 4 weeks of leave. More than half would have preferred to take longer to spend more time with their newborn and mum. There are significant benefits, including an improvement in the mental well-being and health of fathers as well as their children and greater harmony between the couple.

Motherhood penalizes women and contributes to significantly lower earnings over their lifetime. They also have to do the “second-shift” of household duties if they want to balance work and family.

It is more likely that chores will be evenly distributed if dads and partners are more involved in the lives of their children.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected women’s employment more. This includes receiving a smaller amount of government assistance.

Mehreen Faruqi, a Greens senator and spokesman for the Australian Greens, called the move to reduce free child care in Australia a “betrayal” of Australian families and an “anti-women” move.

Women also have to deal with a third shift, which is known as a mental load. Women are mainly responsible for the emotional and undervalued labor of running a family.

The lockdown has changed household chores and caring duties for many dual-income households. The gap between men and women has shrunk, according to research.

Women in the workplace

It will be fascinating to see the differences in the way the parties approach the issues of supporting families, gender pay gaps, and female workforce participation.

Clarke Gayford is a stay-at-home dad who supports Jacinda Ardern as New Zealand’s Prime Minister.

In our previous study, we found that government policies alone do not encourage dads and partners to take parental leave. To increase parental leave, it is important to change workplace norms in a way that supports them.

Working from home has made fatherhood more visible and increased the time some Australian dads spend caring for their children.

In the post-pandemic era, caring responsibilities cannot be considered a private issue. New Zealand and Australia have policies on parental leave that don’t give families a choice about how to care for their children.

The workplace needs to accept that dads and partners have caring responsibilities. These changes will reduce the burden on women and even increase fertility rates.