Alison McCulloch: Try telling the meanies about babies


It's not often you see the Christian lobby group Family First on the same side of an issue as feminists, but on the question of extending paid leave for new parents, there's harmony in the air.

And it's a good thing too, because mums and dads and babies are going to need all the allies they can get on this one.

Lined up against them is the entire National Party caucus (plus John Banks), a cluster of business and employer groups, and members of what I'll call the mean community.

The meanies are the ones who really don't want their tax dollars spent on anyone else _ and especially not babies.

They pop up in the mainstream media occasionally, but their favourite hunting grounds are blogs and online comment threads, where the argument (made from the safe confines of anonymity) goes something like: if you can't afford to stay home from work with your new-born, don't have one, because I'm sure not going to chip in.

A lot of the time, the meanies don't have the facts straight on what's in Sue Moroney's parental leave bill, so their indignant attacks on all those greedy, entitled parents tend to fall well clear of the target.

For the record, the bill would extend paid parental leave from the current 14 weeks to 26 weeks, with the Government paying (as it does now) a maximum of $475 a week, and employers obliged (as they are now) to hold the parent's job open for up to 12 months.

Setting aside the meanies for a moment, the other case made against the bill is its affordability: the Government can't afford it, and neither can employers, who will simply stop hiring fertile women.

This is an easy one because it's not actually about affordability, it's about priorities.

If we would rather spend our money subsidising Hollywood producers or agricultural polluters than supporting mothers and babies, then we should say so.

But we shouldn't say it's unaffordable. (There's still some back-and-forth about the actual price tag, with the best projections ranging from $166 million over three years to around $285 million.)

As for the business groups, are they really claiming they can't survive if they have to hold a job open in order to give a mother more time with her baby?

To put the meanies' argument to some good use, if you can't afford to do the decent thing by your staff, you shouldn't be in the business of employing people.

Aren't jobs supposed to be a means to a decent life and a good society, or is it now a case of jobs _ any jobs _ and society be damned?

Surely the Pike River disaster has shown us where a jobs-at-any-cost mentality ultimately leads.

As for employers not wanting to hire young women because they might get pregnant _ which was rather controversially suggested by the Tauranga branch president of the National Council of Women _ that's not an argument, that's a threat: Change the law to do the right thing, and we promise to do the wrong thing.

(For the record, again, NCW at the national level fully supports the bill.)

Of course, all bosses shouldn't be tarred with the brush of some of their mean boosters.

At least one submission on Moroney's bill contained heart-warming stories of employers who went the extra mile for new parents.

As a community, we're often the first to blame parents when kids go bad, and we love pulling our hair out about child abuse.

Surely, as a community, we can take what is actually a pretty small step toward supporting parents and children, and giving the next generation a good start. It should be as controversial as, oh, I dunno, doing all we can to make sure workers aren't injured or killed on the job.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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