Senator Jenny McAllister
Growing up, I was lucky to have two active and affectionate parents. Dad took the lead on sport, mathematics, sourcing books for us as teens, and (critically) first aid. Mum built a love of reading and writing from our earliest years, taught us to swim, managed all the relationships from our teachers to our sporting clubs, and maintained a clean and comfortable home for us full of healthy food.
It’s a beautiful thing to be looked after so selflessly and sincerely, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I realised that all this wonderful caring work is still work.
And while both Mum and Dad cared for us , it was Mum’s career that took the hit.
She was required by policy to resign from the Queensland Department of Education when she fell pregnant. She loved her subsequent career in teaching and early childhood education in NSW, but almost every role was casual and part time so she could accommodate her vast caring responsibilities.
Young women commencing motherhood now are entitled to ask whether very much has changed.
Even before COVID-19 upended our lives, Australian mothers faced significant challenges. Australia’s unpaid caregivers are overwhelmingly female: we make up 70% of primary carers for children and 58% of carers for the elderly and people with disabilities or a long-term health condition. Outside the public sector, 95% of primary parental leave is taken by women. Women spend almost three times as much time as men taking care of children each day – a pattern has been stubbornly persistent for decades now.
At work, women still suffer wage penalties and career setbacks as a consequence of caring, combined with some old-fashioned discrimination. Even when they work outside the home, women in Australia spend almost twice as many hours each day performing unpaid care work compared to men - the long-lamented ‘double burden’ of labour.
Lately we’ve all been at home. All the time. But it hasn’t just been looking after children or working at home; for many people it’s been both and usually all in the same space. Suddenly the housework, the childcare, and the mental load that these produce have become visible.
I hear from friends that these strange times have promoted more honest conversations within their households, and a realisation of exactly what it means day-to-day to support homework, remember birthdays and get dinner on the table.
I worry that the same insight is not replicated within the Morrison government. Their response to COVID19 has continued seven years in which women’s economic interests have been overlooked by successive Liberal Prime Ministers. Many women in casual roles have been excluded from JobKeeper, the superannuation early access scheme asks women to consume scarce resources set aside for retirement, and parents and educators report that the arrangements to support childcare centres are a mess.
Honouring women with actions as well as words should not be beyond us.
This Mother’s Day, my wish for all women in Australia - mothers or not - is for the Government to ensure that women’s needs, and interests are front and centre on our long way back from COVID-19.
Senator Jenny McAllister is an ALP Senator for the state of New South Wales and Labor's Shadow Cabinet Secretary and Shadow Assistant Minister to the Labor Leader in the Senate.