Peter Costello, Australia’s Treasurer, is on a bit of a crusade to encourage Australian women to have babies . . lots of them, or at least 3 anyway. “One for the father, one for the mother, and one for the country”, he’s quoted as once saying. Well, the women of my acquaintance are certainly being very patriotic as I’ve never had so many pregnant friends at one time. I also don’t know of any other country in the 21st century castigating its families for not being large enough. France used to do it, and give huge financial benefits to big families, and I believe the Catholic Church still gives out medals to those who swell its ranks. But at a time when Australia was placing large numbers of babies and small children into detention centres, it does seem slightly obscene.
And what does this country do to encourage its future mothers? Very little (except shout at them). In fact, until 2 years ago, nothing at all really. They now give a one-off bonus payment of $4000 to each new mother. I haven’t had a child but I wouldn’t think $4000 goes very far to compensate for the cost of kitting out a baby and for the loss of earnings.
The lump sum payment was introduced to try to satisfy those demanding paid maternity leave, which is seen here as the slippery slope to a socialist state. But did you know that only FIVE countries in the world don’t give paid maternity leave? Australia is proud to share its beliefs with Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea and the USA. The answer here seems to be to try to create more and more places in childcare centres, which are more difficult to get into than Eton school (no joke – mothers are putting their names down before the child is born). This then encourages fairly disreputable companies from setting up such places, and I know I’d be more than a little worried about placing my very precious baby into the hands of some of these organisations.
In countries where proper maternity payments are made, childcare just doesn’t present the same problem. In the UK apparently 25% of the places are vacant and in Sweden, fewer than 500 children are in full-time day-care.
Anyway, I don’t have these sorts of problems to contend with. I just think “new baby, new knitting” and get the needles out.