By Hiba Hammoud
Students from Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School passed the bill Subsidies for Parents Returning to the Workforce from Parental Leave in the Legislative Assembly at the YMCA’s 2017 Youth Parliament.
The current legislation, as outlined by Fair Work Australia, states that employees can get parental leave when a child is born or adopted.
They are able to take up to 12 months’ parental leave with a guarantee that their position will still be held open when their leave is over.
However, the Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar team believed this legislation should be widened to allow all eligible parents to receive $33,000 of subsidies to undertake undergraduate courses in order to have their qualifications and skills up to date before they return to the workforce.
Team member Angelica Mantikas argued “this bill is the key to unlocking a section of society with so much potential”.
Government member Niamh Healy said: “Stereotypes and stigmas of females remaining at home to cook and clean still remain in the workforce.”
Johanna Lambert raised a valid question in support of the bill to the chamber regarding the growing nature of the technology industry.
“How do we expect someone to go back to the technology industry after being out of it between six months to seven years?” she said.
Krystelle Rush from the refuting team, Hoppers Crossing Secondary School, suggested that “those parents… who are financially able to afford their own training will take advantage of government subsidies, which will just waste government money that can go to someone more in need, such as students”.
Elise De Lany, a working mother with two children under the age of five, was keen to share her personal experiences as a parent taking parental leave from her work.
She does not believe further training or education was the issue.
Ms De Lany has volunteered with the CFA since she was 19, fighting off some of the biggest fires Victoria has faced.
At 24 she took up teaching and kept her volunteer role part-time.
Not long after, Ms De Lany became a parent and when her newborn turned 18 weeks she was back at work.
However, a pregnancy with her second child meant her contract had ended by the time she was eight months pregnant, forcing her to leave her job and find another.
She was retrained, this time as an emergency call taker, before becoming officially employed.
She currently juggles two toddlers and 48 hours of work a week.
When asked about the parental leave reforms, Ms De Lany’s said: “It’s a good idea for young mums who don’t get to finish high school, however, for those already with tertiary qualifications, we run the risk of swamping the market with qualified people with no experience.”
She left her job as a teacher because there were no flexible time arrangements and it involved too much work from home.
This meant she did not get the chance to spend time with her kids.
As the government argued, subsidising extra education as part of parental leave might not be the best solution and a better solution would be to subsidise childcare instead.
“Mums would go back to the workforce earlier if they could do the hours they are comfortable with and didn’t feel like childcare payments destroyed the purpose of returning,” Ms De Lany said.
She said that education subsidies for parents under 25 are helpful because she knows many who did not finish studying.
“At the end of the day, at least initially, it’s near impossible to have a career progression focus (and remain competitive) as well as raise a young family as a hands-on mum,” she said.
Member of the refuting team Suleiman Munisha gave his final thoughts to the Youth Press Gallery.
“There are many flaws in the bill and many clauses left ambiguous, such as classifications of who is eligible and whether the bill covers only gendered parents and not caretakers, or non-binary individuals,” he said.
“I am happy this bill has passed but there needs to be a better foundation for this to successfully be implemented in the future.”
– Hiba lives in Dandenong, graduated from Springvale’s Minaret College in 2014, is studying journalism at Deakin University and is part of the YMCA Youth Press Gallery covering the Youth Parliament.