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Pell suggests paid maternity leave should include stay-at-home parents

Sydney's Archbishop George Pell added his voice on Friday to the maternity leave debate, supporting a government-funded paid maternity leave scheme.

But he urged that any payments be extended to stay-at-home parents. Dr Pell said the job of parenting was grossly undervalued, and the preference of some parents to give up work while their children were young should be supported, not derided.

He cited studies showing that 70% of mothers preferred to provide full-time care to their children at home until they went to school.

"It's a great shame that many mothers find themselves forced back to work," Dr Pell told a University of Sydney conference on balancing work and family.

Paid maternity leave should not be a discriminatory process, but should provide equitable access to all families, regardless of whether the woman was in paid employment, of the type of paid employment she was in, or whether she was home-centred.

Dr Pell said the duty to provide financial support was not one for employers alone, and urged the Federal Government to consider expanding its baby bonus scheme to give families more choice about balancing work and parenting.

"I think at the very least they should consider expanding it, and my preference would be for it to be expanded," he said.

"It's based on the first premise that the family of man, woman and children is the best social provider for the future."

The Federal Government is considering whether to introduce a paid maternity leave scheme as part of wider changes to family support, after the debate was fuelled by a paper released by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward in April.

The report showed that Australia and the United States were the only two Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries that did not have a paid maternity leave scheme.

The Age

19 Aug 2002