A report emerged over the weekend that Tony Abbott’s singularly unloved paid parental leave policy has been “shelved”, perhaps indefinitely or perhaps until the more pressing budget bills have been shepherded through the Parliament.

Senior Liberals have since denied that their PPL policy has been delayed. Should the postponement eventuate as seems likely, this would be a belated recognition that the PPL battle is not one the Government needs at a time when it is exposed on numerous other fronts.A report emerged over the weekend that Tony Abbott’s singularly unloved paid parental leave policy has been “shelved”, perhaps indefinitely or perhaps until the more pressing budget bills have been shepherded through the Parliament.

Senior Liberals have since denied that their PPL policy has been delayed. Should the postponement eventuate as seems likely, this would be a belated recognition that the PPL battle is not one the Government needs at a time when it is exposed on numerous other fronts.

By the time Parliament resumes later this month, the Government will need to have found ways to bring either Labor, the Greens or the Senate crossbench around on key budget measures – such as changes to welfare arrangements for unemployed people under 30 and the introduction of a $7 GP co-payment – or these too will have to be placed on the backburner.

In some ways, the PPL represents everything the Government has done wrong in formulating and selling the budget. It’s a poorly conceived policy that was peremptorily delivered with no attempt made to explain or build support for it.

The PPL was doomed from the start by being seen as a ploy by the new Opposition Leader at the time to counter what was emerging as Tony Abbott’s “women problem”.

Abbott does appear genuinely supportive of paid parental leave, having flagged support for the idea in his book Battlelines in 2009. But in an early game of one-upmanship with then PM Kevin Rudd, Abbott unilaterally announced his version of the PPL in 2010 in response to Rudd’s commitment to the minimum wage PPL that we have today.

Despite the merits of Abbott’s pet policy, particularly the benefits it would bring to women working in small and medium businesses as well as the self-employed, its genesis has ensured the PPL quickly became a stand-in for Abbott whenever his opponents needed an effigy to burn.

And Abbott’s inability to explain the PPL has ensured any rational discussion of how the policy helps low- and middle-income single mothers and women who are sole family income earners is thrown aside for cheap attacks on the scheme due to it also being open to high-income earners.

Perhaps most troubling for Abbott’s supporters is that the Prime Minister has shown little willingness or capacity to negotiate or give ground on the PPL.

Other than dropping the upper limit for the payments to a total of $50,000 over six months to match that being proposed in a similar policy by the Greens, he’s shown no facility for finding creative solutions to criticisms. An obvious one would be to introduce a means test that rules out payments for the most wealthy.

Until such solutions are found and changes are made, the PPL, like many other unpopular policies and budget measures the Government is grappling with at the moment, will continue to be seen by the public as failing the fairness test.

This is what the self-proclaimed father of payments for stay-at-home mothers, John Howard, made very clear to Abbott when Howard appeared with former PM Bob Hawke at the National Press Club earlier this year.

Howard was speaking about the need to bring the community along when governments want to make major changes, and was referring indirectly to the budget, but his words could just as easily apply to the PPL:

“They will respond to an argument for change and reform,” said Howard, but, “they want two requirements. They want to be satisfied it’s in the national interest … They also want to be satisfied it’s fundamentally fair.”

Howard is better-credentialed than most to offer this advice, having not only lost his seat but his government in 2007 due to a self-indulgent industrial relations policy that was widely perceived by voters as unfair.

By comparison, there is now a commonly accepted ‘truth’ within the community that the PPL is a boon for millionaire mummies. This is making it considerably difficult for Coalition MPs to justify the hard measures in the federal budget to their electorates on any measure of fairness.

On this basis, the reported shelving of the PPL is likely as much about soothing unrest within the Coalition’s ranks as it is about focusing the Government’s efforts on salvaging the budget bills.

That is, if one could describe the Treasurer’s recent efforts as “focused”. One moment Hockey’s talking tough by threatening to find “other ways” to raise revenue through funding cuts that don’t require legislation; the next he’s on a spread-the-love tour around the country, doing the walk of shame in front of the media after lavishing attention on individual crossbench senators.

That’s not to mention Hockey giving Clive Palmer a free kick by suggesting the asset recycling measure could be forced through Parliament as an appropriation bill, which Palmer promptly said he would block in order to bring on a constitutional crisis and a fresh election.

Clearly the future success of the PPL should be the very least of Abbott’s worries right now.

By his own doing, he’s saddled with a deeply unpopular budget, an intransigent Senate and a disgruntled party-room. Abbott’s number one budget salesman has lost his mojo and many of his other ministers are duds. And he’s either getting bad political advice or ignoring those strategists to which he should be listening.

In apparently setting aside the PPL, the Prime Minister has perhaps taken the first step in addressing this litany of mostly self-inflicted problems. Whether Abbott is able to retrieve his position or not, his early and continued mishandling of the PPL regrettably makes it unlikely that he’ll ever deliver working women with a paid parental leave scheme that can be supported by all Australians.

By the time Parliament resumes later this month, the Government will need to have found ways to bring either Labor, the Greens or the Senate crossbench around on key budget measures – such as changes to welfare arrangements for unemployed people under 30 and the introduction of a $7 GP co-payment – or these too will have to be placed on the backburner.

In some ways, the PPL represents everything the Government has done wrong in formulating and selling the budget. It’s a poorly conceived policy that was peremptorily delivered with no attempt made to explain or build support for it.

The PPL was doomed from the start by being seen as a ploy by the new Opposition Leader at the time to counter what was emerging as Tony Abbott’s “women problem”.

Abbott does appear genuinely supportive of paid parental leave, having flagged support for the idea in his book Battlelines in 2009. But in an early game of one-upmanship with then PM Kevin Rudd, Abbott unilaterally announced his version of the PPL in 2010 in response to Rudd’s commitment to the minimum wage PPL that we have today.

Despite the merits of Abbott’s pet policy, particularly the benefits it would bring to women working in small and medium businesses as well as the self-employed, its genesis has ensured the PPL quickly became a stand-in for Abbott whenever his opponents needed an effigy to burn.

And Abbott’s inability to explain the PPL has ensured any rational discussion of how the policy helps low- and middle-income single mothers and women who are sole family income earners is thrown aside for cheap attacks on the scheme due to it also being open to high-income earners.

Perhaps most troubling for Abbott’s supporters is that the Prime Minister has shown little willingness or capacity to negotiate or give ground on the PPL.

Other than dropping the upper limit for the payments to a total of $50,000 over six months to match that being proposed in a similar policy by the Greens, he’s shown no facility for finding creative solutions to criticisms. An obvious one would be to introduce a means test that rules out payments for the most wealthy.

Until such solutions are found and changes are made, the PPL, like many other unpopular policies and budget measures the Government is grappling with at the moment, will continue to be seen by the public as failing the fairness test.

This is what the self-proclaimed father of payments for stay-at-home mothers, John Howard, made very clear to Abbott when Howard appeared with former PM Bob Hawke at the National Press Club earlier this year.

Howard was speaking about the need to bring the community along when governments want to make major changes, and was referring indirectly to the budget, but his words could just as easily apply to the PPL:

“They will respond to an argument for change and reform,” said Howard, but, “they want two requirements. They want to be satisfied it’s in the national interest … They also want to be satisfied it’s fundamentally fair.”

Howard is better-credentialed than most to offer this advice, having not only lost his seat but his government in 2007 due to a self-indulgent industrial relations policy that was widely perceived by voters as unfair.

By comparison, there is now a commonly accepted ‘truth’ within the community that the PPL is a boon for millionaire mummies. This is making it considerably difficult for Coalition MPs to justify the hard measures in the federal budget to their electorates on any measure of fairness.

On this basis, the reported shelving of the PPL is likely as much about soothing unrest within the Coalition’s ranks as it is about focusing the Government’s efforts on salvaging the budget bills.

That is, if one could describe the Treasurer’s recent efforts as “focused”. One moment Hockey’s talking tough by threatening to find “other ways” to raise revenue through funding cuts that don’t require legislation; the next he’s on a spread-the-love tour around the country, doing the walk of shame in front of the media after lavishing attention on individual crossbench senators.

That’s not to mention Hockey giving Clive Palmer a free kick by suggesting the asset recycling measure could be forced through Parliament as an appropriation bill, which Palmer promptly said he would block in order to bring on a constitutional crisis and a fresh election.

Clearly the future success of the PPL should be the very least of Abbott’s worries right now.

By his own doing, he’s saddled with a deeply unpopular budget, an intransigent Senate and a disgruntled party-room. Abbott’s number one budget salesman has lost his mojo and many of his other ministers are duds. And he’s either getting bad political advice or ignoring those strategists to which he should be listening.

In apparently setting aside the PPL, the Prime Minister has perhaps taken the first step in addressing this litany of mostly self-inflicted problems. Whether Abbott is able to retrieve his position or not, his early and continued mishandling of the PPL regrettably makes it unlikely that he’ll ever deliver working women with a paid parental leave scheme that can be supported by all Australians.

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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