On the other hand, I do think it is a natural evolution of recent Australian conservative thinking. As it put it in my ‘big government conservatism’ article a few years ago:
Modern conservatism.. does not actively discourage or prevent departures from the norm in social and family relationships. So no-fault divorce stays, [and] single parent benefits are retained … . Rather, modern conservatism uses the state’s financial resources to ‘support families in the choices they wish to make’, to ‘help families struggling with the challenges of modern life’.
What this means is the ‘familist’ state increasingly contributes to activities which were once the family’s responsibility. The massive expansion in the FTB scheme and the baby bonus under Howard, and the rapid expansion in childcare subsidies, are all part of this. Parental leave is a logical extension of this trend. Indeed, the social science case for full-time parenting in the first six months of a baby’s life is far stronger than the case for the FTB handouts.
Abbott defends his scheme in these evolutionary terms:
…on the issue of paid parental leave, I consider that I have changed my mind rather than my values. I have always placed a high value on having children but now have a better appreciation of the policies that are needed if this is to be a more realistic option.
Over at Lavartus Prodeo, Paul Norton (no relation) argues that feminism has taken over the Liberal Party. This is not in the sense that the people who call themselves feminists are directly influential on Liberals, but in the sense that feminists contributed to social and economic changes that conservative familists – people who want to promote the family as a functioning unit – must now deal with if they are to achieve their pro-family goals. Given how families do in fact operate today, women’s workforce participation is a fact that simply has to be accommodated.
Conservative familists and feminists have differences on parental leave. Feminism’s close connections with left-wing politics means that the inegalitarian nature of Abbott’s scheme isn’t being supported. But these are differences of detail. The familists and feminists are on the same side of the policy debate.
10 March update: My CIS colleague Jessica Brown sensibly advocates parental leave as part of an overall reform of family benefits. Given the vast spending on family benefits, it could easily be done in a budget neutral way.