Academic journal article Hecate

The Howard Government's Budgets: Stay-at-Home Mothers Good - Single Mothers Bad

Academic journal article Hecate

The Howard Government's Budgets: Stay-at-Home Mothers Good - Single Mothers Bad

Article excerpt

In response to the 'barbecue-stopper' issue of balancing work and family, the federal government argued that it was giving mothers more choice and flexibility in the 2004 federal budget. The political aims of the family assistance contained in the budget were to target voters who could make or break the Howard Government in an election year. Support included more generous family tax benefits arrangements, a new maternity payment, and expanding childcare. It was also attempting to tackle the decline in Australia's fertility rates. This was evident in Treasurer Peter Costello's declaration that it is a 'good thing' for married couples to have children - 'one for your husband and one for your wife and one for the country'.1 However there is little evidence that women want three children, or can afford the expense of raising them.

I suggest that the government is attempting to support a particular kind of mother in either a middle class or a wealthy nuclear family unit. The 2004 budget focuses on short-term political strategies, necessary in an election year, rather than long-term and on-going support for mothers. The 2005 budget also does little to provide support for all mothers, particularly for single mothers on welfare who will be penalised if they do not meet government requirements to find work. There is a contradiction between supporting mothers at home and increasing the number of women in the work force - both without sufficient public funding. This is particularly the case when there is already a demand for higher public spending on health, education, welfare, and other services.

This article sets out the main parts of the 2004 and 2005 federal budgets that relate to motherhood and families within a feminist framework of the public and the private spheres. Despite budget surpluses and strong economic growth, the federal government has not been consistent in funding policies that would encourage women to have children, or that support all women who already have children. I discuss the budget policies that have moved from being 'pro-family' in 2004 to 'welfare-to-work' in 2005. This suggests that wealthier mothers are supported more than poorer mothers, particularly those on welfare. The government's industrial relations reforms have been disconnected from the policy prescriptions for working families. Improved working conditions, more protection in a deregulated labour market, and universal paid maternity leave are ongoing issues which the government is resisting. I also examine wider viewpoints concerning the construction of motherhood, arguing for a 'whole of government' approach as well as the need to value women's roles in the home.

The division between the public and the private

In discussions of liberalism and the state, there is a clear division between the public and the private. O'Connor et al. provide a gendered analysis of this debate, arguing that feminism has given important insights into the gender content of a liberal market economy. Because liberalism divides the public world of state and society from the private domestic life of home and family, this separation is inherently gendered. Liberalism portrays the public and private spheres as independent of one another when in reality they are inextricably connected, and so obscures a fundamental source of power and inequality in relations between the sexes.2 O'Connor et al. argue that the current liberal welfare state perceives women as individuals in their own right who can use social policy to pursue claims as individuals. However, the sexual division of labour in paid and unpaid work is a matter of private choice by married partners rather than a public concern.3 This aggravates the contradiction between the public world of the market and the private world of the family.

Social policy development fostering the full liberal personhood of married women is consistent with the meliorist tenet of liberal theory, identified with the idea of social improvement, in so far as it remains within the bounds set by the liberal commitment to limited government. …

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