Dad and Partner Pay: Implications for policy-makers and practitioners

CFCA Paper No. 12 – February 2013


The ability to take leave at the time of a child's birth can give fathers a greater role that extends beyond the financial, encouraging them to engage immediately in the caring tasks. Leave can also give fathers the chance to develop a co-parenting relationship early (Asher, 2012), enable a lived experience that reshapes notions of fatherhood (Haas & Hwang, 2008), and have an opportunity to increase practical and emotional investment in their infant's care (O'Brien, Brandth, & Kvande, 2007).

What is the role of government in facilitating parents' choices around earning and caring? International research indicates that legislated leave has a direct correlation with increased uptake of paternity leave. In addition, legislation can improve the choices on offer and empower those whose identity is currently restricted by the legislation that favours traditional models of household arrangements (James, 2009). Finally, there is a social and public interest in the nurturing of children, and governments have significant power over the framework within which families go about their daily business.

The introduction of Dad and Partner Pay is a significant first step for Australia from the rhetoric of the "nurturing father" towards the reality of mothers and fathers both engaging in paid work, unpaid work and child care. However, the right to request flexible work legislation (under the National Employment Standards), while valuable and acceptable for mothers, is still not seen (in practice) as an option for many fathers. Dad and Partner Pay has the potential to address some workplace barriers and alter workplace expectations, such as the unevenness of family-friendly provisions, the novelty of men's utilisation in child care and doubts about the legitimacy of fathers' claims to family responsibilities. The new policy may therefore have an important role to play in establishing and validating new gender norms by sending an important message to working fathers and employers that it is acceptable and indeed desirable for fathers to take leave at the birth or adoption of a child (Baird & Whitehouse, 2012).

Key findings from international literature that can inform Australia's future policy responses include:

  • there are four major conditions that increase fathers' uptake of leave (well-compensated, flexible, parent-specific and publicly promoted);
  • government policies do impact on the choices families make around work and care;
  • the impact of parental/paternity leave is greater if the leave is flexible and available over a long period of time (e.g., until a child reaches school age); and
  • legislated and government-funded parental/paternity leave and complementary government-funded financial support for new parents increases the ability of fathers in low-income brackets and those working in small businesses or who are self-employed to share in the care of their children.

The Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Queensland (2012) is conducting the evaluation of Dad and Partner Pay as part of the evaluation of the broader Paid Parental Leave scheme. The evaluation will examine the impact of Dad and Partner Pay in supporting fathers and partners to: spend more time with their children around the time of a birth or adoption; have further opportunities to bond with their child; and take a greater share of caring responsibilities and support mothers and partners from the beginning.

It will also be important to observe the impact of Dad and Partner Pay on the distribution of work and care between Australian men and women over time as a younger generation of employees enter the workforce, as workplace culture and attitudes change, and as policies become embedded in Australia's social and gender norms (Baird & Whitehouse, 2012). It is important that the voices of mothers, fathers and employers are heard, as well as, over the longer-term, the voices of children.

The opportunity exists for the Australian Government to build on these benchmark reforms to further increase the ways in which it can create real choice for men and women between earning and caring, which would deliver positive outcomes for men, women, their children and society as a whole.

Review of Paid Parental Leave

The Australian Government legislated (in Section 307A of the Paid Parental Leave Act) to undertake a review of the Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2013, which will take into account emerging evaluation findings and the views of stakeholders on the scheme's future development.

The review will cover issues such as: the amount of time off work primary carers are taking to care for newborn or newly adopted children; the operation of the work test; the availability and amount of leave and payments provided by employers in relation to the birth or adoption of a child, and their interaction with the government's scheme; and whether employers should make superannuation contributions in relation to Parental Leave Pay. The Paid Parental Leave Act requires that the review begin by 31 January 2013 and that public submissions are sought in relation to the review.