Today the Rudd Government managed to deliver on one of its major pre-election promises by sealing the passage of a parental leave scheme through parliament, with the begrudging support of the Opposition. Breaking the cycle of negative news that the government has had to contend with in recent weeks, the passage of the scheme is not only a good thing for Australian families, but also a good thing for Federal Labor’s credibility heading into a fiercely fought election campaign. It is a tangible, practical achievement worthy of a Labor Government.
The behaviour of the Coalition on this issue has proven particularly interesting. The Coalition, has, since anointing Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader, been characterised by an unflinching negativity, an eagerness to play the man rather than the ball and a reluctance to announce policy positions lasting longer than a few press conferences. All of this makes the Opposition’s prolonged willingness to play ball with the government on parental leave rather surprising. For a number of months now, the Coalition has indicated that it would support the passage of the government’s scheme, despite proposing an alternative plan of its own earlier in the year.
One senses some disingenuousness in the Opposition on this issue. Despite the family friendly angle of parental leave, it runs counter to the “small government” economic mantra of the Liberal Party. There is a sense that the Opposition’s alternative scheme was cooked up purely as an attempt to gain traction with women voters and to try to out-point the government. With little doubt, Abbott would prefer to deny the government its scheme, leaving Federal Labor with one less policy hook to hang its hat on heading into an election campaign. The decision to break the cycle of negativity and support the government is undoubtedly in part motivated by fear that any opposition to the scheme could be politically fatal.
There is no policy conviction at all from the Coalition on this issue.