A Second Letter to the Prime Minister

Babette Francis - ONLINE Opinion, 8 May 2014

You haven't replied to my Open Letter to you and Treasurer Hockey published in On Line Opinion on the 15th April - I understand that you are tremendously busy and cannot respond to everyone who is worried about the policy implications of your forthcoming Budget, but the rumour - and I hope it is only a rumour - that you intend to abolish Family tax Benefit Part B has deeply concerned us. You are to be commended for modifying your Paid Parental Leave policy, but it is still grossly discriminatory both as between career women and as against the full-time homemaker mother.

FTB part B was meant to rectify the unfairness created when a dual income household receives two tax-free thresholds.

When the Gillard government increased the thresholds from $6,000 to $18000 per annum, she did not increase FTB part B like she should have. So on top of other moves that discriminate against mother-care (e.g. child care rebates, child care allowances, paid parental leave, tax free threshold discrimination, axing of baby bonus and more, the suggestion to abolish one of the last remaining payments that helps full-time mothers is alarming.

I know you want to increase the revenue stream, Mr. Abbott, but are you really planning to do this at the expense of the nation's young babies? Are you or your Treasurer really going to stand up in Parliament and state that a six-month old baby is better off in long day care than being home and breast-fed by her mother?

In case you didn't know, here are the World Health Organisation guidelines on "Optimal infant feeding":

Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond....

Now how on earth can those mothers who want to breastfeed their infants for up to 2 years or beyond be able to do this if you require career mothers to re-enter the paid workforce in order to access their paid parental payment, and if you also deprive full-time mothers of the pittance they get in Family Tax Benefit part B which may enable them to exercise a choice to be home with their babies?

Here again is what the World Health Organisation says about Optimal Breastfeeding (i.e. exclusive breastfeeding for six months and breastfeeding with complementary foods for up to two years or beyond):

Optimal breastfeeding of infants under two years of age has the greatest potential impact on child survival of all preventive interventions, with the potential to prevent over 800,000 deaths (13 per cent of all deaths) in children under five in the developing world (Lancet 2013)

Breastfed children have at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children. An exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child, and breastfeeding drastically reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea, two major child killers (Lancet 2008). The potential impact of optimal breastfeeding practices is especially important in developing country situations with a high burden of disease and low access to clean water and sanitation.

I know you might say that is in the developing world, but here's what WHO says about children in developed countries:

...non-breastfed children in industrialized countries are also at greater risk of dying - a recent study of post-neonatal mortality in the United States found a 25% increase in mortality among non-breastfed infants. In the UK Millennium Cohort Survey, six months of exclusive breast feeding was associated with a 53% decrease in hospital admissions for diarrhoea and a 27% decrease in respiratory tract infections.

And keep in mind that many of our Aboriginal mothers and infants live in conditions similar to those in developing countries.

You want to keep health care costs down? Well you will reduce doctor's visits and hospital admissions for respiratory infections, asthma and gastro-intestinal infections if mothers are encouraged and enabled to breastfeed their infants for as long as the infant will nurse. And breast-feeding has long-term benefits for mothers also in terms of reduced breast cancer risk, the major killer of pre-menopausal women other than road accidents, and the third major cause of death for post-menopausal women. Significantly, it has been found that "better educated women" are at greater risk of breast cancer than the less educated. These are your career women, they postpone having children, do not have as many and may not breastfeed for long.

Even from an economic point of view, coercing all mothers of young babies into the paid workforce is unsustainable as the child care costs balloon. Without subsidies, it would not make financial sense for many mothers in basic wage jobs to cover the costs of long day care for their babies. Where is the economic sense in your refusal to subsidise the workers in important industries such as Qantas, but subsidize mothers to put their babies in long day care? The Scandinavian countries, those bastions of progressiveness, have found it makes economic sense to offer allowances to those mothers who prefer to be home with their toddlers.

Mr. Abbott, I am sure you are aware of the recently published study by the Australian National University that children who spend more than 21 hours a week in long day care are at greater risk of performing below average in maths, literacy and overall academic achievement. They had more trouble adjusting to school later on and had poorer marks on a key questionnaire rating strengths and difficulties.

So Prime Minister, why are you generously subsidizing the inferior care toddlers receive in long day care rather than enabling those mothers who wish to do so to care for their infants themselves? It is insulting to full-time mothers to regard Family tax Benefit Part B as "welfare", but to treat the Paid Parental Leave payments and child care subsidies (all paid for by taxes and not the mothers' employers) as "work entitlements".

If the Budget needs the tax revenue you hope to gain from "working mothers", there are easier ways of raising money.

Why not auction off the ABC and the Human Rights Commission? When you abolished the Climate Commission, those who cared about it picked up the tab themselves, and George Soros (or his his ilk) will surely fund the ABC and the Human Rights Commission because these organisations fit perfectly with his game plan for the future. However, we regard our babies as our future, so give them the best deal you can.