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Babette Francis

What a delightful picture on the Herald Sun front page (1/4/05) of Treasurer Peter Costello with some of the babies born nine months after he announced the $3,000 baby bonus for mothers. Mr. Costello looked as proud  as any new Dad - he showed what can be achieved with a pro-natalist policy.  His exhortation on Budget night to have three children, "one for the husband, one for the wife and one for our country",  displayed faith in the future -  so much more optimistic than the gloomy Green scenario of nuclear winter/global warming/other apocalyptic events allegedly caused by "too many people". 

Costello's $3,000 baby bonus,  rising to $4,000 in 2006 and $5,000 in 2008, is  more constructive and non-discriminatory than the "paid maternity leave" favoured by feminists such as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward. Maternity leave helps women in the workforce but does nothing for the mother at home with two small children and pregnant with her third. 

While Costello's baby bonus is a brilliant start, more needs to be done to enable the l00,000 women who have abortions each year to have babies instead. As  pro-choice and pro-life lobbyists agree abortion is a sad choice, policies enabling women to give birth should be supported by all. 

Colleagues who volunteer in pregnancy support services say often it is temporary financial help that enables a woman to continue her pregnancy. Family Life International report on a couple on their way to the abortuary because of pressure by the woman's parents who had big plans for their daughter's future:  “They had been refugees and did not want their daughter suffering hardship. The couple had financial problems because both had part-time jobs, and the young man had loans to pay off. We sat down with them and worked out a plan to reduce his repayments, but they still need our help until their baby is born and they receive the baby bonus and Family Allowance. 

 "Another couple changed their minds about aborting their fourth child after they spoke to us outside the abortuary, but they too are in financial straits. Both are on low incomes and she will have to give up her job to have the baby. We have promised to help them over this difficult time...." 

Memo, Mr. Treasurer: Could the baby bonus be paid in instalments starting from 20 weeks of pregnancy? (This would exclude most miscarriages and abortions).  A precedent is the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) initiated by the Bush Administration in the USA whereby health costs of low-income women and their unborn babies are covered from when the pregnancy is confirmed.  

There is much more the government can and should do as it is in the national interest for women to give birth to babies they have conceived.  Our economic prospects, pensions and health care costs are compromised by the "greying" of the population and a birth rate below replacement level.  Australia cannot rely on immigration to maintain population as many of the countries from which  migrants come are approaching zero population growth.  

Volunteers and church agencies do a valiant job in pregnancy support with little or no government funding, but the numbers needing help require federal intervention such as "Parenting Centres", alongside  Baby Health Centres, Local Government facilities or Public Hospitals, where counsellors will advise girls and women how they can continue with their pregnancies AND their education/careers. Possible models are the  Family Relationship Centres the federal government is planning in reforms to Family Law to help parents agree on parenting plans after divorce.   

"Parenting Centres" should have ultrasound machines so mothers (and fathers) can see  babies in utero. Wherever possible fathers should be encouraged to participate in the lives of their infants.  Where’s the money for all this to come from? Well, Mr. Treasurer, how about from the $70 million currently given to abortion providers for “counselling" - which is conflict of interest and a complete waste of time – and babies.   


Australian Bureau of Statistics data indicates that Australia may be having a much-needed baby boom.    There have been more births, 255,000 in  the past year, than in the preceding  nine years.  While   this does not include the period of the $3000 bonus, Victorian hospitals are reporting a boost in birth rates of up to 10% nine months after the bonus was announced.   Peter   Costello commented that   "the lift in the birth rate was fantastic  - it shows there are a lot of really happy families and happy mums out there, and if the payment has encouraged them so much the better".

One in three Australians will be over 60 by 2051, meaning a likely huge burden on the economy with fewer working-age people to support them in retirement.

While Mr. Costello is to be highly commended for the baby bonus, not so good is his policy requiring single mothers and married mothers in single-income families to seek part-time work when their youngest child turns six or lose the parenting benefits.  In regard to single mothers, perhaps better initiatives should be launched to enable the fathers of their children to contribute to their support.  Hopefully changes to the Child Support Agency may achieve some improvement.    Married women who are full-time homemakers are the women most likely to have more children than the statistical average of 1.7.  Compelling them to go out to work will not enable them to have more babies and will be counter-productive in terms of lifting the birth rate.   It will be a great pity if the gains made because of the baby bonus were lost because of faulty policy in another family policy area.



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