PROPONENTS of improved work-life balance in the law appear to have acquired themselves a heavy-hitting ally in the form of Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward.
Addressing a packed NSW Women Lawyers’ Association luncheon last week in Sydney, Goward hinted she would commence agitating the Commonwealth Government to make it easier for firms subsidising in-house childcare to be eligible for tax rebates.
“The state of employer-provided childcare tax deductions is terrible,” she told a 400-strong audience, composed almost totally of female lawyers. “For childcare that is provided at the place of work it is even worse. Tenants in one building should be able to get together and be able to jointly fund a facility onsite.
“I think it is something I will have to start to look at.”
If, indeed, Goward does decide to pursue the matter with Treasury, she may face an uphill battle. In April, the Law Society of NSW attempted to push Peter Costello for similar reforms only to have its overtures strongly rejected six weeks later.
“We suggested three aspects to make childcare more affordable, including tax deductibility and fringe benefits, but all were rebutted,” a Law Society spokesperson said.
The issue has since been passed upward to the Law Council of Australia (LCA), the spokesperson continued, for campaigning on a national level.
During her address, Goward recited a stream of disconcerting statistics, including a Victoria Law Council finding that revealed the average age of first-time mothers in the law to be 39.
“The saddest part of all the figures is that 14 per cent of ultra-achieving women [earning above $100,000 per annum] plan to be childless and 49 per cent are currently childless,” she said.
According to Goward, demanding white-collar professions such as the law do not currently “allow a combination” of motherhood and success for their female members.
Claiming the profession’s mothers enjoyed an average 0.006 minutes of personal leisure time each working day, Goward said those who wanted a family had no choice, but to leave for a more accommodating workplace — often located overseas.
“Competition for employees is becoming global. People in high profile positions are now in a better position to choose where they can go and they will often decide on countries with better rates of paid maternity leave,” said the Commissioner, who earlier pointed out that 40,000 workers — the highest number yet — left Australia’s shores to take up positions abroad in 2002.
In regard to the legal profession, Goward remained appalled that no major strides were being made despite the number of female graduates outweighing males for some years. She blamed governmental apathy on “elitist” perceptions, which hinder high-earning, long-working women from being eligible for rebates.
“Tax deductibility for childcare struggles in Australia’s political and media culture because people say the biggest rebates would be received by those earning the most.”