Credit where credit's due: Tony Abbott's parental leave scheme will deliver more cash to women. Photo: Craig Abraham
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott may well be a misogynist. He might be plotting to scrap abortion rights. He might truly believe that women are not temperamentally suited to leadership roles. He might, for all we know, have a Virginia Woolf voodoo doll that he jams full of pins when he's bored.
All these things may be true, but so is this: Abbott's paid parental leave scheme is vastly superior to the Labor government's legislated scheme, and more feminists should come out in favour of it.
Why shouldn't women earn their replacement wage when they take time off to bear children?
It is a curious thing that so many have fallen silent on Abbott's plan, even as big business has attacked it and right-wing economists have grumbled about it.
The Coalition's scheme is superior to the ALP one: Feminist Eva Cox. Photo: Quentin Jones
Trade unions have also kept mum, when in fact the scheme is vastly more beneficial to every single female worker who earns more than the minimum wage. The best the Labor party has managed by way of response is a lame attempt to dub it the ''millionaire mum's scheme''.
The details of the Abbott scheme (that we know so far) are: It will provide women with 26 weeks' paid parental leave at their full replacement wage, up to a maximum salary of $150,000, meaning the most any woman could get would be $75,000.
The government's scheme provides 18 weeks' leave at the minimum wage (currently $606 a week, or about $31,000 a year).
Illustration: Michael Mucci
The Coalition scheme includes superannuation contributions at the mandatory 9 per cent rate. The government's does not.
The Coalition's scheme will be funded by a 1.5 per cent levy on about 3200 companies, those with a taxable income of more than $5 million. The government's scheme is funded by the taxpayer.
Putting aside business concerns about the levy, and any awkward feelings dry liberals might have about slugging business for a social benefit, one fact remains: the Coalition plan would deliver more cash to more women.
The argument that it is somehow a millionaires' scheme to keep yummy mummies in cashmere and cappuccinos doesn't wash.
In fact very few women earn salaries above $100,000 - the average full-time female salary is $61,000. Women aged 18 to 49 who earn more than $100,000 represent just 1.47 per cent of all people with taxable incomes.
And the Coalition scheme wouldn't just benefit yummy mummies. It would mean extra cash for nurses, teachers, retail workers, and the thousands of other women who may earn more than the minimum wage but are still low-paid.
The Australian scheme is an anomaly - other countries' schemes tend to pay up to 80 per cent salary replacement rate, but for a full year.
But the most obvious argument in favour of the scheme is one of pure feminist principle. Why on earth shouldn't women earn their replacement wage when they take time off to bear children?
Any woman who argues otherwise is surely betraying the sisterhood. She is telling women their work is not, in fact, valued equally to men's.
Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey made that point on Tuesday when he spoke to a business lunch in Sydney.
''If you believe in equality of pay why don't you believe that someone on paid parental leave should receive the pay that they earn?'' Mr Hockey said.
''They do in annual leave, they do for sick leave - and for parental leave you're saying there should be a discount?''
Hockey was referring to what I would have called - back in the feminist legal theory classes I attended so eagerly at law school - a phallocentric viewpoint. The privileging of the masculine view. The idea that child-rearing is women's work, is private, and doesn't take place in the public sphere where the important (read: male) business of real work occurs.
But enough about Hockey. He was just sucking up to the chicks-in-business crowd.
Women's rights advocates and anyone else struggling to get over the line on Abbott's scheme should listen to Eva Cox, one of our greatest feminist treasures.
Cox says the government's scheme is not a paid parental leave scheme but ''a welfare payment''. The difference, apart from the obvious cash disparity, is one of principle.
''One of the objectives of a paid parental leave scheme is to make women legitimate members of the workforce,'' she told me this week.
''I don't think the current [government] system will encourage a more comfortable culture at work, where it's considered normal to have children. Employers need to be aware that their workers have family and community and they need to find ways to integrate that.''
The real reason more strong female voices haven't come out in support of the Coalition's scheme, Cox says, has to do with the identity of its advocate.
''I think the anxieties people express about the Abbott scheme are because it's an Abbott scheme. But the Coalition one is superior to the ALP one. Credit where it's due.''
Abbott has repeatedly stated he will introduce the scheme in his first term of government, should he win it, but some worry he won't.
Professor Marian Baird, a founding member of the Work and Family Policy Roundtable, says her concern with the Coalition scheme is whether it will be delivered.
''Funding for the opposition's proposed scheme rests on a tax on business, and I have not seen any support from business for this. The questions therefore remain, when and if the opposition's scheme will be introduced,'' she says.
Like so many important social reforms (Medicare, superannuation, fingers crossed the national disability insurance scheme), paid parental leave would not be part of the socio-economic furniture if Labor hadn't introduced it. But now that it is is part of the political landscape, and more women see it as their due, it is unlikely to be ripped away.