Budgeting for Work-Life Balance: The Ideology and Politics of Work and Family Policy in Australia
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Since its election in 1996 the Howard Government has invested billions of dollars in Australian families with children. Much of this money has been delivered through policies the Government claims will 'support families in the choices they wish to make' about how they combine paid work and family life (Howard 2005). This paper evaluates three areas of Commonwealth budget expenditure on work and family policy: the Family Tax Benefit; the Maternity Payment; and the Child Care Benefi t and Tax Rebate. Analysis of the structure of these benefits highlights how a traditional ideology of gender and gender relations is embedded within the policy framework and delivers greater financial support to households in which women prioritise staying at home to care over paid employment. The policy bias toward traditional gender relations makes government rhetoric about choice problematic and shows that the work and family tensions that exist at the level of the household also exist at the policy level, with negative implications for women's labour market participation.