With women disproportionately losing jobs and hours during the coronavirus recession and taking on more responsibilities at home, Mr Bandt is worried the pandemic is baking in gender inequality.
“As we recover from the pink recession we shouldn’t just help women return to work, we should help new fathers stay at home,” he said. “That will also free up jobs and free up the capacity for women to return to work if that’s what they want to do.”
The Grattan Institute recommended in a report on boosting female workforce participation in August that each parent get six weeks of leave plus another 12 weeks to share between them, effectively adding a month to what families can access now but only if fathers take their portion. It said that would add $600 million a year to the $2.2 billion scheme.
Mr Bandt, who represents the seat of Melbourne, participated virtually in Parliament over the past fortnight. He conceded the long parliamentary hours still meant the burden of home life had primarily fallen on his partner Claudia, but being able to make preschool-aged Wren and Elke breakfast before heading to the office to join the sittings was an upside.
Labor MP Josh Burns also decided he couldn’t burden his wife Zoe and two-year-old daughter Tia with a month-long absence and joined Parliament virtually from his St Kilda electorate office.
“To be able to be at home and see my family, my wife and my daughter every day, to put her to bed and kiss her goodnight has been one of the few nice parts of 2020,” he said.
The travel and managing family life was something every federal MP struggled with and he could see how quickly the workload at home became unbalanced.
“This is a systemic issue in our economy and I think that men need to do more at home and balance that out and men should feel confident in doing more at home.”
First-term Liberals Julian Simmonds and Phil Thompson had set up an apartment in Canberra with extra space for their young families this year while Parliament sat but the pandemic has stymied that plan.
Mr Simmonds travelled to Canberra alone for the past fortnight – reading books to three-year-old Theo via FaceTime each night – and will have to spend the next two weeks quarantining at home on his return to Queensland.
“I suspect it means that after two weeks as a single parent my wife will be very keen to share the parenting duties with somebody who’s stuck at home, so I’ll be on home duty with Theo and Isabelle,” he said.
The changes to parliament’s timetable this year meant he was able to spend six weeks at home after eight-week-old Isabelle was born.
“COVID has been a terrible thing for so many people both from the health and economic perspective, but if that can be one silver lining that some parents can take the opportunity of an altered workplace to work more from home and be at home more with the kids, then I think that would be great.”
Katina Curtis is a political reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.