My god. Someone complaining about the birthrate. You know, the end of Australia as we know it.
We already had this moral panic back in the 2000s. Then treasurer Peter Costello made headlines by imploring us to make babies. One for mum. One for dad. And one for the country.
Here's the alleged problem. Australian women are having fewer children. Between 2021 and 2022, there was a 3 per cent decline in sprog-dropping. At that rate, we will be stone motherless by the end of the century, give or take a few compounding interest calculations.
We are also waiting longer to have them. We used to be kids when we had kids. Now we wait until we are over 30. God knows how anyone's ever going to see their grandchildren at this rate.
Anyhow, I did my bit. I had three. I would have had another three because I loved the mess of motherhood. What I did not enjoy was how the world responded to that mess.
So here's my take as a hypocritical mother of three, who had no concept of climate change when I got pregnant back in the 1980s.
If you want women to have children, you (governments, businesses) will genuinely have to buckle down on slowing human-induced climate change.
I spoke to Carla Pascoe Leahy, who conducts research with universities and cultural institutions, and is the research and policy manager at Women's Environmental Leadership Australia, about her work on Australian motherhood.
She'd been interviewing mothers and those who were interested in becoming parents when the Black Summer bushfires happened and suddenly the tone changed. These women were talking about their worries about the environment.
"They had these intense and loving relationships in their minds with a hypothetical unborn child," she said.
Freaking heartbreaking. These women were deeply concerned about what the future would look like, what climate events might impact them and their possible future babies.
And then there were those mothers who had already considered what the safe perimeter around their house would look like in the event of a bushfire. They had evacuations already planned, they'd drilled their kids. It even affected where they thought they might holiday.
So there's that.
Plus Australia hates mothers.
OK, let's try to phrase that calmly. It does very little to back women in who choose to have children. Parental leave is pathetic. Workplaces are a rich vein of male privilege. Childcare is so costly it's ridiculous. And as for men, do you think you could pick up a fecking broom or a saucepan anytime soon?
Being a mother is one of the great joys of my life. My children have given me more than I have ever given them. Colds, flu, eternal love. Their father is an angel.
But there is no question that being a new parent was hard enough 30-odd years ago and that was before it took 10 years for the median household to save up a 20 per cent deposit on the median family home.
The financial pressures are huge. How do you manage to contribute and ensure you can house and feed your family? You need two incomes. And one of those incomes is less than the other.
Head of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Mary Wooldridge says the pay gap is still massive at 21.7 per cent. She points out that it gets bigger as women hit their early 30s and have babies. For every five years that pay gap exists, that's a whole year of pay gone, and diminished superannuation returns.
Yes, she wants super on parental leave but the pay gap is the bigger problem. Then she surprises me by telling me some companies are not only paying super on the parental leave they provide but also on unpaid leave or leave paid by the government.
Unilever, a WGEA Employer of Choice, provides employees with 16 weeks' paid parental leave in the first year (including super), no matter how long they've worked for the company. If both parents work for Unilever, then both get access to the leave scheme at the full rate for the full time. They get super even if they access unpaid leave or government leave, up to 52 weeks.
Wild. It didn't happen like that when I was a new mother.
But let me mine the rich vein of male privilege in the home. If you are a man and have read this far, did you and your partner agree to have kids?
If you agreed, did you discuss what you would do in terms of your contribution to the family home? Was it just about bringing home the bacon?
Sarah Dahmann, research fellow at the University of Melbourne's Melbourne Institute, reveals what's really going on in our homes.
Mothers with children under the age of 18 spend 35 hours a week on chores, at least 15 hours more than men. They can't access external support services and as everyone ramps up work to manage life, it's harder for family and friends to pitch in.
So what can be done to make parenthood more possible, more manageable, less deranging, more desirable? Dahmann says making childcare cheaper and more available is something that could be done to support mothers - they clearly bear the brunt of the domestic work burden.
And let's be clear, as I've said on many occasions, employers could be more flexible with letting their employees work from home.
Says Dahmann: "Our research shows that flexibility is associated with less domestic work for women."
Want more babies in this country of ours?
If you are a bloke and want a baby mama, sign this contract. I agree to cook and clean until divorce do us part. And if you are very, very, good, that will never ever happen.
And if you are an Australian politician, make childcare free. Give women more support. These are the only ways to boost baby making.
- Jenna Price is a regular columnist and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.