As the Australian government begins its investigation into the ways it can provide improved support to parents with newborn children, two major international workshops at UNSW have considered Australia's record on work/life balance.

Australia is one of only two Western countries that fail to provide paid maternity leave as a right, giving Australian families fewer choices compared to their Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) counterparts, according to UNSW researchers.

Two major international workshops looked at issues including the provision of publicly funded, affordable childcare; and care for the disabled and frail-aged.

Hosted by the Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC), the workshops brought together world experts on the impacts of care on children, the aged and the disabled and considered what they mean for work/life balance.

Professor Deborah Brennan, who is based at UNSW's SPRC, said many countries are way ahead of Australia in catering to workers who have parental responsibilities. In the UK, for example, every woman is entitled to six weeks maternity leave at 90 percent of wages, and a further 26 weeks at a reduced rate.

"In Sweden it's even more generous with either parent receiving 15 months leave at 80 percent of wages," she said.

Professor Brennan said bringing together leading international researchers is useful for Australian policy makers, but international experts are also interested in learning from the Australian experience.

"Here in Australia we have gone further down the path of corporatised private childcare than any other country. We have one business that provides almost half of all childcare services. That is a situation unlike anywhere else in the world," she said.

More than 60 experts from a dozen countries attended the workshop.

Highlights included:

The workshop Social Care for People with a Disability and the Frail Aged was held on Monday and Tuesday (18-19 February). Building an International Research Collaboration in Early Childhood Education and Care was held on Thursday and Friday (21-22 February)

Professor Brennan is giving the inaugural lecture in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences public lectures series next week. The lecture, Families that Work: A New Agenda for Parental Leave and Child Care in Australia will be held on Thursday, March 6. The member for Bennelong, Maxine McKew, will be in attendance. For more information, go to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences website

Professor Brennan