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Australia behind in childcare: McKell Institute

A new McKell Institute report has made the case that Australia is lagging behind other developed nations when it comes to childcare.

The report, Baby Steps or Giant Strides? is co-authored by professor Deborah Brennan and Dr Elizabeth Adamson from the University of New South Wales. It has identified “serious flaws” in the federal government’s new childcare package announced in the latest budget. It argues the Coalition’s policy reflects an antiquated approach to childcare, one which perceives childcare as babysitting for mothers returning to the workforce.

Brennan said this is largely out-of-step with the rest of the developed world, which she said acknowledges childcare as a vital part of education and development.

“The government’s new policy treats childcare as a regrettable necessity, required mainly to get women back into the workforce,” Brennan said. “Globally, however, early childhood education and care is seen as critical not just in promoting workforce participation, but in creating foundations for learning. It’s seen as a means of boosting the capacity of the rising generation to contribute to national prosperity, and creating happy lives for the children of today.”

The report stated that Australia must treat quality childhood education as a vital necessity to keep up with the rest of the developed world. It points to models of childcare in New Zealand, the UK, Norway and Canada, all of which offer free hours of childcare and encourage active participation in early learning. It also concluded Australia must establish a strategy for seamless transition from parental leave to childcare, offer entitlements that do not exclude children based on their parents’ participation in the workforce, and cap fees for childcare providers.

“The UK, to take just one example, has dramatically accelerated its reform of childcare since the 1990s,” Brennan said. “Fifteen hours of free early childhood education a week are now available to all 3- and 4-year-old children, and to the most disadvantaged 40 per cent of 2-year-olds. The UK has political consensus about this policy, and eligibility has been extended under both Labour and Conservative administrations.”

The report also stated the Abbott government’s cuts to paid parental leave, which the government has said are necessary to fund its new childcare package, are unneeded, and that there is no clear reason why the government cannot source its funding from other areas of the budget.

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