Ever since before the Coalition Government was even elected in 2013, it has been promising, year after year, to take action to address the real issue of affordability and accessibility of early learning and care for Australian families.
The immediate reality for thousands of Australian families is that the cost of childcare is too much. Many can’t afford it now. This means their children are missing out on the benefits of early learning, and mums and dads are missing out on the benefits of being back in work. With that combination, we’re all missing out.
For some families, childcare is costing upwards of $30,000 a year after government subsidies. That’s more than most elite private schools!
Thousands of families need something to change immediately, not next year and definitely not in July 2018!
There is no doubt the government’s Jobs for Families package was not good enough. It would force many children out of early learning and it was going to make life difficult for many families with the strict activity test. But what it did include was money – a lot of it – and it was going to alleviate the cost pressure for the vast majority of working families: more than 800,000 of them, government data states. Now that relief has been pushed back a year.
By welcoming the government’s delay of its childcare reforms, we run the serious risk of losing the money altogether. We should be up in arms over the government’s inaction on this issue. Yes, their package needed to change, but by letting them off the hook, we lose the momentum and $1 billion worth of new funding that should be going to families.
And we’ve been here already. Remember the promise of a ‘rolled gold’ paid parental leave (PPL)? Now, instead of enjoying an expanded paid parental leave scheme, we’re fighting to keep what little we have.
The history of former prime minister Tony Abbott’s signature paid parental leave should provide a warning. Abbott’s scheme was huge, perhaps too big, but he was right on wage replacement, he was right on six months’ leave, and he was right to ensure it included super contributions. However, because we were fighting to secure more affordable early learning and care as a priority, we’ve lost out big on PPL.
The Parenthood, like many other groups, urged Abbott to consider spending that $5.5 billion earmarked for his big PPL scheme on making childcare more affordable instead.
And we thought we’d won when on February 2, 2015, Abbott announced he had “been reminded by mums and dads that the focus does need to be on childcare” and that the $5.5 billion for PPL would instead go to making childcare more affordable for families.
But as we all know, this promise was short lived – that $5.5 billion never came to childcare, it went to funding tax cuts for small businesses.
Had we welcomed Abbott’s big PPL scheme, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today – fighting to keep 18 weeks’ leave at the minimum wage and against the absurd notion that the money to fund childcare should come from cutting family tax benefit payments.
So we need to learn from our PPL lesson. We need to demand immediate action on childcare reform from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten. Whoever forms government after July 2 needs to make the affordability of early learning and care an immediate priority.
The Parenthood has always insisted that no family be worse off and no child miss out on accessing early learning and care, and we voiced our disappointment over key aspects of the government’s Jobs for Families Package – but we didn’t want to subsequently see nothing happen at all! Because families are already worse off, and children are already being denied access to early learning and care because their parents simply can’t afford it. Out-of-pocket costs for childcare have risen by as much as 25 per cent for many low-income families under the term of this government, as fees have gone up and government subsidy support has stalled.
We cannot wait until 2018.
So, don’t welcome the delay – be outraged! Welcome what is offered and demand better so we don’t find ourselves losing momentum and the $3 billion that’s on the table.
This government habitually makes big spending promises to working women and then breaks them. We cannot let government investment in early learning and care fall over in the same way paid parental leave did.
Two years is two years too long. We cannot let up. We cannot lose momentum. Our kids are already missing out.
Jo Briskey is the executive director of parent advocacy group The Parenthood.
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