HOW THE MEN IN CAN­BERRA GOT IT WRONG ON CHILD CARE

Women bear the brunt of a work­ing fam­ily but voice un­heard

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE - LANAI SCARR Lanai Scarr is The West Aus­tralian’s Fed­eral Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

Men. It was a group of men who de­cided the fate of child­care as­sis­tance and the fee re­lief for par­ents an­nounced by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day.

The news many par­ents were dread­ing — that they would need to start pay­ing full child­care fees again from July 13 after sev­eral months of re­lief — came yes­ter­day morn­ing, send­ing par­ents into a spin about how their bud­gets would cope.

But it was a group of pow­er­ful men in the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment that had al­ready deter­mined it was time for fees to be paid again — de­spite the Trea­surer a week ear­lier con­firm­ing Aus­tralia was in its first re­ces­sion for 29 years and many more jobs would be lost be­fore the worst was over.

The Gov­ern­ment’s pow­er­ful Ex­pen­di­ture Re­view Com­mit­tee — a sub­com­mit­tee of Cab­i­net that ticks off on any­thing with im­pli­ca­tions for the Bud­get — is made up en­tirely of men.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son is the chair­man, Fed­eral Trea­surer Josh Fry­den­berg is deputy chair­man and Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Michael McCor­mack, Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt and Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mathias Cor­mann are mem­bers.

They ticked off on the free child­care tap be­ing turned off.

It’s some­what ironic be­cause the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who are im­pacted by child­care costs are women. The child­care sec­tor is staffed by pre­dom­i­nately women with more than 90 per cent of the work­force fe­male.

In many cases — al­beit not all and things are get­ting bet­ter in this space — but it is moth­ers who of­ten re­duce their time in the work­force after hav­ing a child.

When and if they do go back to work, they are the ones that need child care the most in or­der to help fa­cil­i­tate go­ing back to work.

Child­care fees are a fam­ily is­sue but they are also over­whelm­ingly a women’s is­sue.

And yet the ul­ti­mate call about giv­ing par­ents re­lief in the COVID-19 eco­nomic down­turn was made by a group of men when women are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected.

Child­care costs are not just about mid­dle class fam­i­lies’ whing­ing for hav­ing to pay for some­thing. Ac­cord­ing to the OECD, Aus­tralians pay among the most ex­pen­sive child­care fees in the de­vel­oped world.

“Snap­ping back” to the old child­care sys­tem at a time when our coun­try is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the worst eco­nomic down­turn in decades is ab­so­lute mad­ness.

It is also rank hypocrisy when money is be­ing poured into other schemes and gov­ern­ment pri­or­i­ties.

To­day, 24 hours after say­ing free child care would be no more, Fed­eral Trea­surer Josh Fry­den­berg will an­nounce the ex­ten­sion to the in­stant as­set write-off will be con­tin­ued through to the end of the year — al­low­ing busi­nesses to deduct pur­chases of el­i­gi­ble as­sets each cost­ing less than $150,000.

Last week the con­struc­tion in­dus­try — which is male-dom­i­nated and in which work­ers with a sim­i­lar level of qual­i­fi­ca­tion to child­care work­ers are of­ten paid $20 more an hour – got a $700 mil­lion in­jec­tion to save jobs and in­su­late the in­dus­try.

Even an over­haul of the For­eign In­vest­ment Re­view Board got an ex­tra $54 mil­lion in fund­ing.

Yet work­ing par­ents strug­gling with child­care costs get noth­ing. Many par­ents

are crip­pled by child­care costs. Some go into debt just to pay for the abil­ity to keep a foot in the work­force. And this was even be­fore the worst of the COVID-19 slow­down hit.

I have three chil­dren who at­tend an early learn­ing cen­tre. Our triplets are in preschool, but it is one run as an ELC.

I’m in a very for­tu­nate po­si­tion where we can af­ford their fees. But they are close to $25,000 a year.

It’s a lot of money and we do it be­cause we want them to have a great ed­u­ca­tion right from the very start of their learn­ing.

Chil­dren’s brain de­vel­op­ment rapidly in­creases be­tween the ages of three and five. Child care is not just child mind­ing.

Set­ting our kids up with a strong ed­u­ca­tion right from the very be­gin­ning is cru­cial to their ca­pac­ity later in life.

Aus­tralia is los­ing the ed­u­ca­tion race. We are slid­ing in our ed­u­ca­tion rank­ings and par­tic­u­larly when it comes to our re­gional com­peti­tors we are fall­ing fur­ther be­hind.

One way to fix this is by fa­cil­i­tat­ing ac­cess to early learn­ing for all Aus­tralian chil­dren.

We had a real op­por­tu­nity to use this mo­ment to spark the re­form our child­care sec­tor needed. We had an op­por­tu­nity to do bet­ter.

In­stead it was just a re­turn to short-term pol­i­tics and yet again think­ing fund­ing early learn­ing would not help the na­tion in the broad and only ben­e­fit greedy par­ents.

If we have bet­ter ed­u­cated kids, our na­tion has a greater ca­pac­ity for bet­ter jobs, bet­ter in­dus­tries and greater GDP.

If we have more women in the work­force we have more di­ver­sity and more gen­er­a­tion of ideas and in­no­va­tion.

Child care is not just an is­sue for par­ents. It’s an is­sue for all of us.

Child­care fees are a fam­ily is­sue but they are also over­whelm­ingly a women’s is­sue.

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