The West Australian


Women bear the brunt of a working family but voice unheard

- 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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