Doorstop interview – government’s child care announcement

Sunday, 02 May 2021

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well for years now, the Morrison Government has been telling us that there is no problem with the cost of child care. Of course, that’s not what families have been saying. That’s not what Labor’s been saying. That’s not what economists have been saying. But overnight, we’ve seen that the Morrison Government’s bandaid solution to fixing the cost of child care. Unfortunately though, there’s many missed opportunities with this announcement. Firstly, unfortunately, the Morrison Government has chosen to provide a higher subsidy for only some families and not others. Those families with a second child in care, at the same time as the first child, are the only families that will benefit from the increase in subsidy.

Of course, we know that families right across the country are struggling with the cost of child care. The most recent ABS figures have indicated that there are the highest out of pocket costs now currently facing Australian families than ever. So now is not the time to pick a few families to get the benefit. Now is the time to reform the system so the majority of families get the benefit. That’s what Labor did when we outlined our policy last year. We indicated that as a result of our policy of lifting the subsidy rates and smoothing the taper, with the highest subsidy rate going to 90 per cent, we were going to help 97 per cent of families. That’s four times the number of families that the Morrison Government proposes to help out.

But in addition, it is disappointing that the Morison government has chosen to make this big announcement now, but at the same time not implementing any relief until 1 July 2022. That is more than a year away. The ABS figures released last week show that families are struggling now, out of pocket expenses are soaring now. The government’s own figures show that child care fees are going to increase by 4 per cent just next year. If we are going to actually support women getting back into the workforce as part of the COVID recovery, that relief for child care must come now, not off into the never-never. So it is disappointing once again from this government to have a headline, but really some confusion in the delivery.

Finally, there are also other types of care that attract the subsidy that are going to miss out. We know that after school hours care is also becoming increasingly expensive for families. But it looks like the Morrison Government’s subsidy changes that only support the second child in care will not support families in after school hours care, and will not increase the support for that. That is once again a missed opportunity. In addition, already we know families have to be means tested work tested to work out what level of subsidy they get. Now, it’s also going to add in which child in the order of the family you are. And so that is adding even more complexity to what is a very, very complex system. That’s why Labor has announced that we want to move to a universal subsidy, we want to move to a 90 per cent universal subsidy. So that all families can benefit and we don’t have to have the complication that takes in means testing, that takes in work activity, that also now takes in which order of child you are. This is incredibly complex and incredibly difficult for families to navigate, and the announcement overnight by the Morrison Government makes it even harder.

So what we’ve got from the Morrison Government is a big headline overnight after they told us there was no problem. They are making the system more complex, they are making it more difficult for families. They are delaying the relief that would come with this. But importantly they are leaving many families behind and not providing support. This is a missed opportunity. And I have called on many times for the government to sit down and work with Labor. Labor has a policy, it helps more families, it’s more simple and it will get the economy going.

REPORTER: So can you concede in some form that this will be $6 a day for some families, this will help some families?

RISHWORTH: Well of course $6 a day is an estimate depending on your means test, your work activity tests, and only for the second child. Look of course any relief is welcomed. As I said this relief is not even coming in until 1 July 2022, they pushed it down the road when we know families are hurting now. But in addition that $6 a day is only for the second child while the first child is still in care. There are some questions around eligibility that haven’t been clear, about whether preschool is included or not. There’s some lack of clarity about that. But ultimately, as soon as that first child goes to school, those families are back to where they started when it comes to the subsidy.

REPORTER: In your own words, any relief is welcome?

RISHWORTH: Any relief is welcome. but I see this as a missed opportunity, a completely missed opportunity where only some families get relief. When only some families get relief, other families are being left behind and stuck with the very high fees that are being taken on by families right across this country.

REPORTER: Is the Coalition’s policy not a more targeted and therefore more achievable policy for child care?

RISHWORTH: I’m not sure if targeting the second child is really the support that families are asking for. Families are asking for support right across the board. And when you look at what’s achievable, investment in child care is one of the best investments you can make to get the economy going. And this relief is not going to support families with perhaps one child in care and another at school, it’s not going to help with families that have children in after school hours care, and it’s not going to help families with the complexity of the system. So quite frankly, Labor’s policy is fully costed, it supports 97 per cent of families, it has a good return on investment, growing our economy. That’s what we need from a policy and it is entirely achievable. The government has missed this opportunity because they are putting a bandaid on this issue rather than finding a proper solution.

REPORTER: Labor’s policies are more generous than the government’s for high income earners. Is that the best use of taxpayer money?

RISHWORTH: Labor’s policy is more generous to families right across the income spectrum. For example, at the moment, if you have one child in child care, and you are on the lowest income level, you will only get 85 per cent subsidy from the government – Labor’s proposal is 90 per cent. This is a myth that the government is spinning around that Labor’s policy only helps high income earners. We want to help 97 per cent of families. That is four times the number of families the Coalition wants to help. And that is right across the income scale.

REPORTER: But are you concerned that this policy from the Coalition will weaken Labor’s ability to campaign on child care at the election?

RISHWORTH: I have been campaigning on the cost of child care and will continue to do so, because the ABS figures show that this issue is hurting families. And the economists have showed that this is the policy that unleashes our economic growth, this allows better workforce participation and it allows better productivity in our economy. What the government has done is picked only some families to give extra support to, some families to increase the subsidy to. That isn’t going to deliver the economic dividends we need to get this country back and running. So I will continue to campaign on this. Labor has a more superior policy. We have a vision for early education in the short term, but also in the long term. And I will continue to be prosecuting that case right up to election day when parents will be able to compare the two plans.

REPORTER: Are you worried now it’s just not going to cut through in the same way?

RISHWORTH: Labor has been very, very clear that we want to make the system more simple and more generous for families to support them. Because we know it’s not only good for families, it’s good for business, it’s good for the economy. So I am happy to keep prosecuting Labor’s policy compared to the Liberal Party’s. Keep in mind that the Liberal Party has chosen not to implement their policy until after an election. They could do it now, they could provide relief to those families they are picking now, but they are choosing not to. So I am happy to continue to argue which policy is better right up until election day.

REPORTER: And just on the Tasmanian election. Labor polled less than 29 per cent of the primary vote yesterday. Are you worried that voters are rallying behind incumbents?

RISHWORTH: What we’ve seen is voters support their incumbent State Governments right around the country. But the conditions and environment are different in every State and Territory, and around the country. I don’t get focused on elections in different states and territories. My focus is on the federal election whenever that is, and my focus is working with my Labor team to provide a better vision for this country, a better future for this country, and allowing the voters to make a choice. And when it comes to child care, as it is with many, many other policies, Labor has outlined a plan and the government is playing catch up with bandaid solutions that don’t actually solve the problem.


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