Doorstop interview – Labor’s Working Families Child Care Boost; population growth; Yang Hengjun

Saturday, 10 October 2020

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: On Thursday night Labor outlined a bold reform agenda for child care. We know that for many families child care is simply unaffordable, and we also know that for many families the cost of child care is a disincentive for the second wage earner to go back into the workforce, often the woman. Of course what we also know this unaffordability is a drag on our economy.

So what Anthony Albanese did on Thursday night was outline a plan that would add to economic growth, that would boost womens workforce participation, and make child care affordable for more Australian families. Indeed the plan outlined by Labor will cover 97 per cent of families, helping with the cost of child care. But importantly, removing the disincentive for the second wage earner in many families, often the mother, to go back to work full time. We know that many women are looking at the cost of child care and saying it’s not worth me going back to work the fourth or fifth day in the week, whether they want to go back to work or not. They do the sums for the family and they actually on some occasions have to pay for the privilege of going to work. What Labor has announced on Thursday is to remove this disincentive.

Many people had been calling for this action for a long time, and I’ve been very pleased by the overwhelming support across the community for Labor’s plan, and I thought I’d just read some of these endorsements. We have the Grattan Institute that said Labor’s plan to make child care cheaper will deliver big economic and social dividends. We have Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman who says Labor’s alternative Budget plan to make childcare cheaper, and would deliver essential support to women in small business. We’ve got Georgie Dent from the The Parenthood saying investing more in early learning education and care would pay dividends in supporting more women into paid work. And we have Sue Morphet from Chief Executive Women who said this reform would significantly address the powerful workforce disincentives created by the current Child Care Subsidy system. These organisations joined with the Minderoo Foundation, Early Childhood Australia, United Workers Union, the ACTU, the Early Learning and Care Council, the Front Project, Goodstart Early Learning, and many others.

Right across the community we have people from business, economists, and other groups welcoming our proposal for making child care more affordable in this country and removing that disincentive to work. The only group that doesn’t seem to be on board is the Morrison Government. The Morrison Government’s response to Labor’s plan has been to say there’s no problem with the system. Well tell that to the hundreds of thousands of families struggling with the cost of child care, and all those women wanting to get back to work and actually not being able to afford to go full time because of the cost of child care. This is a real problem in our country, but it’s not just a problem for the families and women affected, it’s also a problem for our economy. Economic analysis has shown that this will grow our economy. The only people who don’t seem to understand this critical issue in our economy and our country is the Liberal Party. As we recover from this recession we need programs that deliver economic growth, and the Government should point to any other program that delivers this type of economic growth. There is a good return on investment with Labor’s plan and the Government needs to acknowledge that.

But the final point I would make is the Government’s been out there bragging that some families paying $5 an hour is a good thing. Well what the Government fails to understand is that you don’t put children into early education and care for an hour, you put them in for a day. And what that means is they’re bragging about $300 per child out of pocket costs a week. That’s what the Government thinks is affordable and that’s what the Government is bragging about. What Labor’s proposal will do is lift the subsidy rate, remove the annual cap, and ensure that 97 per cent of families get support.

REPORTER: The Coalition argues that before the recession womens workforce participation had hit a record high. Do you dispute that?

RISHWORTH: We know many women are choosing not to go back to work full time because of this barrier. We know Australia performs well when it comes to part time womens workforce participation, but well below the OECD average when it comes to full time womens workforce participation. What we need to see is women who want to go back more hours, work more hours and more days, are not financially penalised because of the cost of child care. That is what’s happening at the moment. The disincentive rate for some women going back full time means they are actually losing money by going to work. That is the problem here and that is the problem the Government refuses to acknowledge.

REPORTER: So you don’t accept that argument from the Government?

RISHWORTH: I don’t accept that the current child care system is not having a drag on womens workforce participation, and by unleashing more affordable child care we can actually see a huge boost in womens workforce participation. What we’ve seen in this Budget by the Government is a blind spot when it comes to women. There has been very little in this Budget for women, very little to support them going back into the workforce, despite women being some of the hardest hit. Our plan is good for families, good for womens workforce participation, but importantly it’s good for the economic recovery.

REPORTER: Do you think Australian voters would be in favour of universal child care?

RISHWORTH: When I speak to people, a lot got a taste of what free child care meant during the pandemic. For some essential workers that meant they could take on more hours and take on more days. What we want to see is cost not being a disincentive to go to work. To pay more money to actually go to work is not good for the employee, but it’s not good for business either if you’ve got a worker who is very productive and wants to work full time but says I just can’t because I’m going to lose money by coming to work. That is a really perverse disincentive that we need to address. So there’s nothing in this Budget for women, women have been hit hardest by the COVID recession and should be supported on the way out.

REPORTER: What policies would Labor have to push Australians to have children given population growth is expected to hit a record low?

RISHWORTH: Well the first thing I would say is I was interested to hear the Government talk about population growth and having more babies, but refuses to deliver more affordable child care. When I talk to parents they look at the costs of having a child, not just the immediate costs but how they’re going to balance work and family. And having unaffordable child care is a barrier to going back to work and potentially choosing to have more children. So if the Government was serious about encouraging and supporting families, they wouldn’t put unaffordable child care on the table and say there’s no problem, nothing to see here.

REPORTER: Do we need to return to a baby bonus style approach?

RISHWORTH: Look what I think we need to do is make sure women have economic security, make sure that they are able to fully participate, and to ensure that child care is more affordable is an important step for supporting families. It’s an important step and one the Government should consider.

REPORTER: Just on another topic lawyers for Yang Hengjun have told the ABC he’s now been formally charged with espionage by the Chinese authorities. Does Labor share concerns for his welfare?

RISHWORTH: Absolutely, we have expressed concerns. Obviously these are reports and we need to have them confirmed by DFAT, but Labor has consistently expressed concern over the 18 months that this Australian citizen has been incarcerated. We have concerns about his treatment by the Chinese authorities and we certainly support the Government’s efforts to bring attention to his plight.

ENDS

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