Doorstop interview – out of pocket child care costs; vaccine safety

Sunday, 10 January 2021

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Documents by this government have now revealed that out of pocket costs for families when it comes to childcare are just going to grow and grow into the future.

Evidence has shown that the government itself is predicting an increase of 4.1 per cent every year for the next four years and we know that this is well greater than CPI. We know that CPI is pegged to the childcare subsidy which means these increases in childcare fees are going to leave families worse off as a result.

So what we know is the government’s system is going to continue to leave families with greater out of pocket costs. This is a far cry from the Prime Minister who only two and a half years ago announced that this system would be a once in a generation reform for early childhood education. Instead what we have little more than three years on is families are looking like they will be no better off. What we have is a system that is broken, that we see increasing out of pocket costs, and as a result families are going to struggle to pay. We know families are already struggling to pay and deal with child care costs and what this shows is it is only going to get worse.

Labor late last year announced a plan to tackle this. We announced if we were elected we would in the short term increase the Child Care Subsidy, we would smooth the taper rate, and abolish the annual cap – making childcare affordable for so many more families. Indeed 97 per cent of families would be better off.

But we also have an ambitious plan to get the Productivity Commission to look at ensuring that every family gets a 90 per cent subsidy – universal access to early childhood education.

Really I would call on the government to stop hiding from this real problem of out of pocket costs for child care and actually start dealing with it. If they want to steal my policy and Labor’s policy, feel free.

But what we know is we need to address this issue for families, otherwise Australia’s productivity will suffer, our participation in the workplace will suffer, and as a result our economy will suffer.

JOURNALIST: Amanda why is this going to be so important, particularly over the next few years?

RISHWORTH: Well over the next few years our economy needs to recover and we need to ensure that everyone with the skills is able to take the jobs that are available to ensure that we’re able to see economic growth, productivity and participation.

What we know is that second income earners, many women, with a lot of very valuable skills are actually turning down work. They’re turning down work because they cannot afford the childcare that currently is there and over the next few years we know that this problem is only going to get worse. So what this is going to be is a handbrake on our economic recovery after COVID.

This is a serious problem not just for those women with those skills and those talents that would love to go back to work or work more hours, but also for our economy as a whole.

JOURNALIST: Why should this issue be prioritized over other economic challenges? The Federal Government is already spending extraordinary amounts as part of the COVID recovery.

RISHWORTH: Well what we know is that if our economy is to grow we need to address three important issues; first is participation, second is productivity, and third is population. Our policy when it comes to child care and addressing the issue of unaffordable child care actually addresses these three issues. Indeed there’s been many independent economic reports talking about unleashing significant GDP growth as a result of child care.

There are very few other measures that can see for one dollar investment you get a two dollar economic return. Very few other policies will actually deliver that type of economic return. That is why dealing with child care is so important – it’s so important for families, it’s so important for women’s workforce participation and so important for our economy.

JOURNALIST: Obviously the increasing fees are barrier for all families but specifically for women and mothers, what kind of larger flow on effects and impacts will this have on women being represented in the workforce and being supported to go back to work?

RISHWORTH: Yeah look thanks for that, what we know is the cost barrier, which as I said the government’s figures that we’ve seen today will only make this worse, will mean that many women who want to go back for more hours, who have the talents, are not able to do that. So we’re going to see an under-representation of women in our workforce, yes, we might see high part-time workforce rates, but we are not seeing high full-time workforce rates because many women and second income earners are just looking at the numbers and saying ‘it’s not worth my while to go back to work’.

So what we’ll see is many women not being able to earn superannuation at the same rate as they would have if they could have returned to work for more hours, they’re missing out on pay and that gender pay gap only seeks to get worse, but in addition we know that many businesses miss out. Many businesses that want to fully benefit from the skills and talents of their female workforce and not able to get them back at the hours and the days that they want. So this doesn’t just it make it difficult for women wanting to return but it actually makes it difficult for businesses. That’s why we’ve seen the Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell saying this is one of the biggest issues for small business.

We’ve actually heard from a lot of small business owners that are women saying that their business could thrive more if they could get affordable childcare. This is the number one barrier for many women returning to work, but also for many businesses being able to be as productive as they could be.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the government has really oversold but under delivered their child care system seeing as though the child care fees are just gobbling up the benefits now?

RISHWORTH: Absolutely. This government absolutely overblew the child care subsidy changes that were made. The government really was all spin when it came to the childcare subsidy, they said that this was a once in a generation change to the childcare subsidy but the reality has hit home now with many families finding that all the benefit within three years has been eaten up. For some people they were worse off, but for others they saw some benefit, but that is all but eroded.

The government has known that this was an issue from the outset. The Productivity Commission identified this as an issue and the government failed to address it. So quite frankly, the government was all spin when it came to their new system, it was a system designed by Scott Morrison himself more focused on the marketing and less on the actual delivery because what we’re seeing now is the consequence of that. Far from a generation, in three years for many families it’s all been but gobbled up.

JOURNALIST: Research out today showing that women between 30-39, pregnant women and those planning to conceive have concerns about vaccine safety. Should the government be moving to allay these fears?

RISHWORTH: Look I would absolutely urge the government to provide as much factual information for the community, particularly any group that is concerned about this. Everyone wants to make sure that they get the accurate information and so I think it is absolutely incumbent on the government to be providing factual information, forget the marketing campaigns, forget the spin, let’s see the government put a focus on factual information so that our community is best informed when it comes to vaccines and the importance of how these vaccines have been tested, that they are safe, and making sure that this community and all demographic groups are reassured about what has happened as a result.


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