Wednesday, 10 June 2020
There is no doubt that this has been a difficult time for Australians—and it’s been a difficult time, I have no doubt, for the government. And I will give credit where credit is due: the government has responded well, on medical advice, and has done well in the health crisis. But what I’m concerned about, and I think many on this side of the House are concerned about, are the people that are being left behind—those that are not being acknowledged by this government and not being appreciated by this government. They are being left behind, and it’s just not good enough. We on this side of the House make no apologies for coming in here and standing up for them and making sure their voices are heard. Some of the diatribes I’ve heard from the other side of the House—some of the comments about ideology, going back to the debating style of old—are ridiculous.
I will get up and talk about all those essential workers who have been there during this pandemic. Many of them are such low-paid workers, but they turned up every day—the retail workers; the transport workers; the teachers; all those who helped in the health crisis; the nurses; and those cleaners who have cleaned surfaces across this whole country, putting themselves in harm’s way to look after the rest of our community. But one group that hasn’t been sung about enough, in my opinion, in the community is our early educators. There was a lot of debate about some of the difficult circumstances that many of our workers found themselves in. Early childhood educators were not often mentioned but they turned up day after day to an environment where you can’t actually socially distance. How can you possibly socially distance in an early education setting when you have got to give comfort and care to our youngest Australians? But they turned up and they did it. They understood it was important because other essential workers relied on them. That care and support were critically important, and families relied on that care.
When the childcare industry and the childcare sector were in dire straits, we on this side did call on the government to actually intervene and do something about it. Unfortunately, what we had was a half-baked policy which announced free child care but didn’t fund it. But instead of actually rectifying the problems of that system, instead of actually looking at how it could improve it, what the government has done is snap back to the old system that was in place before the pandemic. What the government has done is insult every early childhood educator by ripping JobKeeper away from them without any guarantee for their job and without any guarantee that they will continue to have an income as we move forward. It is just not good enough when we look at the attitude this government takes.
I also want to touch on families because families are doing it tough. Many families have had their incomes, their hours or their jobs slashed yet they still want to try to look for work, they still want to try to build their business and they still want to try to reinvent what they do and how they can participate in the economy. To do that, they do need to send their children to early education and care. In addition to that, they may want their children to actually get the benefits of early education and care. But what this government has said is that, despite being at the depths of a recession, it is going to rip that support away and is going to make sure that parents are going to be charged some of the highest fees in the world for child care. Well, talk about not getting your priorities right.
This government is saying that it wants to stimulate by funding home renovations. Why isn’t this government supporting families? Families right around this country are sitting around their kitchen tables, scratching their heads, doing the calculations to see if it’s worth taking on an extra shift if they’re offered it. They’re trying to work out whether or not they can go for a job and whether it will be worth it because of the high childcare fees they will have to pay. This is not the right time to snap back to one of the highest-costing childcare systems in the world. This is not right for families, and what it will do is it will put a handbrake on female participation in the workforce in this country. When women are often already taking the brunt of this crisis, what we have is a government that will not put them first, will not support them and will actually put a barrier that isn’t a health pandemic in the way to them gaining employment.