RN Drive – access to child care

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

ANDY PARK, HOST: Amanda Rishworth is the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, welcome to RN Drive. Why is it that in 2022, where you live is still a key determinant as to whether you get child care places for children or not?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Ultimately, I think what we’ve had is a situation where there hasn’t been really this mapping exercise ever before. I don’t think we’ve really understood the gaps, and where there are problems. I think also we have not been seeing child care and early education as an essential service. The way the government and many people talk about this is an add-on extra, or something that is more like a welfare measure when it comes to the government subsidy. But I think in this day and age, we do have to now switch our attention to seeing this as an essential part of family infrastructure, to help families balance work life, but also give little children the opportunity for an education. And I do think this mapping exercise is really important around transparency and shedding the light on where those gaps actually are.

PARK: So how significant is a factor in child care in allowing predominantly women to participate in the workforce?

RISHWORTH: Look, it’s absolutely huge. And what we know is that in Australia, we have one of the highest part time second income earner rates in the OECD. So we are falling behind in terms of full time women’s workforce participation. And that’s predominantly due to the lack of access to child care, both access and affordability. And the economics show that if we actually invested in this infrastructure, we could get a return of, for every $1, a $2 return for the economy. So we need to also move away from this is just a problem of the family – it’s actually an economic problem when it comes to productivity and participation. So, I think we really need to seriously look at this. We don’t bat an eyelid when we talk about road infrastructure boosting economic productivity, but it seems when it comes to child care, it is holding predominantly women back from working the hours they need, and they want to work.

PARK: So more than a million people or 4 per cent of the population live in neighbourhoods with absolutely no child care. How would a Labor government if elected address that shortfall?

RISHWORTH: Well firstly I would say that we did have a program in place that looked at where the market was failing, it was called the BBF fund – I know that we don’t like acronyms, but that’s what the fund was called. That was meant to address where market was failing in rural and regional areas. That was unfortunately abolished. But what Labor wants to do is in the short term, improve affordability, but in the long term work towards a universal 90 per cent subsidy system. And of course, part of that is about accessing early education and care. So we want to get the Productivity Commission to do a significant piece of work of how we can move early education and care into a universal 90 per cent subsidy service which would look at access as well.

PARK: You’re on RN drive. My guest is Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Amanda Rishworth. This texter who I presume is male says when you say “particularly women”, you instantly undermine me in this situation. Often those who put their female partners interests first. “Predominantly women” – it is unnecessary commentary, regardless of gender they are both child care providers. I mean, Amanda, I suppose your point really is that the equality of access to child care shouldn’t be just limited to women in terms of their participation in workforce, it is to support the whole family.

RISHWORTH: Of course it is, and my husband has been the primary caregiver and so I understand that. But if you look at a macro level, and if you do aggregate statistics, what we know is that it is predominantly women that are the second income earner. And whoever the second income earner is the system in place, the current system in place and the cost around that, and the accessibility, actually is a disincentive for that second income earner to go back to work. So yes, whoever that second income earner is, it is a disincentive for that second income earner. But on the whole, it is predominantly women that do that. And so that is why I use that language. But of course, it is the second income earner here in Australia that is financially disadvantaged because of the cost of child care. And what this report shows today, in some circumstances, because of the physical barrier to access early education and care, actually just can’t go back because of the lack of care.

PARK: So to address these so called “child care deserts”, how can government more or less incentivise providers to work in areas where the need is greatest?

RISHWORTH: As I said there was a program in place – and that was actually cancelled as a result of government cancelling that program – to help those services that perhaps were particularly in rural and regional areas. And what the government told them, this current government, was you had to make a buck, which wasn’t helpful at all. But I think the first step is transparency. I mean, I find this information incredibly important, I am surprised that neither State Governments or Federal Government had done this work. And, you know, I think the first step is not taking a step back, and “we’re just there to provide the subsidy and nothing else” – we need to be active participants in looking at all options. And that’s what I’m very keen for the Productivity Commission to look at, is how we make that universal access of 90 per cent subsidy, so you can go and access early education, and we need to make sure we’re doing that work. But the first stop is the government, both State and Federal, to be actively engaged in this and to have this information readily at hand.

PARK: Amanda, thanks for your time tonight.

ENDS

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