Sky News AM Agenda – child care

Friday, 26 March 2021

LAURA JAYES, HOST: The Prime Minister has pledged to improve the treatment of women both in Parliament House and society more generally. But so far, the government has been short on practical proposals to do just that. Labor believes reforms to child care could be one way to help solve the problem, by creating a system that sees child care as a productivity measure, not a welfare issue. Amanda Rishworth is the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, she joins us live now. Amanda Rishworth, thank you for your time. Labor does have a policy that doesn’t recognise the child care system as much as a welfare one. But it still does have means tests in place.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: What we’ve said is we want to have a short term fix, because we know that child care fees are really unaffordable, out of pocket expenses are really crippling families. So what we’ve proposed in the short term is to increase the subsidy up to 90 per cent for our lowest income earners. And also, of course, remove the annual cap, which has been really difficult for a lot of families. That kicks in at about $180,000 combined family income. And we’ve increased the number of families that can receive the child care subsidy. But long term, what we’ve said is we want to get the Productivity Commission to map out a pathway that we can get to 90 per cent universal subsidy for all families. Because long term, we do want to see this as an essential service, support for families as an essential service, not as a welfare measure.

JAYES: You do have quite a high cap on it, I’ll give you that. It’s over a $500,000 for a family, that is a very high income family indeed. But if you’re sending a message to women in particular, and overwhelmingly child care still does affect women, do you accept that some people will still decline to go back to work because it’s cheaper and easier for them to stay at home? And that really undoes what you’re trying to do here doesn’t it?

RISHWORTH: What we have modelled is that our short term policy will affect and improve things for 97 per cent of families. What has been one of the big barriers has been this annual cap. So if you’re in a family that earns $180,000, once you’ve had just over $10,000 in subsidy, you’ve got to pay full fees for the rest of the year. That has been a big barrier to a lot of women. And actually it’s not just us – economists and many other groups, including the Business Council of Australia, has identified that measure in itself is what makes the disincentive rate for women to work the fourth and fifth day pretty significant. But look Laura, in the long term, we want to get to 90 per cent universal subsidy for all families and that’s our aim.

JAYES: Can I just ask you about aspiration here and the message that it does send to women. I don’t think any woman would ever knock back a pay rise. But you know, sometimes if they got a pay rise at work and they reached to this cap or the threshold, it would be a disincentive for them to be taking up child care or taking the pay rise. I mean, there’s still some things in your system that send the wrong signals don’t they?

RISHWORTH: What we’re doing is, first of all like I said, making some short term, significant improvements. Improvements that business groups, economists, a range of groups have called for. So we are taking the first initial steps to implement that, if we’re elected, immediately, effectively as soon as we can. We’ve been criticised by the Liberal Party, they’ve said that we have been helping too many high income women and we’ve fought back on that. But you know, we have to start somewhere. We’re starting with removing the biggest disincentives in the system. But long term, we have an aspiration for all families to get 90 per cent subsidy.

JAYES: I did think it was a bit of a perverse argument with the Liberal Party arguing in Question Time that you were trying to help out richer women. But look, the paid parental leave system, the scheme in place as it is, big businesses are taking the lead in many ways. What is your policy?

RISHWORTH: Well, at the moment, our policy is the existing system. Obviously the Liberal Party did a few years ago say that to get the government scheme and the company scheme was double dipping. We rejected that entirely. That was really outrageous for the government of the day, the Liberal Government, to be calling those women double dippers because they’re putting together both their company scheme and the existing scheme. But you know, when it comes to paid parental leave, I certainly know that many of my colleagues will be discussing this. Obviously, our policies will be rolled out to the before an election.

JAYES: This is relevant to now. After we saw the Prime Minister give that address in Parliament House talking about how he has listened to women, there was a visceral reaction from some of your colleagues. Kristina Keneally was one and I asked her what needs to be done straight away, and what can the Prime Minister do, and she listed off a number of issues. More funding for rape crisis centres, talking about child care, and she also noted the paid parental leave system. So are you saying that Labor’s policy isn’t any different here?

RISHWORTH: What I’m saying is we’re going through our policy process, I’m not the Shadow Minister responsible. But I know there’s a lot of discussion about how we can help families do better, and our child care policy is one of them. That is not an insignificant policy, our policy in the short term is expected to cost $6 billion. But we think this is the right investment, because of the huge economic returns. So I know there’s a lot of discussion. I have personal experience in the paid parental leave scheme, as I have with many of my mother’s groups and other women that I speak to. So we will certainly be discussing issues like paid parental leave. I have been on the record before to say that we need to carefully look at making sure that both men and women get access to paid parental leave. that it is more flexible for them to share care. I think that is critically important. There are some things in the current system that don’t allow for that to happen. So look, those discussions are certainly happening, and I’m certainly flagging many of those issues. But in terms of specific policies, I’m not here to announce any, we will roll them out before the next election.

JAYES: Okay, we want to see them sooner rather than later. Just quickly before I let you go, Amanda Rishworth, have you read Kate Ellis’ book Sex, Lies and Question Time?

RISHWORTH: I have had a flick through –

JAYES: Inaudible. 

RISHWORTH: Look I’m going to leave that to Kate. But what Kate’s done is really outline her personal experience, and it is incredibly relevant to the wider discussion we’re having today. So I would certainly encourage people to read that book. I did contribute –

JAYES: Inaudible.

RISHWORTH: No it’s not just one side of politics. I’ve been on the record many times saying it’s been pretty difficult for women. I would say though, in my experience, I’ve been in Parliament 13 years now, and certainly from the Labor Party I’ve seen huge improvements. And I’m really heartened by that in terms of culture. I think a lot of that has to do with having more women in the room. But Kate’s book clearly outlines a whole range of issues, how Parliament House works, how being a woman in politics works, and the interaction between women and the media as well.

JAYES: Alright, I’ll have to read it. Amanda Rishworth we’ll have to leave it there, thank you.

ENDS

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