Tasmania Talks – Labor’s Working Family Child Care Boost

Friday, 09 October 2020

AARON STEVENS, HOST: Amanda good morning. It is realistic for all Australians to have free childcare?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well what we’re looking at is a three-year boost to families, with the Productivity Commission looking into how we deliver a 90 per cent subsidy for all families. Because what we know is at the moment and families are doing it tough, but importantly the current child care system actually disadvantages the second wage earner, particularly mums, to go back for the fourth and fifth day of workl. So we actually have parents that have to pay to go to work on the fifth day as a result of the way the child care subsidy system is structured. So we want to eliminate that, because not only is that good for families, but it’s also good for women’s workforce participation and helps grow our economy, which is good for everyone.

STEVENS: Because clearly we’ve seen women hit hardest with the jobs shortage during COVID-19.

RISHWORTH: Absolutely, women have been hit the hardest when it comes to work and as we had go into the recovery, what I don’t want to see and what I think most people wouldn’t want to see is women saying it’s not worth my while to take those extra hours, it’s not worth my while to take that extra day of work because child care fees are too high. Because what then happens is women’s careers are often stunted and they have less superannuation. Now, of course it’s a choice, everyone has a choice, but if women want to go back more hours or for a greater amount of work, we shouldn’t be making them have to pay for it because child care is just too expensive.

STEVENS: Also does take away some of that decision on whether to actually have kids or not?

RISHWORTH: Absolutely, when we look at the three things that we need to grow our economy that’s population, productivity and participation. This policy actually addresses all three because it what it does is shows that people can have children and actually balance their work as well . What we don’t want is the fact that child care is just too expensive to hold families back, to hold women back, or not have children at all.

STEVENS: So how would the working family child care boost work?

RISHWORTH: Well in the first three years we’re going to increase the subsidy rate but also scrap the ten thousand dollar cap which currently exists. There’s a ten thousand cap, once you get that amount of subsidy from the government you don’t get any more, which means that could cut in three-quarters through the year. So we’re going to get rid of that as that’s one of the biggest barriers, as well as increase the subsidy overall. But what we also want to do in the long term is get the Productivity Commission to review the ability to go to 90 per cent subsidy for all Australian families. At the moment our boost will cover 97 per cent of Australian families.

STEVENS: Did you receive a call about this, I mean was there obviously a discussion in the community, because it seemed to come from nowhere?

RISHWORTH: Well no there’s been a lot of discussion in the community. Firstly we’ve had a lot of families talking to me, I have a lot of mums even in my own mother’s group who’ve been talking to me saying it’s just going to cost me if I do the extra day, I’m actually going to have to pay to go to work. So there’s been a lot of conversation with families, anyone living this really understands it. But there’s also been calls from economists, from the business community. There’s been a lot of businesses calling for this as well because if you’ve got a good employee and you want them to work full-time and they want to work full-time, but just can’t afford to do so, then that’s not good for business either. So we’ve had calls from right across the spectrum from families, but also from business groups, whether that be small or large business, saying that this needs to be done. We’ve also had a lot of economists calling for this because they’ve seen workforce participation as something that can actually grow our economy, and some recent modelling from KPMG has suggested a similar model to this could grow our economy to about 7 billion dollars per year. So there’s been calls right across from a variety of sectors, not just families, but of course it’s families that are the loudest voice in this.

STEVENS: Are you surprised the government hasn’t reacted then?

RISHWORTH: I am surprised the government hasn’t reacted. I thought that they would have something in this budget and I was really surprised they haven’t. But you know, ultimately this system was designed by Scott Morrison as the Social Services Minister, so maybe he has too much pride. I don’t know but I was really surprised because this has been a real groundswell of actually people wanting change here.

STEVENS: Obviously we saw child care available for free in many cases during the COVID-19, it was stopped pretty quickly wasn’t it?

RISHWORTH: Yeah it only lasted three months, but I think a lot of people that were still using it, particularly those essential at workers, realised that they were actually able to up their hours or up their days of work has a result of that. I had many centres and families saying I’ve enrolled in an extra day now so I can go to work more, because it actually makes financial sense. So there is no doubt that three months of free child care was a bit of a taste about what could happen if you made the system more affordable, so I was surprised the government finished it so quickly and went back to the high fee system, some of the highest fees in the OECD, especially in the middle of a recession. But Labor thought to put a plan out there, put an alternative out there, and I think that it has been widely welcomed by many people.

STEVENS: I did see a concerning statistic that 55 per cent of families make the choice between paying for groceries or child care each week, that’s worrying isn’t it?

RISHWORTH: It is really worrying and when you look at the cost, you know you do get a subsidy, but it does cost before that subsidy $120 a day so it adds up very quickly. And if you reach that cap of $10,000 then you’ve got to pay that $120 a day, so it is really expensive without government support and I think we’ve got to see this as an essential service. This is something that is needed by families to get back to work to grow our economy and we should be supporting that.

STEVENS: What sort of feedback have you had since the plan was laid out by the Opposition Leader and do you think that the government will take some of this on board?

RISHWORTH: I’ve overwhelmingly had really good feedback, like I said from economists, from business groups as well as of course families and the sector themselves as well. They see the impact that the cost has on families, so I’ve had widespread support. I think the government, if they are smart, will do something in this area, but as of up to now they seem to have had a blind spot so I’m not holding my breath. But certainly the widespread support across the economy, whether that be like I said economists, business groups and indeed families, has been overwhelmingly positive.

STEVENS: Good to talk to this morning, thank you for that.

RISHWORTH: Thank you.

ENDS

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