Thursday, 8 October 2020
Matters of Public Importance
At the beginning of my contribution to this matter of public importance debate on child care, I want to pick up on a couple of points made by the assistant minister and the minister—first, the assistant minister, who said 'Yeah, we saved the sector in Victoria, and aren't we great!' You're responsible for the sector. The federal government is responsible for the sector. You need to step in and help the sector when it's in crisis. What happened in Victoria was disgraceful. We knew there was a pandemic. We knew people were losing their jobs. We knew centres were being forced to close. Yet this government waited until the sector almost collapsed before they stepped in to help. Educators were being stood down. Children were being withdrawn. Centres had their attendance drop to 16 per cent. They were literally about to close their doors—one did, in the minister's own electorate—before this government acted. If that's what you call saving a sector—that's about as good as trying to save people from the sinking Titanic. It was a debacle.
And that debacle is ongoing. Today we still have educators sitting at home on JobSeeker, not back at work. Today we have a government who first gave educators the opportunity to be on JobKeeper and then kicked them off when we still have a sector that is struggling to get back and when we still have a sector where, because of the COVID-19 health crisis in Victoria, attendance is still low. I do worry about the long-term impacts of that. But, somewhere along the way, this government changed the conversation from being around childhood education and care to being about child care. Let's remember: this is also about the education and care of our youngest Australians—the foundation steps towards primary school. The research says that the early years matter.
I do like to hear other people in the chamber saying, 'When my adult children were in primary school,' and I congratulate them on being at that stage of their lives. But, as a new mum with a daughter about to start child care in a fortnight's time, I find the system confusing. People in my electorate find it confusing. A lot of chats in the mums' groups on Facebook are about how confusing it is to apply for child care. Where do we sit in the system? There is confusion around free child care. What this government did was an absolute debacle, and they've made it worse.
If we want to talk about the facts and the costs around child care, let's do that. This government, now in its third term, has overseen a 34 per cent increase in fees. Childcare costs have gone up, costing more than $380,000 a year. If you want to talk about it in daily cost figures, in my electorate of Bendigo, your childcare fees per day could range from $94 to $130 a day. Basically, what families and mums say to me in my electorate is that, once you have two in care, it's unaffordable. Once you're trying to pay for two children in early childhood education, it's just not worth it.
As other speakers on this side have highlighted, this system is rigged against mums and dads who want to work full time. Once you have two parents on dual incomes working full time, the fees become so unaffordable that one parent ends up staying home or dropping back to part-time work. I've had pharmacists speak to me about this. I've had public servants speak to me about this. I've had mental health nurses speak to me about this. One mental health nurse said that, once her youngest finished early childhood education, she actually received more money and was better off financially with both her children enrolled in school.
That brings me to a point that the minister made. He had a crack at Labor's policy at the last election and about how Labor were trying to find a solution to help fund wages in the sector. First of all, is the minister trying to justify our early childhood educators being on minimum pay? Is that what he wants—women working in this sector with degrees and diplomas locked into minimum pay? Second, does he not acknowledge that this government—all federal governments—actually helps subsidise wages in a number of industries? Why is it that we put billions in to private school education but we can't put billions in to fund the wages of our early childhood educators? This government, when it comes to early child care and early childhood education, is out of touch. Its budget leaves women behind and continues to leave this sector behind. It needs to do better.