House debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Child Care

3:37 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm pleased to rise today to speak on this matter of public importance and pleased to follow the minister. I note that, in his whole 10 minutes, not once did he address the issue here, and that is that, in the budget that was delivered on Tuesday night, there is not one new measure. There is nothing for early education and child care. There's a trillion-dollar debt but nothing for early education and child care.

Let me be clear: parents' capacity to access quality early education and child care is not an indulgence. It is a productivity imperative. It's an economic recovery imperative. There couldn't be anything more important in a community like the community that I represent. The government has done this budget and said that it's all about stimulating business and consumer demand. It can do that as much as it likes, but, unless the parents who live in communities like mine can get back to work—and the only way they're going to get back to work is if we have a viable, healthy, affordable, quality early education and childcare plan.

We know that lots of things during this pandemic have changed. We know that lots of people are working from home. We know that there are a lot of people working from home while they're supervising their children, and we know that they've found that incredibly difficult. We know that many women and many men have had their hours cut or lost their jobs completely. We know that to get back to work the families in electorates like mine need to be able to access early education and child care without prohibitive cost. They need to do this for lots of reasons. There are lots and lots of parents in the electorate that I represent that have drained their superannuation balances during this recession and they need to get back into full-time work to rebuild those balances. This is particularly important for women. They need to be in full-time employment. They need to ensure that they can take the next steps on the promotion ladder. They need to be at work. They need all the impediments to their being able to work full-time removed and that's what this government has failed to do this in this budget.

There is a structural issue in accessible early education and child care. It is around a hurdle that is in front of working families where it costs money for both parents to go to work full-time, where one wage earner is better off only working three days a week rather than five. That impediment could have been removed on Tuesday night and this government chose not to remove it. It is typical of this government. We saw it during the pandemic. We saw it from the hapless minister when he had to move time and time again to change his policy, to change the way he was dealing with child care, to ensure that people could still access it, and to ensure that the sector survived across the pandemic and across the recession.

The budget on Tuesday night has shown us that in a thousand pages there was no plan for early education and child care. The COVID crisis has shown us just how important affordable and accessible child care is for families, for women, for children and for our economy. It was an absolute missed opportunity. There is no plan to reduce childcare fees to support parents going back to work during the deepest recession in 100 years.

Economists have told us that a $5 billion investment in child care would boost GDP by $11 billion a year. The Grattan Institute has reported that to us. But today we've seen, once again, the minister responsible in this space stand in the House of Representatives, and rather than address the issues confronting the Australian population and working families, he chooses to walk out of the chamber and not address it. He chose not to address it in cabinet meetings. He chose not to get it on the agenda when the government was going to go into a trillion dollars debt. And yet he was not there arguing for more to be done for child care for working families in electorates like mine.

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