House debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Child Care

3:48 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the matter of public importance—namely, the Morrison government's lack of a plan to fix child care and support families to get back to work. This government is very good at picking winners and losers—in fact, creating winners and losers. Whether it be in university education, health or housing, they pick the winners and losers. This is certainly true in child care. The government has demonstrated time and time again a complete and utter lack of understanding of the needs of working parents and young and new families.

As a paediatrician, I know early childhood education is very important in later development of speech and language, social skills, analytical skills and, later, resilience and long-term success in a modern society. I represent a diverse and rapidly growing community. My electorate of Macarthur is experiencing exponential population growth, and a large number of new families are moving into the area with young children. Many of my former patients are starting their next phase in their adult lives—having a family, moving into new homes, working in new careers and looking at how they can best fulfil their lives. What they know is that, if they want to succeed in our society, if they want their children to succeed, it depends on education, and that education starts in early childhood. Many, many studies have shown that children who receive two or more days of early childhood education prior to starting kindergarten have better educational, social and health outcomes. This was becoming obvious in the 1970s, yet a comprehensive plan for early childhood education in Australia is lacking. My own daughter lives in Germany and won't come home, partly because she can get full early childhood education for her children while she works full-time. She can't get that in Australia without paying more than she would earn for it.

This government has created winners and losers, as I've said, and this budget is a very good example of that. The problem is that the losers in the early childhood education space will pay for it for the rest of their lives. I often see children with speech and language difficulties and physical problems, such strabismus, hearing loss, developmental delay and even cerebral palsy, that were not picked up until they started school. As a paediatrician, I know how important early intervention is, yet this is something that the government doesn't quite understand. I've long promoted the 'first thousand days' policy as a way of improving outcomes in health, education and the future for young children. All children should have access to high-quality early childhood education regardless of parental income. This is a simple matter of justice and equity. Again, this government picks winners and losers in early childhood. We know that efforts to improve parental outcomes will improve the outcomes for their children. A comprehensive childcare plan should be available for all children and their families regardless of where they live and regardless of the parents' social standing.

The reality is that this government is leaving people behind. Time and again I question why this must be so, and I can only come to the conclusion that this government is happy to have a community that is divided. This government does not have a plan to fix child care, and it has no plan to support families getting back to work, particularly women. If those opposite had a plan to support job creation, we would have seen an entirely different budget, one that planned for the future on a whole range of issues, not just early childhood education. Since March, approximately 200,000 women have lost employment and, unfortunately, 110,000 have left the labour force altogether. In Macarthur, far too many families and individuals are being overlooked by this government. The Prime Minister's lack of a plan for child care only exacerbates the economic challenges and the economic differences that we are seeing across the country. Under the watchful eye of the coalition, families saw their childcare fees hike by almost five per cent in 2019. It's not good enough. This tired, third-term government lacks ideas. We cannot underestimate the impact of the Morrison government's lack of understanding and incompetence in child care, in my community and across the country.

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