Thursday, 8 October 2020
Matters of Public Importance
As a working mother of four, I'm acutely aware of the pressures working families face each and every day. It can feel like there's not much time to focus on anything other than supporting our families. I know the pressures on families through the COVID pandemic have been immense, particularly in my home state of Victoria. They've been supervising children to do their school via Zoom—most parents now have a newfound respect for teachers—supervising toddlers, who'd rather throw their food than eat it, and providing mentoring and support for anxious teenagers as they lose their peer group support. At the same time, Australia's COVID-19 economic recovery depends on working families being able to return to the workforce. Our government has been there, and we'll always be committed to increasing workforce participation, especially amongst women.
Before COVID, we were proud that women's workforce participation was at a record high. Before COVID, we were proud that the gender pay gap was at a record low. It is here that I wish to acknowledge the contribution that my predecessor, former member for Higgins the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer, made to these amazing outcomes through her championing of the Women's Economic Security Statement. This is a plan to support women that has delivered in spades by increasing workforce participation and decreasing the gender pay gap. It is a plan that has been updated in the most recent budget, with a doubling of our contribution, taking our commitment to $240 million. The Morrison government understands that female participation in the workforce is not just key to the individual prosperity of individuals and families but key to the future prosperity of our great country.
We were committed to affordable and accessible child care before COVID, we have been committed to affordable and accessible child care during COVID, and we remain committed to affordable and accessible child care in the future that lies ahead post COVID as we rebuild our economy and our lives. In 2018 this government introduced a suite of reforms to the childcare sector to slash out-of-pocket expenses. I'm proud that ABS data shows that costs to families remain 3.2 per cent lower than under the previous childcare package. The government supports a targeted approach to child care. This means those families who earn the least receive the highest level of subsidy, at 85 per cent. On top of this, we provide additional support for those doing it particularly tough. A 95 per cent subsidy is available for families who are transitioning to work. A 120 per cent subsidy is already available for families who are experiencing financial hardship. In most cases, this is free child care.
We knew, going into this pandemic, that our response was going to hinge on the availability of our essential services workers to do their jobs to the best of their ability. We were going to have to ask them to put themselves on the line to keep Australians healthy during this time. But, to ask our essential service workers to do this, we needed to have confidence that they had confidence in their childcare arrangements. Because of the lockdown, no longer could you drop your children over at Grandma's or have a neighbour look after them. Informal childcare arrangements have been incredibly difficult through COVID. This is where the Morrison government has stepped up to the mark and kept the childcare sector afloat. We worked with them to make sure that we could get through this crisis. This resulted in around a million Australian families receiving fee-free child care and allowed the many important childcare services right across Australia to remain open. In fact, 99 per cent of them remained open during this crisis.
As we pivot to the economic recovery from COVID, we recognise how important child care is going forward. In the 2020-21 budget, the government will pay a record $9.2 billion in childcare subsidy payments, which will grow to $10.7 billion in coming years. This is an extraordinary amount of money. We recognise that Victoria, in particular, has been going through difficulties and we understand that the $372 million Child Care Recovery Package, particularly for Victoria, means that Victorian services can continue and can receive this recovery payment through to 31 January 2021.
On this side, we recognise the importance of affordable and accessible child care and how it promotes workforce participation, growth and female economic empowerment.