Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Matters of Public Importance
We have an early education system that is the envy of the world and it's good we can debate, towards the end of a calendar year, this very important sector and the huge investments that have been made by both sides of politics over the last two decades.
There's more positive news about Australian school outcomes, suggesting that the improvements, many of which were made by previous administrations, in the Early Years Learning Framework are starting to make a difference right across the country. But before we start on child care, the situation in inner-city areas should be pointed out. Obviously, real estate prices are higher and, potentially, out-of-pocket costs are too. Areas where incomes are also higher can be very different to the outer-metropolitan scenario, where we have low occupancy rates. Then we move into regional and remote areas where, in some cases, there's no childcare services at all. They're very, very heterogeneous situations and it's difficult to make generalisations about the entire country. Were we to do that, we'd turn to the ABS, and they would make it very clear that out of pockets are down, around three per cent lower than before our childcare reforms in 2018 were introduced.
A little bit of context for those of you who weren't around during the previous Labor administration: in opposition we brooked 58 per cent increases in childcare fees under this Labor government. Not for a moment should we ever think that the warriors for affordable childcare sit on the other side of the chamber. It's not the case at all. We fully understood the importance of quality early education and we knew that out of pockets went up, and in that delicate kabuki between out of pockets, quality care and wages for staff, it's actually been the coalition that's landed it every time. It doesn't mean there aren't difficult anecdotes brought here by the other side, but I can certainly speak on behalf of the 55 early-year providers in my electorate that are strong, thriving and recovering from COVID. Attendance nationwide is now around 112 per cent on pre-COVID levels. So if you're going to a better-overall test on child care and early education, it'll land on this side of the chamber. If you're going to look at the out of pockets and affordability for parents, fundamentally the explosion in costs came from that side, and parents know deep down and within their hearts that the better-overall tests for parents is from this side of the chamber and the coalition.
When it comes to quality care and the evidence for it, we've supported all of those elements. But let's be honest: the coalition has probably had the dial a little more focused on emphasising the importance of working parents having support in early education, and some of the anecdotes before about reduced hours were about an incentive not only to work but also to volunteer. These options are put to working parents, or parents we hope will work more hours, as an incentive: the more you work, the more you seek out and the more you volunteer then the more hours you get. I think that's utterly and intrinsically fair, and incredibly well understood.
The other test of course is typologies of parental income. What we know is that it has been the coalition driving the second income earner back into work, having the flexibility to raise household income. If you travel around the OECD, the big metric we work on is raising overall household income. It's gone from 59 per cent when we arrived in government in 2013 up to 61.5 per cent. In participation in the workforce for women, it's again the better off overall test for working women and it falls on the side of the coalition. Don't just believe me; believe the ABS.
Let's look at the lower income families—those who are earning below the immediate household income for $90,000. For them the average hourly cost of child care sits at around $1.50 up to $2.96 for a high-income earner. Then we had the brainwave: why don't we, as a Labor Party, start collecting parental data and set up an Amazon survey and hand all of the data to the very same company you're campaigning against on the other side of the street? What came of that was we saw that, whether you're earning $72,000 a year or you're earning over $300,000 a year, basically it determines how much money the Labor Party hands you. It's hard to justify. It's hard to brook, providing a family on $350,000 ten times more subsidy than the family on under $70,000. Clearly they're a party that doesn't think through its policies. Clearly they're a party that hasn't prepared its policies for the Australian people. Finally, when you apply the better off overall test for parents, the better off overall test for children and the better off overall test for workers in the early education sector, they know that the Labor Party is basically sniffing around for union membership, with very little care in the early learning centre beyond that. If you could remove your focus on signing up people and turning low-income workers into very-low-income workers by taking their income and feeding the union movement, you'd perhaps have a slightly more acute focus on the needs of young children.