Wednesday, 9 December 2020
Matters of Public Importance
I'm very pleased to rise and make a contribution to this matter of public importance today, and there's no matter of public policy that is more important than delivering affordable, accessible, quality child care and early education for all children in Australia. I thank the member for Kingston for bringing forward this MPI today.
The government's childcare system is failing to support Australian families to work the hours that they want and need. And that's what this policy that Labor's proposing seeks to address. It enables increased flexibility for women to be able to make the choices that suit their lives, because, if given the choice of listening to the debate from government members today or listening to the families in my community, I know which group I'm backing in terms of the lived experience in accessing child care and early education in this country. Just like the constituents of every other representative in this House, the working families in Newcastle are telling me that child care is way too expensive and it is a difficult system to navigate. These are the two most common things that young mums in particular will come to talk to me about. In many ways, COVID-19, like so many parts of our economy, really amplified the problems that were already there.
This government ran the cruellest hoax of all, telling people they had a free childcare system operating for a period of time, exactly at a time when so many women were unable to access any child care whatsoever. I had frontline health workers coming to me throughout that period saying: 'Sharon, I've taken parental leave. My little one's three months old. I've got the call to go back to work. They need frontline workers back at the hospital. I'd love to go back, but I can't get any child care. I cannot get in.' And then, when they did get a foot in the door, after many, many tries, it was, 'You can only have one day, maybe two days.' That was it. So you ring your workplace back and say: 'Look, I am a trained health professional. I would love to be doing my bit to assist during the global pandemic, but you know what? I've only got child care for two days, so that's it.' So those workplaces, if they were doing the right thing, snapped up those women—women of great skills and talent—but the women were not given the choice to return to work full time. There was no choice on the table for them at that point.
We know that women have borne the brunt of COVID-19, yet we had a budget brought down in this House that effectively chose to ignore 51 per cent of the population. When those women dared to articulate a critique of this budget, they were told, 'There are no credible women in this country that don't like this budget.' You can imagine how outraged they felt about that. But when this government refuses to accept that there is a problem on the table it says to women in my electorate like Alana Robertson, who wanted to go back to hairdressing after the birth of her child, that she should be happy to just take home $100 a week out of her pay packet after paying out for child care and she should be happy to work five days a week and take home $100. I don't think she needs to be happy about that. I don't think any woman would be happy about that. It's like she is working solely to pay the childcare centre.
We know a lot of women are going back to work not for the money. Indeed, other constituents of mine, occupational therapists, wanted to return to full-time work. They wanted to get back into the workforce and enjoy the social contact. But, again, there was no choice for full-time child care for them and no choice for affordable child care. Many families depend on both parents to earn an income and it really is time that this government faced up to the fact the childcare system is broken and it works against Australian women and families. (Time expired)