If you are going to try and bribe a child (or a recalcitrant Senate) to do something, the inducement has to be really, really covetable. Parents know this, hence toys and lollies are well used currency in toddler child negotiations. Does the Turnbull Government know this? In using the inducement of “more money for childcare” to get the Senate pass a raft of Family Tax Benefit cuts, did they insure the inducement was actually something worthy and wanted?
The long awaited legislation for the Jobs for Families Child Care Package was introduced to the House of Representatives this morning and I think they blew it. They blew it because the childcare bill does not deliver a better childcare system for Australia. It does not solve the core childcare issues in Australia for families. The Senate, if it has sense, will reject it.
Why is it so bad? Because its core offering is a ‘simplified’ payment of child care subsidies to parents. It replaces the existing Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate with a new Child Care Subsidy from July 2017. This is subject to both an income test (with richer families getting less) and an activity test designed to incentivise (or coerce) mothers into joining the workforce, on the grounds that working families are better off families and working families help increase the country’s GDP.
And what does this core offering really offer? It offers about $30 more a week to the bulk of childcare using families. The Productivity Commission, which was tasked by the Government to improve the childcare system, said that the existing system was complex, inflationary and failed to target support where it was needed.
The new system may be less inflationary, but one has to only glance at the legislation to see how complex the new system is. The Activity Test alone, which means that the more parents work the more funded childcare they can access, is mind-blowingly complex. Families doing casual work will not be able to calculate their child care subsidies, and hence their childcare fees, in advance.
The government believes their Package will provide more affordable access to quality childcare that will put jobs in reach for more families. This itself is questionable. The Activity Test alone will see some families having their access reduced, although it does exempt the families of children receiving 600 hours of preschool access in the year before school. This is good. We know early education is vital for children to success academically and socially. This is why most OECD countries provides at least 2 years of the stuff to all children – much more than the 600 hours promised.
But is $30 a good enough inducement for the Family Tax Cuts? I think not.
What is absolutely infuriating about this package, is that $30 a week for most families is more or less all it offers. It has done nothing to ensure childcare is available where families want, and of the type they want. It does nothing to ensure that the quality of childcare offered is as good as families want it to be. It does nothing to stop the flow of government childcare funds to large corporate childcare providers and their shareholders.
Some leaders, some governments, leave a legacy of changes worth making. Medicare, superannuation, better education systems.
This was a chance to design a better system to do two things: make it easier for families to work by acknowledging, as a society, that paid employment and child raising don’t always mix well; and a chance to design an early education and care system that would provide the best start for Australian children.
But we blew it. We instead went for making it $30 cheaper to access a piecemeal childcare system where quality differs greatly from service to service, where lots of taxpayer dollars leak to profit making companies, and where children miss out on the advantages of extensive early education that so many other countries now prioritise.
When will a visionary leader realise that children are the core of our country’s future? That the people raising them must be supported. That children need access to the best start in life, both because as a rich country we can afford it, and because it will ensure our country prospers in the future.
When will we have a real discussion about the sort of country we want to be? The sort of things we value, that we collectively want to spend our collective wealth on?
Then we might get the childcare system, the early education and care system that our children deserve.
Because bartering their rights away for a measly $30 a week cheaper childcare does not seem the best thing for our country to do.
And one can only hope that the Senate sees this.