Federal Parliament - Child care [22 November 2021]

22 November 2021

Dr ALYI don't think there's a member in this House who wouldn't acknowledge how important early child care or early childhood learning is, and child care is the subject of the motion the member for Bonner has put forward. But I have heard members of the Morrison-Joyce government call child care the 'outsourcing of parenting', and I recall one member of the LNP government, in previous years, talking about child care as if it's just about wiping noses and changing nappies. Indeed, the member for Bonner, who moved this motion, spent his five minutes on this motion talking about his own visit to a childcare centre, in which he read a book to the children at that childcare centre. Fair enough—he's free to do that. But there was no mention of the hard work that our early educators do, the conditions under which they're forced to work, the low wages and the lack of valuing of that industry that is currently exhibited by the Morrison-Joyce government.

Ninety-seven per cent of people who work in early childhood education are women, and they can earn as little as $22 an hour. That's just above the minimum wage and way below the average wage. As is the case for the member for Macquarie, it's been a long time since I had to place my children in child care, as it was also called back then. But, as a single working mother, I am eternally grateful to every single one of those workers who looked after my children so that I could go back to university and get an education, go to work and put a roof over my children's heads, build up my family, and be a role model for my two young boys, who saw their mother going out and working and building a career for herself. I could not have done that without the childcare workers and the early childhood educators who helped me raise my children. That's what they did: they helped me raise my children. And they are so undervalued. They are so undervalued in terms of remuneration, and they are so undervalued by a government whose members think that early childhood education is outsourcing parenting and is nothing more than wiping snotty noses.

We need to increase the pay rates for our early childhood educators, pay them what they're worth and recognise their value. That's one part of the puzzle here. If we're going to talk about a comprehensive childcare policy and a comprehensive approach to child care, that's one part of the puzzle. The other part is making it more affordable for families. I remember sitting there and doing the sums about how much it was going to cost me to put two children in child care while I went out to work and how much money would be left at the end of the day for the mortgage, for the bills and for food. And let me tell you, I know many families across Australia are doing the same thing today: working out if it's worthwhile sending their children to child care so that one of the parents—usually the female, who is the primary care giver—can go out and build a career and go to work. Right now, our childcare system locks out about 100,000 families who are making those decisions today. Right now, as we speak, parents are sitting there and working out if it's worthwhile for one of the parents to go back to work, because of the cost of childcare. It means that women, predominantly, are either not working or not able to take on more hours.

A responsible government would have fixed this childcare system. It would have done that. It would have increased the pay and it would have made child care more accessible and more affordable. I know that this Morrison-Joyce government has put forward a childcare plan and a childcare policy, but they do not go far enough and do not even compare to Labor's policy, which would help four times as many families and 97 per cent of families would benefit. Only Labor can be trusted to fix a broken childcare system.