This is a long overdue update on the Make Care Petition which many of you will know I launched almost two years ago to get childcare reform on the political agenda. At the time of the petition launch we ran a survey and 86% of respondents said they would give their vote to the party with a tax-deductible policy on childcare. I guess we'll soon have the chance to test that theory with the election date announced.
Late last year I had the opportunity to meet with The Hon Kate Ellis Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care. I presented her with the petition and its comments, a summary of which you can access here. You can also read the Minister's response here.
What I know for sure, after spending significant days and hours over the past two years to understand the community concerns relating to child care, is that the flexible working hours ruse announced by the Government on Sunday is not going to solve the very material issues relating to child care quality, affordability and accessibility.
Flexibility is important for working parents, but it doesn't help them find quality care for their kids. Just as working fewer hours, or part time, will not make child care more affordable - unless it reduces your income threshold adequately to access additional family tax benefits. And forcing employers to turn full time roles into part time roles will only make it less attractive to employ women.
I was planning to write a detailed piece today on what I've learnt on this issue - and what we all (mums, dads, employers and community leaders) need to know about child care... but my neighbour on the farm 5km away has just rung to say my naughty sheep dogs have just turned up there so I need to go find them... and who knows how long that will take!!
So I'll finish working on that to post tomorrow, and in the mean time leave you with a sample of the comments that have been posted on the Make Care Fair petition website that will give you just a flavour for some of the issues we need to resolve - as a nation - to make child care fair, for all Australians.
Here are just a sample of the comments, from all over Australia:
What is the point in working when you come home with $50 a week after everything is paid for? I am the main income earner in my family and I work shifts covering a 24 hour roster. Each shift varies in length from 8 to 14 hours. No two weeks of the roster are the same and there is no government supported childcare available to my child. I can't get a spot at childcare in my local area and can't afford at home care with no rebate, so why's my option? We are better off financially with my wife not working and getting FTB than if she rejoined the workforce. I'm currently paying ~$30k net per year on private day care. I have been on the waiting list for cheaper govt day care since before my son was born - he is now 26mths and I've yet to receive a place. Ever tried getting childcare for more than one child at the same place? We sold our fully paid for second car to pay the cost of child care for 1 child! I'm married to a Soldier who's currently deployed and I can't go to work as he's always away on courses or exercise and don't have after hours care for the kids. I went through ELEVEN child care scenarios before my eldest was 6..... as a shiftworker on a rotating roster it was simply hell trying to find suitable ongoing childcare. I used occasional care, long daycare, family day care, family..... It nearly destroyed my sanity. But not my partners. I cannot afford $1000 per week for both my children to attend day care. With crazy rental prices and the cost of childcare we are struggling and are damned if we do or don't. I want to work but cannot afford to, taking my choice away. I feel trapped at home on one income struggling and unable to assist with bringing in $$$. I have tried finding night work but told I'm to over qualified!!!! Childcare is a legitimate cost of working like a tool of trade - if I don't work the government doesn't get my taxes. As a childcare worker I am concerned at the extremely low pay rate for myself and fellow child care workers. We are paid less than a check out operator and we are looking after the lives of children and supporting parents in caring for a human life. My 4 yo daughter goes to preschool. My 8 yo went to the same preschool attached to the local public school. It used to cost $12 a day; now with these new "standards" preschool is $40 a day. Finding childcare for my son so that I can return to work next month has been a nightmare. Despite having my name down on at least 6 different waiting lists (which is ridiculous in itself), I have only been offered 1 place in a centre which is still being build and not yet staffed, so I haven't been able to meet anyone. Rather than being able to choose the best care for my son, I am having to choose the only available. Living in a small country town it is blatently obvious the lack of resources when it comes to chidcare. We have 1 active childcare centre which boasts month long waiting lists and if you are new to town there is almost no chance of getting a placement for your child as children with sibling who are or have attended the childcare centre get first preference. I am 5 months out from returning to work and am finding it very difficult to find a place for my daughter. I am going to have to take a place as soon as I find one - and pay for care I do not need - just to ensure there is somewhere for her to go once I do return to work. I'm 34 and I've been putting off having children because I know my partner and I can't afford one of us being off work for an expended period of time. Recently, a friend of mine who was due to return to work after 12 months maternity leave had no choice but to resign from her job due to not being able to find appropriate childcare for her 14mth year old. I have had my name on childcare waiting lists for 2.5 years to no avail. It's a strange situation that requires you to return to work after 12 months, but there's not enough childcare services to enable you to re-enter the workforce. We've had to pay a nanny for the last 12 months, and my salary is not enough to justify this. It doesn't make sense that you can't access the childcare rebate for a nanny when you can't get a childcare spot. Full time child care costs more than private school education. This is ridiculous. I live on a cattle station & have few child care options & even less assistance available to me from the government than my city cousins.... don't forget us here in the bush too - we work long hours in challenging conditions to feed & clothe the nation. Why can child care not be a deductible expense? Let me tell you, childcare for my 3 children is a far more direct 'cost of going to work' than all of those magazine subscriptions I claim! After having our second child I was diagosed with depression, and our babysitters have allowed me to return to work part time which has helped to manage my drepression, and for that I will always be very thank ful, There is a 'black market' of childcare that exists in this country - this has to stop. If men were the primary carers, this would not even be a debate - it is obvious that childcare cost should be tax deductable. Due to the cost of child care we have had to place our house on the market as we cannot afford both a moratage and child care. YES CHILD CARE IS MORE EXPENSIVE THAN MY MORATAGE. I am due to return to work next month but no childcare place has come up despite being on multiple waiting lists. I was told the wait would be about two years, and yet they will not allow you to put the child's name down until it is born. In France public school start at 3. How wish it was the same here! I re-iterate, a parent knows what form of childcare is most suited to their child. I'm demanding the parents' right to choose, in the interests of child and family. More women in the workforce serves to make our country more efficient and effective. In a time when we already suffer skilled labour shortages this would seem an obvious area to focus on. If the Government honestly DOES understand how crucial the first 5 years of a child's life is, then why isn't childcare a government run organisation such as Primary and High Schools???
As you can see, this is a complex issue that requires a complete rethink of the entire care proposition. Not just maternity leave. Not just flexible work. And not just employer solutions.