Labor to make free childcare pledge after budget’s “missed opportunity” for reform

Anthony Albanese

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, on Monday, June 15, 2020. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese will reportedly use his budget reply speech on Thursday to promise to dramatically cut the cost of childcare for many Australian families. 

According to news.com.au, the Labor leader will pledge to make childcare free for some workers in a similar policy to the one Labor took to the last election, which offered free childcare to those earning less than $69,000 a year. 

However, Labor’s policy will not include a wage subsidy for childcare workers, as was originally included in its 2019 election pitch. 

Childcare reform was noticeably absent in Tuesday night’s federal budget, with no new funding earmarked for the sector, apart from $314.2 million to continue to support childcare providers in Victoria. 

The government said it will also continue to relax the activity test requirements for the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) for all Australian families until April 2021, to support those employment has been affected by the coronavirus recession. 

The lack of reform in this area was highlighted by small business ombudsman Kate Carnell as a “missed opportunity” in a budget that has otherwise been well received by the small business community. 

In a statement responding to the budget, Carnell said affordable childcare would allow more women to continue working on their businesses, which would have positive flow-on effects to the economy overall. 

Close to 40% of small businesses are owned and operated by women, says Carnell, and many of these business owners are relying on childcare to get their businesses through these challenging times. 

“Despite some additional targeted support for Victorian families, childcare will remain unaffordable for many Australian women in small businesses, particularly those currently surviving on JobKeeper,” she said in response to the budget on Tuesday night. 

“We know this recession has had a disproportionate impact on women, and with childcare fees remaining unaffordable, it means mothers — more often than not — need to spend more time at home,” Carnell added. 

“It’s bad for business and even worse for the economy”. 

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra also pointed out the area as one missing in the budget. 

“Retail is a predominately female sector, particularly in the area of frontline jobs, and whilst we applaud the support for women, childcare support remains a hurdle we would like to see addressed,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. 

In response to questions on Sunrise earlier today about why the government wasn’t offering “free childcare” to help more women return to work, or continue working, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a free care would “basically give massive subsidies to those on much higher incomes”. 

“Nine billion dollars a year is what we spend on supporting childcare, and those on low and middle incomes, they can get up to 85 per cent of their childcare rebated,” he said. 

Labor’s Treasury Spokesperson Jim Chalmers highlighted the lack of spending on childcare measures when speaking on ABC Radio today, suggesting that childcare will be a focus for the opposition in coming weeks. 

“There’s hardly anything for women, nothing for childcare, nothing substantial for public housing, nothing substantial for cleaner and cheaper energy, and nothing substantial for aged care,” he said.

“It really beggars belief that you can spend that much money and rack up a trillion dollars in debt and still not address some of the obvious challenges in our economy now and into the future.”

As reported by news.com.au, under the childcare policy Labor took to the 2019 election, $4 billion would have been spent on providing access to cheaper care, with an estimated 887,000 families eligible for fee reductions and some 400,000 eligible for free care if they were working. 

The policy offered cheaper childcare fees for families earning under $174,000 a year. 

NOW READ: Last night the Treasurer lamented women’s economic security challenges… and then pledged little to solve them

NOW READ: From farmers and gas to aged care and most women, here are last night’s budget’s winners and losers

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