This government gets it. We know that too many families are facing unacceptably high costs as they try and do something about something that, as a society, we should all support—juggling work and family. We know that, in a time of genuine cost-of-living pressures, one of the largest expenses for many families is their childcare bill, and we get that too many women—and it is mainly women—are unable to take up that extra day of work because the cost of child care is currently just prohibitive. The consequences of that are felt not just by them and their family but by us as a community and a society.
In a period where we have workplaces desperately looking for workers, we are disincentivising a huge chunk of our workforce from being in jobs, helping our businesses get on with it. And, of course, we also know that we are setting women up for being at risk of poverty later in life. In fact, the greatest group at risk of homelessness at the moment is older women, and that is often a consequence of women, earlier in life, taking up caring responsibilities. There are so many ways in which this bill is really important and in which it is going to change the lives of families in Australia and going to make our communities stronger. It’s for all these reasons that I’m very proud to be speaking in support of it today.
I have young children myself. As someone with young children, I spend a lot of time in playgrounds. Quite often, I’ve come to have what I like to call the swing conversation. This is where you’re pushing your child on the swing and there’s another mum next to you pushing their child on the swing. You start having that chat: ‘How old is your kid? What do you do? How often do you work?’ And it always ends up with, ‘How often do you work?’ and, nearly always, the line is: ‘I’m just working three days a week at the moment. We wanted to look at an extra day, but we sat down and did the maths, and it doesn’t make sense for me to work that extra day—child care is just so expensive.’ I genuinely have this conversation with women in my community over and over again. It doesn’t need to be this way. Early education is something that benefits our children, and it benefits families.
We know from the data that last year there were 73,000 people who wanted to work but didn’t look for work because they couldn’t make childcare costs work for their situation. With our plan, our government is encouraging these people; we’re encouraging those mums at the swings to be able to work that extra day, to know that they can do that without actually paying more for their child care than they’re being paid to do their job. This bill is all about supporting women to increase their participation in the workforce and, through this, accelerating work to close the participation, pay and superannuation gaps. It is a win-win-win—good for children, good for families and good for the economy.
One of the really important parts of our plan is that 96 per cent of Australian families will be better off. This is important because child care should be one of those services that we can all rely on and all use. I’m very pleased that our government has been clear that this is not the end of the childcare journey—that we also want to look at how we make this a universal system that does benefit all families.
The changes we’re introducing will lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent for families with a combined income of under $80,000. For some of the families in Jagajaga, in my electorate, that will be a really big, beneficial change. A family on a combined income of $90,000 a year—they might be in Heidelberg Heights or Watsonia in my community, for example—with one child in child care three days a week currently receives an annual subsidy of about $13,000. With the future subsidy delivered by our government’s plan, a family in this situation will save $1,140 in the first year of our new policy. This is significant money going back into the pockets of local families to help bring down their costs. Of course, there are many families in my community who have more than one child attending child care—my family is one of those—and our government understands this. Our plan will retain the higher childcare subsidy for families with more than one child aged five or under in care, to maximise the benefits this policy has across communities and ensure as many families benefit as possible.
We also know that part of this equation is supporting the people who work in early education. I want to give a big shout-out to all of those people who do this incredibly difficult work that we have undervalued for too long. The people who work in early education do deserve a pay rise, and I am very glad that this government will also be bringing legislation to this place that goes to some of the historic issues that have meant women in feminised industries like early education have not been paid as they should. Any of us who have spent time caring for children, trying to educate them, know what a huge job that is and what an important job that is.
I want to give a shout out to all the early educators in my electorate and to the people at Goodstart Ivanhoe, who I visited recently for Early Learning Matters Week and who took me through everything they were doing in a day, running around after teeny, tiny children and helping older children start to learn their letters. It’s a huge breadth of both care and education that these educators are providing, and at the moment we don’t recognise it as we should. As we continue to look at how we improve our childcare system, that’s absolutely something that we must improve. I also want to give a shout-out to all the educators at my children’s centre. Again, I see every day how hard you’re working to keep things on track in really difficult circumstances, often feeling underappreciated for that.
We make all these changes because Labor understands modern families. We understand that in our families we want to be able to juggle work and care and we want to be able to do that without it ruining us financially. This is an important bill. It matters to families in my community. It matters to early educators in my community. It matters to businesses in my community, who will benefit from having more workers available to them. It is good for children in my community, who will be assisted to get the best possible start in life. For all those reasons I am very pleased to support this bill, and I commend it to the House.