Access to affordable and quality child care is certainly something that Australian families rightly expect, and it is something that I will continue to advocate for in this place. To hear members opposite claim that last year, during the pandemic, the Morrison government backed the early education sector just could not be further from the truth. I know this because I was in contact with early education providers, educators and parents throughout both of the lockdowns in Victoria last year. The overwhelming message I received from them was one of uncertainty and feeling like they had been hung out to dry by this government.
Let’s not forget, early childhood educators were in the one sector that this government removed JobKeeper from early. This was from a government that says it gets it now, that it understands women. Let’s remember that 96 per cent of early educators are women. Removing JobKeeper payments from this sector, singling out this profession that predominantly employs women, when this pandemic was already hitting them hardest, was just cruel. The early education sector was and is an essential service. It is these educators who are looking after our children. They are on the front lines.
During COVID and the lockdowns, I spent a lot of time talking with them. I must say, I’m so surprised to hear this motion praising the Morrison government for its efforts with this sector, in COVID, moved by a fellow member from Melbourne. Who was the member for Higgins talking to during lockdown? It certainly was not the early childhood educators who’d had their payments ripped away from them. It’s really disappointing to hear that fellow members from Melbourne are so out of touch with their communities and so out of touch with the needs of these vital workers, our early childhood educators.
I’ve just come from meeting with early childhood educators, and they are devastated about last night’s budget. They are worried about the future of their sector. The reality is that their pay and conditions—the pay of this largely female workforce—are nowhere near enough to match their skill level and the demands that are put upon them. There was nothing in this Morrison government budget to fix that. There was nothing to lift the wages of these vital workers, to lift the wages of early childhood educators. That means that too many of these workers will leave the sector. That means that families lose out, and that means that our children lose out.
So, what did the government announce in this budget? Well, the first and perhaps most important point to note is that what they did announce around child care won’t be implemented until July 2022. Australian families—families in my community—are looking for support now. They need support now, to reduce the unacceptably high cost of childcare fees. If we are genuine about supporting women to get back into the workforce as part of this COVID recovery, we need this relief from childcare fees now. The other big issue with what was announced by the Morrison government is that it benefits only families that have two children in child care. This is a subsidy for some families but not for others. Families right across the country, families right across my community, are struggling with the cost of child care, whether they’ve got two children or one child. It is just so expensive.
During this debate we’ve heard a lot about personal experiences. Well, I have one child who is in child care and another child who will soon enter child care. I have a lot of what I call ‘swing conversations’. These are conversations you have in the playground while you’re pushing your kid on the swing and you chat to the mum who is pushing her kid on the swing next to you. I can tell you, time and time again those women pushing their children on the swings explain to me how they can’t afford to go back to work because the cost of child care just doesn’t make it worth it for them. And this package does nothing to change that. It means they won’t be able to go back to work and know they can securely pay for child care for their children. It means they might not be able to pick up that extra couple of days. They will be the ones continuing to work part-time, to pick up the extra care, because this package does not solve the underlying problems of the cost of child care in our country.
Australian families want better. Families in my community—those mums I’m talking to at the swings—want better. They want a well-funded early education sector. They want the workers in the sector to be paid as they should be. They want to know, when they send their kids to child care, that they can afford it, that the workers who are looking after them are supported and that there’s a secure future for everyone there. That’s not what we’re getting from this government. What we’re getting is a sham.