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Monday, January 16, 2006

70% of Australian mothers work in the paid economy

Only in recent years has childcare been taken anywhere near seriously in this country. Any wonder. Most effective decision-making in our Parliaments is carried out by men who spend long hours in the life political leaving spouses with childraising responsibilities irrespective of whether their spouse is one of the 70% of mothers in the paid economy. John Howard married Janette who has been a stay-at-home Mum and is consistently reported as advising John Howard on how to benefit the stay-at-home full-time wife and mother. Hardly a situation in which a campaign for better and more extensive childcare can take root.

As women have moved into the workforce and more have moved into professional and high-ranking executive positions, childcare issues have become more pervasive. Also contributing to this has been a more widespread interest on the part of male spouses in involvement in the lives of their children - some even forsaking work in the paid economy to become full-time stay-at-home fathers. All this, however, will not drive things as far as economy necessity in the eyes of the rationalists at Treasury coupled with the Treasurer's eye on the swinging voter embedded in the middle socio-economic cohort.

Now Liberal backbencher and former Minister, Jackie Kelly, has come out and put the matter bluntly: childcare is a shambles. She is supported in her comments by the ALP's Tanya Plibersek. Both are mums of young children. They speak from their own experience as well as listening to the experience of others. Imagine the picture if you will. These members of parliament - Jackie and Tanya - turn up to deliver and pick-up kids from child care. They get into conversations with other parents. These parents - if they have gripes, and they do - would open up to such influential women who have similar responsibilities. Now try to put Peter Costello in the picture. Peter - has he ever turned up to pick up the kids from child care, hung around and got into conversation with the mums and dads and listened to the consumer. Bit of a stretch, I'm afraid. Costello has his own agenda for before and after school care but - as Kelly says - there's more needed than this. Childcare is a shambles, it is very difficult to access, and unaffordable for so many.

Speaking on Radio National's Breakfast program this morning, Barbara Pocock, currently a Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide, made the following points:
  • There are more than 170,000 children whose parents are looking for childcare
  • Cost and affordability are major impediments to accessing quality childcare
  • The childcare system is designed by people who don’t use it
  • The needs of parents have changed and the system has not changed to meet those needs
  • The needs of children are not considered in the design and provision of quality childcare
  • The quality of childcare and the quality of facilities is not not up to scratch
  • There are problems with staffing: i.e. training levels; staffing ratios; and remuneration of qualified staff
  • Childcare is not middle class welfare. The need and the problems extend across income boundaries
  • If we get it wrong for the under 5s, we pay for it down the track for the next 20 years
  • Parents need good options rather than the hotpotch prevailing at the moment.
  • An experiment with longday care is still being trialled
  • Market solutions to childcare needs to be looked at to determine whether the market is able to meet childcare demand adequately
  • Record levels might be being spent, as the Government claims, but the growing proportion of the budget spent on childcare is only a response to the demand generated as women’s participation in the workforce increases and the Treasurer wants more women in the workforce.

Meanwhile, Senator Kay Patterson - the Minister responsible for Childcare as Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues - is dragging the chain. Kay's style seems never to appear like she's pushing to get things done.

So there you are mums and dads and kids. If you want things to change, to improve get behind the efforts of Jackie and Tanya (you have real choice here - one Lib, one Lab) and give Costello and Patterson heaps of encouragement in the right direction. Meanswhile, Steve Fielding, the Family First Senator doesn't seem to have figured out how to keep his office going and take a January holiday at the same time - because there is a deathly silence from him on this very important family matter. Oh well!