Taking Care of Childcare
By Michaelia Cash - Australian Polity - Volume 3 (Number 1)
Childcare should not be a battle ground. Parents need to be able to make a living for themselves and provide a future for their children. They should not be penalised by a system that makes going to work impractical or expensive.
Tony Abbott’s plan to ask the Productivity Commission to look at the best ways childcare can be made available to Australian parents is a commitment to review the available options and see how the childcare system can be changed to make life easier for mums and dads, and to ensure parents can access flexible and affordable childcare whether they live in the city or in a regional or remote area.
If that means in-home care turns out to be the common-sense option, we will pursue it, and it will be a great complement the Coalition’s generous six-month paid parental leave scheme.
The hysteria the Government has tried to create over this announcement by claiming child care assistance will be cut, or that this would be welfare for the wealthy is nonsense. This is not about providing nannies for millionaires or cutting important help for low income working families. This is about a sensible and practical approach that will create a stonger childcare system into the future and will encourage women to remain in the workforce. If more women reach higher-level positions because childcare better meets their needs, that will be a genuinely great outcome.
What in-home childcare options do provide for is greater ability for women especially to have the freedom and choice to pursue work on their own terms – whether they are a part-time worker, a senior executive, a nurse, a shift-worker, a CEO or they run their own business. Statistics show women still bear the burden of the majority of childcare and domestic duties regardless of how much paid work they do, so having childcare arrangements that mean they can have the opportunity to earn a decent living in the way that best suits them cannot be a bad thing.
Figures show an increasing number of families are using nannies, in part because childcare centres don’t allow the flexibility or occasional arrangements they need, and agency bosses are consistently saying the families employing their services are overwhelming those where both parents work, but need the ability to tailor their childcare to those working arrangements – often because they have more than one or two children.
In its submission to the Federal Government’s Tax Forum last October, the National Foundation for Australian Women recommended the following:
Parents using child care services in the home should be entitled to benefits on the same basis as approved child care services on condition that the person caring for the child(ren) holds appropriate qualifications and immigration status and that all relevant industrial relations and occupational health and safety obligations are met.
While tax breaks for in-home childcare would not be aimed specifically at high-earning women, a by-product of improving the childcare system would mean there were more incentives for women to stay in work, and they would be able to pursue their careers with a greater degree of commitment and safe in the knowledge their children are being well cared for.
Many women in CEO positions, senior executives and women in other high-pressure jobs that require long hours admit they could not have achieved as much in their careers without the assistance of nannies in their homes – women like Fiona Balfour, who was the first senior executive at Qantas to take maternity leave.
There is not enough female representation on corporate boards. There are not enough women in senior executive positions. There ought to be more women in parliament, in business and in the workforce more generally. These are facts we hear often and they are statistics that persist.
Women who are earning a higher wage are contributing more to the pool of taxpayer funds the government can draw on, are helping increase productivity, are setting themselves up well for retirement by earning super and because of that are less likely to find themselves homeless, or drawing on an aged pension, as a disproportionate number of women do at the moment. Ultimately, if women can work to their full capacity they will be happier, enjoy greater economic security and greater fulfillment in their lives.
While businesses like Rio Tinto and Westpac have been applauded for their approaches to improving flexibility, the entire burden can’t be placed on business to change overnight. While change is happening in business, we can put measures in place at the other end to make childcare more functional so both parents can have the flexibility to work in the way they choose. That is why a Coalition Government would investigate all the options to determine what range of options would work best for families. And if that includes tax deductions for nannies, we will consider it.
We will continue to congratulate and promote businesses that provide flexible arrangements that take care arrangements and the needs of parents, as well as gender equality more generally, into consideration. But we also need to provide affordable options for child care that allow mums and dads to work hard at their careers too, and that is what an elected Coalition Government would do. I think families are smart enough to realise we are trying to do the right thing by them and help them pursue their careers while bringing up their children in a way that works for them.
As a nation we cannot, in one breath, cheer on the idea of more women on boards, more women in senior executive positions and more women in the workforce generally, while allowing the antiquated argument that nannies, or other forms of childcare that exist outside childcare centres, are somehow extravagant or only for the rich. And there is no excuse for the Government to do nothing in this area. If a rebate for nannies was recommended by a Productivity Commission inquiry then it is only logical that some form of regulation for nannies under this system would be introduced, and pay and conditions for nannies could well improve under the formalisation of the industry.
Nannies do not make sense just for wealthy parents. For many mums and dads, having someone come into the home to care for their children will just make more common sense. And if, as a result of that, more women can stay in the workforce, remain in the workforce and climb to high-earning, high-profile positions, not only will it go some way to clawing back the chronic gender pay we will have done a great thing for equality of opportunity in this country.