Tony Abbott has not generally been popular among women. His out of touch and sometimes patronising remarks in the past haven’t helped. In 2010 he famously used an ironing analogy to explain to the “the housewives of Australia” how an emissions trading scheme would affect them. (!) However in a bold move last week, Tony Abbott announced that the Coalition would invest $3.5 billion into the paid parental leave program – see PAID PARENTAL LEAVE – How Much and Who Pays? and will extend the childcare rebate (CCR) to nannies.
I applaud this significant move to include nannies as part of the CCR. If we want to have more women participate in the workforce we simply must make childcare more flexible and affordable. See my previous blog on this: Make Care Fair – the cost of not having affordable and flexible childcare Under the current model, to access the CCR working parents must have their child in an approved childcare facility. Parents receive 50% of out of pocket expenses up to $7500 per year. This leaves out many family day care options (usually a smaller environment and may be more suitable for babies and younger children) and of course nannies. As a working mother I had mixed emotions about leaving my baby in childcare. I eventually found a lovely family day care which was not covered by the CCR and as a result I have paid double the amount of a larger child care centre. However many families would not have that luxury of choice. It should be up to the parents, not the government, what type of childcare best suits their child and family. Some parents work evenings, nights and weekends. Traditional childcare centres (the ones covered by the CCR) are closed.
Then comes school times. What happens during the school holidays? Pupil free days? A nanny may be the best option for many families. Childcare Minister Kate Ellis has slammed the Coalition’s plan saying that many nannies don’t only provide childcare – they cook, clean and “chauffeur”. Isn’t cooking and cleaning and driving kids around part of the care of children?? Don’t childcare centres have a kitchen with cooks, cleaners etc? I am disappointed that the government doesn’t support this. It is an old argument that nannies are for “rich” families. This is poppycock. Working parents simply do not have the support today that they had even a decade ago. There are three reasons for this:
1. There are more older parents. With many people “waiting” to have kids until their late 30s or 40s, the grandparents are older too, and less likely to be able to assist with childcare.
2. Parents are living away from extended family. Many people do not live in the same city (or even country) as their extended family. Job opportunities and long distance love take us all over the world now.
3. More single parents. With a divorce rate at over 50%, the single parent household is on the increase. We need to look beyond the Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm childcare centre option.
We are leading flexible working lives and our childcare options need to reflect this. Time to get into the 21st century Australia. I am pleased that the coalition is putting this important discussion on the table. Their plan to have the Productivity Commission review of childcare is a great start. Tony Abbott’s plan isn’t a perfect solution. There are still many issues. Most childcare workers are seriously underpaid and underskilled. We need more investment in the people who are spending so much time with our future generation. We need to help them professionalise the industry – offer more training and development opportunities, better wages and benefits. But the Coalition’s move to help more women get back to work if they choose to or need to is a significant step in the right direction. And I’m sure it has lifted Tony Abbott’s popularity with women.