Monday, July 28, 2014

A Centre Party position on childcare - my thoughts

A Centre Party would agree that a childcare policy should fulfil two broad objectives:

·         Support workforce participation, particularly women

·         Address children’s learning and development needs, including the transition to schooling

To meet these objectives a childcare system in Australia needs:
  • to be flexible to suit the needs of modern, working families, including those that work non-standard work hours and those who live in regional centres.
  • to have enough funds to support children in disadvantage.

A Centre Party would:
  • fully support a Childcare payment system that helped parents meet their childcare needs. This includes Long Day Care, Family Day Care and Out of School Hours Care
  • in recognition of the research that shows a child's development up to 12 months of age is best supported with one-on-one care by a parent, a Centre Party would support the extension of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme to 12 months
  • fully support a childcare payment system that allows free access to childcare in disadvantaged circumstances, including Indigenous Australians, children from non-English speaking backgrounds and families in low socio-economic circumstances
  • fully support the continuation of a fully funded, universal pre-school system for children, one year before starting school
  •  recognise that the wages of childcare workers is often not commensurate with the level of training and expertise these professionals bring to the occupation. If we are to keep the best childcare educators in the profession then a higher wage is going to be needed. A Centre Party would instigate a review of Childcare Workers’ wages
  • believe that a childcare policy must work in conjunction with the taxation and welfare systems. It is counterproductive to have a childcare system that gives parents the flexibility to work if the taxation and welfare systems penalise such parents with high marginal tax rates
  • see a need for businesses to play their part in helping families balance work and family by being more flexible with work arrangements
This post is part of a discussion taking place in The Centre Party of Australia. To follow some of the debate go to 

To find out more about the The Centre Party of Australia go to

If you would like to join The Centre Party of Australia then go here to find out how to sign up

Saturday, July 26, 2014

There's a glaring inconsistency in the Productivity Commission's Childcare Report

I only got part way through the overview of the Productivity Commission's Draft Report into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning when I realised there was an inconsistency. 

One of the key points in the report on page 2 says:
The benefits from participation in preschool for children’s development and transition to school are largely undisputed
And then in the list of the benefits of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) on page 12 it backs up this claim with:
The benefits of quality early learning for children in the year prior to starting school are largely undisputed, with evidence, in particular, of improved performance in standardised test results in the early years of primary school as a result of participation in preschool programs.
Basically the report is saying that attendance at a pre-school in the year before starting school can result in some good outcomes for the child. And a good outcome for the child carries some long term economic and social benefit for Australia.

The report then also offers a proviso with ECEC and children up to one year old:
For children under 1 year of age, those from homes where the quality of care and the learning environment is below that available in ECEC are most likely to benefit from participation in ECEC. Although there may be some developmental benefits for other very young children from time spent in formal ECEC settings, there is also potential for negative effects (such as the emergence of behavioural problems later in childhood) the closer to birth the child commences ECEC and the longer the time the child spends in formal care. 
... an assistance arrangement which enabled working parents to use care for very young children, at a low cost for an unlimited number of hours per week, would be unlikely to be generally beneficial to child development.

In other words, in loving, engaging home environments, it might be better that the child under one spends less time in ECEC and, reading between the lines, more time at home with a parent or two.

So, it would be good if newborns spent most of their time at home, while it would be good if 4 year olds got some exposure to preschool to prepare them for school.

And then the report displays the following flow chart to show who should get Childcare assistance:

Source: Figure 7 from page 21 of the Productivity Commission Draft Report
See those two boxes down the left hand side? If one of the parents is a stay-at-home parent not working, studying or training for at least 24 hours a fortnight then they are not entitled to any assistance. This might appear fair for parents who decide to have one parent at home during the childrearing years, it's their decision afterall, but not all families are going to fit so easily into that little box, particularly parents who have more than one child.

Lets look at a scenario of a growing family. The parents bring home their little bundle of joy and decide mum is going to stay home with him for the first 12 months. They get through pretty easily in the first six months with the Paid Parental Leave and dad's wage and then push on with the next 6 months as best they can. Once Charlie hits 12 months mum decides he has developed quite nicely and that 3 days a week with other children would be good for Charlie, allowing her to go back to work 3 days a week. The parents are entitled to the full subsidy. Three years later Charlotte is born and her parents would like to give her the same start as Charlie. But now they have a problem: it is the year before Charlie starts school and they would like to enrol him in a pre-school to help him prepare for school. According to the flowchart above, if mum stays home with Charlotte for the first 12 months then they will not be entitled to any childcare assistance. The parents are now in the unenviable position of choosing between doing the right thing by Charlie or Charlotte.

If Charlotte had been born a year earlier then the decision wouldn't be as difficult because the benefit of ECEL for children above 12 months increases the closer they get to school age. Charlie could stay at home with mum and Charlotte for a year, benefiting everyone.

The solution would be a sliding scale of hours that parents have to work, train or study to receive childcare The closer the child is to school age, the less hours they have to work, study or train, with the number of hours being zero when the child reaches the year before compulsory school age.

This post is part of a discussion taking place in The Centre Party of Australia. To follow some of the debate go to 

To find out more about the The Centre Party of Australia go to

If you would like to join The Centre Party of Australia then go here to find out how to sign up

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

We need a Centre Party to fix the Mining Tax, not just scrap it

The politics around the Mining Tax highlights the need for a true centrist party in Australian politics. The budget has a problem, it is not getting the revenue it needs to run its normal level of services to the community. At the moment the government's tax intake is below average and spending levels are no higher now than they have been in the recent past (GFC spending excluded).

A Centre party would see the need for a balanced and reasoned approach to the Mining Tax. It doesn't make budgetary sense to keep the spending associated with the tax if the tax is scrapped, it pulls a double whammy on the budget by scrapping revenue and increasing spending. But it doesn't make social sense to scrap the spending either because it provides an important social benefit. And of course, the Mining Tax isn't raising anywhere near as much as it was first thought it would.

So, if a balance needs to be struck between the need to spend money on socially progressive programs as well as maintain a balanced budget, the answer is simple, you just fix the tax. Australia is about to go through a mineral exporting boom, yet we are about to get no social benefit from it. If Luke Mansillo's article in The Guardian is anything to go by, other countries successfully tax the mining industry without destroying it. In Norway the tax is 78%. Now we don't need to go to that extreme but we can find somewhere in the middle, surely.

Some people are suggesting that The Palmer United Party might be the new centre party but I'm afraid PUP are showing themselves to be anything but centre on this issue. It does seem that the self interest of their leader is clouding their judgement of where the centre might be. It does not make budgetary sense to scrap a tax but maintain the spending it supports. One either has to come up with another revenue stream and keep the spending, or scrap the tax and the spending at the same time.

Labor want to keep the spending but don't want to admit that the tax needs fixing. The Coalition wants the extreme position of no tax and no spending, it would seem. Most people just want it fixed.


If you agree with the above and would like to read more about Centre politics then check out The 3rd Party website.

If you would like to join The 3rd Party then go here to find out how to sign up

Monday, July 21, 2014

Joining the 3rd Party

Today I joined a fledgling party. At this stage it is just a blog with a working title: The Third Party. The bloke who writes the blog, Barry Tucker, is also the convenor of this new, yet to be named, political party. He had put together a fairly comprehensive policy platform which I find suits my political view of things and he was looking for people to join him. It seemed like a good fit.

I had been toying around with the idea of getting re-involved in politics since I joined the March In March march in March. It was after the march, when I found I had regained my political voice, that I began the search for a way to express my politics further.

Politically, I am a left leaning, socially progressive, economic liberal. I deny neither the economic power of capital nor the liberating power of a capitalist system. I am neither anti-union nor anti-business. I believe those who have the means to generate wealth should keep a large proportion of their wealth, yet I don't resent sharing a part of my wealth with those without the means or inclination to generate sufficient income to support themselves. I am all for free enterprise but not anti-government. I am all for a balanced and reasoned approach to economic development. Socially, I take the line that so long as it doesn't harm others, then its okay. But this line is tempered by the reality that we don't always know where harm lies (this is particularly true with the young and the socially disadvantaged) and that risk-taking and self-harm are genuine forms of self expression. Its a balancing act; how do we ensure that people are able to express themselves economically and socially, while collectively protecting ourselves from more powerful forces?

Barry expresses it well in his blog when he says:
"The Third Party believes THE DUOPOLY, the two-party system that dominates Australian politics, is fundamentally flawed, leading to chaos by regularly imposing opposite and conflicting ideologies on the planning of industry and commerce and in the lives, education, hopes and goals of the Australian people."
The entrenched ideological positions of the two major parties is tossing the good ship Australian Democracy about in a maelstrom of vindictiveness and one-upmanship. They no longer debate to arrive at reasoned conclusions, they trade insults instead to score cheap political wins. I believe a good centre party could temper these extremes by being a voice of reason, by being the ones who see the good in each side of the argument and offer a balanced solution. Or as Barry puts it:
"a Centrist party ... will work with other parties and Independents to govern Australia in the best interests of all sectors and persons, not in the interest of any ideology."
So, today is a big step for me, a kind of rebirthing of a political instinct that has laid dormant for nearly 20 years. Wish me luck.


If you want to find out more about the 3rd Party go to barry's blog.

If you want to join the 3rd Party go here

Regaining my political voice

It has taken me 20 years but I feel like I have finally regained my political voice. I feel like I can finally articulate the sense of bewilderment I have felt as I tried to make sense of the political world around me.

I am still disappointed, confused and sad that Cheryl Kernot jumped ship and joined the Australian Labor Party. In hindsight, that was the beginning of the end of the socially progressive - economically responsible voice in Australian politics. I'm not saying that her actions were responsible for the political climate that followed but, for me, it is the moment that seemed to signal the shape of Australian politics for the next two decades.

The 1996 election, coincidentally, saw the rise of Hansonism which was a socially regressive - economically irresponsible voice, it was also the year the Democrats recorded their highest vote. The socially progressive side of politics was still finding its feet in the fight against this rise in unsound argument when Cheryl jumped, and we were still using the tools of protest and numbers against a tide that had greater numbers, and we hadn't had time to formulate any considered responses. Up until then we knew the enemy and we knew how they operated; Hanson came out of right field and smashed us, leaving us screaming in the streets.

It feels to me that in March this year (2014) we finally found our voice again. To the outsider the March in March seemed like a ragtag bunch of lefties wandering down the street unsure of themselves, when in fact it was the left regrouping around the myriad of issues that unite us. We are against many things but we are united around a central theme of decency towards others and ourselves. Most of us may not be in wheelchairs or unemployed or refugees or pensioners while some of us are, but we are united in our knowledge that we are all in this together. We know that it is okay for the talented and skilled to earn more than others, but it is not okay to leave others in poverty and desperate at the same time. We understand that our attitudes toward each other reflects back upon ourselves and leaves our own lives either weaker and diminished, or richer and enhanced as a consequence. Greed is not good but neither is jealousy or self pity. Sharing does not equate to equal distribution, it means giving so others can live meaningfully with us. When we learn about our history and feel the need to say sorry, its not from a sense of guilt, its from a sense of shared sorrow that this could happen to ourselves and others.

I am happy to be reunited with my friends from the left, it has been a long time since we have been able to sit down and have a beer and talk. I will see you all again in August, in greater numbers.