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
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  1. Allan, I would like to see the totality of what federal and state governments pay parents (single, couples, same sex couples) in regard to baby bonuses, child care, pre school fees, annual relief payments, etc, before advocating "fully funded".

    As we know, insurance schemes and allowances of all kinds tend to result in price increases. At this point, I would not advocate total funding of child care. I'm not ruling it out either. I don't think decisions that increase government payments or result in price rises should be made in isolation.

    As a general principle, I don't see why the state should pay parents to have children or pay for the children that parents have. It could be justified if the state has a policy of encouraging population growth, but all of our political parties seem to be conflicted in one way or another on that issue.

    Population growth is an issue that has to be considered in relation to policies on marriage equality, abortion on demand, contraception, Indigenous infant mortality, healthcare costs, future jobs growth, future wages and benefits, the future of superannuation and pensions, inflation and the future cost of living.

    This very extensive policy consideration shows why decisions should not be made in isolation. Decisions should not be made to quell the clamour, to buy votes, to appease one section or the other, or without considering the consequences, especially for the great evil of inflation or having to cut one program to pay for another.

    I would prefer to look at alternative funding models, maybe even commercial branding of baby care centres (like Johnson&Johnson's Baby Care Centre) with the corporation coughing up a large part of the cost -- without receiving a subsidy.

    A favourite of mine is getting parents to form co-operatives to operate day care centres; member parents may be able to attend on short notice to care for children uncollected after closing times. Parents can act as unpaid assistants on a rotating basis. These co-ops could possibly be assisted in getting started by local councils; they would develop where the need is greatest.

    Some parents may receive a child care payment as part of a salary package; I'm sure some do. This should be taken into account, but it opens up a regulatory and accounting nightmare with bureaucratic adjustments if the parent changes jobs.

    The Productivity Commission report (another child of the warped mind of Tony Abbott) seems to be designed to enable corporations to profit from solving "problems" that could be solved in other ways. How far have people looked?

  2. Thank you for your considered reply Barry. I will try to respond to each of your points below.

    Firstly, I think we first have to agree or disagree with the two broad objectives: workplace participation and child development. Personally, I see these as valid and worthwhile objectives for government policy, particularly for a centre party. Workplace participation gives citizens, particularly disadvantaged citizens, an opportunity to participate in the broader culture and experiences of the country. A person without adequate income is very rarely a happy, healthy person. Also a lot of research is pointing towards early childhood experiences as the main indicator of economic success later in life. It is no coincidence that children who have educated parents tend to have better education outcomes. So in order to break the cycle of economic disadvantage in Australia, a good childcare system is necessary.

    I too would like to see the totality of family payments to see whether or not it is targetted effectively. Have you done any research in this area? Because I would be interested in seeing the results.

    From what I can see, most of the price increases in childcare is coming from unmet demand. According to the Productivity Report childcare centres are realising returns of around 2-3% on investment; this is not sustainable. The price of childcare will continue to rise regardless of government subsidy until such time as profit levels reach a sustainable level across the industry. Of course, a public childcare system could fill the demand but this would also cost money.

    Australia has a fertility rate of 1.88 (as of 2011) after hitting a low rate of 1.73 in 2001. We reached a peak of 1.96 in 2008. The fertility rate has been trending down since the mid 70s, with short trend upwards happening around the time of the baby bonus. I don't think population is an issue that Australia faces. Our main issue is demographics, a population where the median age is skewed towards the older end of the spectrum. At some point, it is someone's child who mows the lawn and takes out the garbage. It will be younger people who will drive the economy in the future and it is for this reason that a childhood policy that includes parental leave, childcare and schooling is a vital component of government policy.

    An argument that starts with a premise that the state shouldn't pay for the children parents have is a bit disingenuous, to be honest. I could make the same argument about the aged pension, why should the state pay for the old parents that children have. The state pays for the education and well being of children because they are an integral part of our society and contribute more to the future of our society than it costs to support them in the present.

    I agree that childcare policy should not be made in isolation. I see a particular need to look into the welfare/taxation/childcare nexus to find and eliminate barriers to entry into the workforce for disadvantaged people, particularly women.

    So far I have read about a third of the Productivity Report and I can understand why Abbott and Co do not like it. It suggests a payment system that changes the current mix to favour lower income families rather than the current system that favours higher income families. I have seen very little discussion about the draft report, yet quite a few opinions. I'm wondering if anyone else has actually read any of it.