ABC Newsradio with Sandy Aloisi - Cost of child care

  • Assistant Minister for Education


SANDY ALOISI: Another hot topic for the Federal Government and for working parents is the cost of child care. New figures, released by the Government today, showed the soaring cost of child care is having a real effect on the economy, particularly in New South Wales.

In the nation's most populous state, many women are only electing to work part time after having children and they're also relying more on relatives and friends to help look after their kids. The Federal Minister with responsibility for child care, Sussan Ley, has released the figures this morning and Sussan Ley joins me now. Good morning.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning Sandy.

SANDY ALOISI: So, is what's happening in New South Wales reflected in other states?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, it's different in every state but there's a common theme and that is affordability. The Productivity Commission identified that as the number one barrier for parents and we know that costs went up 53 per cent under Labor and, although they added a lot more money to the system, it was really just band aids because out of pocket costs for parents went up 40 per cent in the last four years so clearly affordability is the number one issue.

SANDY ALOISI: So, are more people using child care but for less time, is that what you've found?

SUSSAN LEY: Yes and that's, I believe, because of the pressure on places. So, it's not that parents don't want more hours, it's that they either can't find more hours or they can't afford more hours in that complicated conundrum between how much will I earn, how much will my child care cost, is it worth me going back to work? And that's why, this very much is a productivity issue and why we've got the PC investigating it because it's about work force participation and the economy as a whole and the fact that we're missing out on, principally, women's contributions and that's not a good thing. It's not a good thing for families, it's not a good thing for the economy.

SANDY ALOISI: So, what kind of impact is that having on the economy?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, workforce participation is down and the Productivity Commission has given us some interesting figures around that but lots of this is anecdotal. We don't know what untapped contributions women could make if they're able to. So, I talk to women who say look, I'm working two days a week or I'm working three days a week because after three it's as if you fall off a cliff when it comes to your child care costs. But they're working in a job that's not the one they're trained for that pays less and so, we're missing out on something we don't - we can't necessarily quantify, but we know it's there.

SANDY ALOISI: And is it difficult, also, to quantify just how many women actually ask relatives, grandparents, friends to look after their kids as well?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, there's 10,000 au pairs in Australia at the moment. That was another finding of the Productivity Commission, and I know that number's going up and that's reflecting the demand. Parents are saying we've got to step outside the formal system. It's not working for us and this is the way we'll go and, of course, parents can make those choices; I'm not being the least critical, but I do know that they're, partly, in response to the frustration with the circumstances that they're facing now.

And look, let's face it, the child care system in which we live today belongs to a generation ago when people worked nine to five and had weekends off and we're in a 24/7 economy and the policies have to catch up with that and that's why our election commitment was to get this moving straight away with a view to bring in new policies to the Parliament early next year.

SANDY ALOISI: And in a perfect world, Sussan Ley, what would you like to see happen with child care? And let me ask you, too, as an adjunct to that question, should the Prime Minister scrap his Paid Parental Leave scheme and put the money into child care?

SUSSAN LEY: Well no, because we've got $31.5 billion in the child care funding envelope for the next four years. We've got plenty of money. It's a strong financial position from the Commonwealth. The PPL is a separate policy, and it's about a workplace entitlement for women. It's about you stepping away from the workplace and not losing pay so that in your later years you don't have the money.

And let's not forget, people talk about it as if the man's the main breadwinner and the woman isn't. There are lots of households where the woman's participation is vital to pay the mortgage, to pay the bills, to send the children to school. So why should that woman when she has a baby have to accept so much less than what her weekly budget demands if she's the main breadwinner? It has a devastating effect on the family, and by the way, it means they don't have that second or third baby and that's not good for the nation either.

But just quickly on the perfect world - look, everyone's circumstances are different. I want a government policy that supports parents' choices, that allows parents to work the hours they want in the job they want and have a price that works for them. And…

SANDY ALOISI: So what sort of policy would that be? I'm trying to - I'm trying to nut down exactly practically what can be done for parents who want to go back to work, both partners, and they just simply can't because child care is just so unaffordable?

SUSSAN LEY: We have to stop the upward pressure on prices and we have to bring in flexibility. We do have some in-home care places now. The Productivity Commission was asked to look at in-home care, and they have, and people are having their say. So that's clearly an area which could add flexibility and bring parents back into the workforce, particularly with two or three children, when it's just too hard to leave the house in the morning.

So, you know, everything is on the table, and I don't want to pick out things that I might particularly like. And by the way, the PC has come back to families and said, what do you think? They've put out a cost model, and they've said, we want your thoughts. They've talked about the types of qualifications that educators need to have, but they've said, we want your thoughts. So up until the 5 September, people can still have their say. That's a message I really want to get across because only a short email to the PC, it still gets in the mix, still gets considered; we really want people's thoughts.

SANDY ALOISI: And you really think it'll produce fundamental change?

SUSSAN LEY: I do, and only - look, fundamental change will fix the system. Again, the system just works for - well, the world of work when I was growing up, and that was a while ago. So we need something that works for families who - you know, 24/7 they need to be on call, they might need to finish - you know, they might expect to finish in time to pick their children up from the child care centre, but, hey, the boss wants them to stay, a new job comes in, they've got another two hours at the end of the day. And that's one of the huge pressures that mothers talk to me about - usually mothers: I've got to be there by six o'clock. I absolutely have to leave now.

SANDY ALOISI: Oh, I think many of us have been there, Sussan Ley, many of us.

SUSSAN LEY: [Laughs] So, you know, I see the symptoms of the problem all around me, and I've got a lot of - I do have a long checklist when I - when we come up with new ideas. Do they solve these problems? And they've got to.

SANDY ALOISI: Alright, then. Let's hope there is change. Sussan Ley, thank you for your time this morning.

SUSSAN LEY: Many thanks.

SANDY ALOISI: The Federal Minister with responsibility for child care, Sussan Ley.


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