Dean’s Lecture Child Care and Workforce Participation - University of Melbourne

Speech
  • Assistant Minister for Education

It is a pleasure to join you this evening and share some insights on child care and workforce participation from my perspective as the Abbott Government’s dedicated Assistant Minister for Education.

Choice is at the heart of this policy debate. Parents, especially women, should be able to choose to return to the workforce knowing they can find high quality care and early learning services for their children, along with having the choice to work to their full capacity and apply their education to its full potential throughout their lives.

During tonight’s speech, I will unpack some of these issues with particular attention to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Child care and Early Childhood Learning.  The first term of reference for that Inquiry is indeed to look into “the contribution that access to affordable, high quality child care can make to increased participation in the workforce, particularly for women.”

I’ll also share with you some of the insights gathered from submissions received as part of the Inquiry process.

Finally, I will touch on some of the other ways I am working in my portfolio to address further shortcomings of the child care system within existing policy settings.  While I acknowledge that child care is just one of many factors that impact parents - and especially women’s - workforce participation, it is a significant one with which I am all too familiar.

Before I entered Federal Parliament, I enjoyed a varied career, which provided a range of experiences, many related to child care and workforce participation.

I started studying at university when my first child was aged one, and continued on with ten years of part time study.
Along the way I had two more children, and gained three finance degrees.

I also worked:

  • as an air traffic controller
  • an aerial stock mustering pilot
  • in the shearing sheds of western Queensland; and
  • in the local Australian Taxation Office just prior to being elected to represent the electorate of Farrer in 2001.

Farrer is 250,000 square kilometres - one third of New South Wales. To give you some idea of its size, Farrer borders the states of Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. Almost 95,000 constituents and their families call Farrer home, with a large rural population working the land and the vibrant and diverse Albury and Broken Hill as regional city hubs.

It is sometimes forgotten that a vast range of public policy issues cross your desk as a Member of Parliament.  As a backbencher MP for a large and varied electorate, I always found it fascinating to hear those issues from the perspective of constituents and then lobby on their behalf in Canberra.  Even before being appointed Shadow Minister, or to my current position as Assistant Minister, I was thinking deeply about the underlying policy issues, especially as they relate to rural and regional areas.

In fact, my passion for rural and regional issues - especially those which assist in bridging the ‘city vs country divide’ - led me to where I am today. Some issues do bridge this divide.   Having now worked on this portfolio in both Opposition and Government – it is clear to me that child care is definitely one of them.  The key issues of access, flexibility and affordability are just as important in rural and regional areas, as they are in metropolitan areas.

I am determined to continue bringing my varied experiences to the political arena.  In my current role, this means laying out a path towards a child care and early learning sector that provides a safe, nurturing environment for children.  But it must also meet the working needs of all Australian families, taking into account the vastly different circumstances in which they live, the hours that they work and the types of care that they need.

If we can equip Australian families with choice regarding the services they use for child care and early learning, then people will choose quality by voting with their feet, and there will be market pressures to keep child care affordable.

We know the early years of a child’s life have a profound impact on their future cognitive, social, emotional and physical development.
The skills and abilities acquired in early childhood are fundamental to a person’s success and wellbeing later in life.

Research from United States studies and emerging Australian evidence - including research from the University of Melbourne - suggests that a positive early childhood provides both short-term and long-term individual social and economic benefits for the child. These include higher educational attainment, increased self-esteem and social development, higher earnings and home ownership, higher retirement savings and fewer social and health problems.[1]

With that as background, let me set the scene for our discussion tonight.
I’ll start by talking through the variety of formal child care models that are supported by the Australian Government, and then move to some of the data:

  • Long day care, for a start, is offered by a centre providing all-day or part-time care, primarily for children aged 0–5 years.
  • While Family day care is small group care for children aged 0–5 years, usually in the home environment of an educator.
  • Occasional care is care usually provided at a centre on an hourly or sessional basis for short periods or at irregular intervals, again primarily for children aged 0–5 years.
  • Outside school hours care assists school aged children before, after school and during school holidays and/or on pupil free days.
  • In Home Care is similar to Family Day Care, but the educator looks after the child in their home. This care type is not widely available; families must meet specific criteria and usually this is only an option where other forms of care are not suitable.
  • In addition, preschool is an important part of the system and is the responsibility of the states and territories. It comprises a structured, play-based learning programme, delivered by a qualified teacher, aimed at children in the year before they commence full-time schooling.

Increasingly, preschool programmes are also being delivered in long day care settings.

Between 1999 and 2011 the number of children under five who were in formal care (for example long day care) increased by 8 per cent.[2]

The most recent data from 2013 shows around 20 000 child care and early learning services enrolled over 1.3 million children in at least one child care service, including Outside School Hours care or a preschool programme.[3] This includes around 288 000 children in preschool in the year before school, more than 40 per cent of whom received preschool in a long day care centre.

So, almost every child will have participated in some form of child care or preschool programme before they start school. This is increasing pressure on the system and highlights the imperative for reform.
Now, let me share some data about workforce participation more generally.

With around 11.5 million people in the workforce in Australia[4], it is obvious that child care is a significant factor for parents who want to work, for their employers, and for the economy.

According to ABS data from 2012-13 of the 5.4 million people not in the labour force, 3.4 million (62 per cent) were women aged 18 and over.

The Bureau of Statistics has estimated there are around 279,100 people – men and women - who are not in the labour force because they are caring for children.[5]  Of these, an estimated 119,300 indicate that they have problems with the cost, availability or quality of care. Although these estimates are based on relatively small samples within a larger survey, that is a sobering number for our national economy.

ABS data shows that of those people with children, or those who were caring for children, 53.2 per cent considered ‘access to child care places’ as a ‘very important’ incentive, with respect to participating in, or joining, the labour force and 55 per cent considered ‘financial assistance with childcare costs’ as a ‘very important’ incentive.[6]

More specifically, findings from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in their study on Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation indicate that child care cost and access are likely to be significant incentives or disincentives for women in particular to join or increase their participation in the labour force.[7]

If we look at the number of people who are not in work but available for work, 797 600 (66 per cent) were women[8]. 19.9 per cent of this group  cited ‘caring for children’ as their main reason for not looking for work or working more hours. Of these:

  • 21.7 per cent (or 34 400) cited that child care costs are ‘cost/too expensive’
  • 19.7 per cent (or 31 248) cited ‘child care not available/child care booked out/no child care in locality’
  • 13.5 per cent (or 21 400) cited ‘children too young or too old for child care’
  • 9 per cent (or 14,200) cited ‘other child care reasons’
  • Importantly, 36.1 per cent (or 57 200) cited that they ‘preferred to look after children’.  We acknowledge that this is an important personal choice for many women.
  • From this data, we can see that Australia has  more than 100,000 women who are available for work, but are limited in looking for work or extending their working hours, by the need to care for their children.

So while we want to ensure all parents have the child care they need, we cannot escape the fact that the availability of child care disproportionately impacts women’s workforce participation.

Federal Government’s role

Having outlined the type of child care and discussed data around the number of children in care, as well as data around women whose participation in the workforce is currently limited due to their child care needs, I would now like to discuss the federal government’s role when it comes to child care.
 
The Australian Government does not build or run child care centres, or set child care fees.  Even the accreditation and regulation of child care services is carried out by state and territory governments.

The role of the Australian Government is to provide families with financial assistance to help cover the cost of child care. We do this in two ways: through the means tested Child Care Benefit, referred to as CCB; and the non-means tested Child care Rebate, which reimburses 50 per cent of parents out of pocket costs up to $7,500 per child and is often referred to as CCR.

Support provided through CCB and CCR totalled $28 billion over the period 2003-04 to 2012-13, with government expenditure on these two payments forecast to be around $6 billion per year by 2016-17.[9]
This is clearly a significant and growing investment by Australian taxpayers.  We have a responsibility to ensure this investment is sustainable and that we have a system that is meeting the needs of both our children and Australia’s working parents.

Too often in recent years, there has been a piecemeal approach to child care and early learning, with knee-jerk responses and policy made on the run. I believe that rather than continue applying Band-Aids to the system, we need to take a broad look at the entire sector and consider what is needed for the next generation – not just the next few years.

The Abbott Government has committed to the task of calmly and methodically working through the issues so we can lay out a sustainable pathway to a mature and successful early childhood education sector.
 

As you will know, we have asked the Productivity Commission to inquire into future options for child care and early childhood learning, with a focus on developing a system that supports workforce participation and addresses children's learning and development needs. The Inquiry is currently underway.  It started work in November last year and its final report is due in October this year.

The terms of reference for the Inquiry are broad ranging and ask the Commission to examine and identify future options for a child care and early childhood learning system that is more flexible to suit the needs of families, including families with non-standard work hours, disadvantaged children and regional families.

In doing so, the Productivity Commission has been asked to consider all types of care, including nannies and au pairs - care types that are not currently CCB approved care.

The Productivity Commission is also examining options for enhancing the choices available to Australian families.  We need a sector that strongly supports quality child care, early learning and also meets the varied needs of today’s families in today’s economy.  My view is that choice has to be a pillar of an effective child care and early learning system and this was front and centre of our announcement of the Productivity Commission Inquiry.  We said,
“The Government wants Australian families to have more choices when it comes to the decisions they make about the care of their children.”

To illustrate what we mean by the “dynamic or individual needs of parents” which is an expression we’ve also used - consider the growth in the number of shift workers in the modern workforce.  The child care dilemma for shift workers is evident.  If someone moves to a job or has a change of working hours that requires shift work — such as nursing or policing — they will require a very different type of child care from a person working standard office hours.

I’d now like to turn to considering what parents and providers think about child care and early learning services and the choices they have. As I have said, I am committed to listening to people’s experiences and views, and doing what I can as a Minister to deliver practical and effective responses.

Some of the insights I’ve been listening to as part of the Productivity Commission Inquiry, which for the first time includes the ability for people to submit brief online comments.

The Inquiry’s consultation has given us a lot of information, with over 700 comments lodged, giving busy parents and child care providers a real opportunity to have their say on issues that affect them directly. This is combined with more than 440 formal submissions and means that well in excess of 1000 individuals and organisations have engaged with this Inquiry.

This initiative has given a voice to many who may not have previously felt they could participate in the public debates about issues that directly affect their lives.

Parents are clearly frustrated – and they’re having their say.  Many of the submissions and comments reflect the importance placed on child care. The key concerns rest around themes of access, flexibility and affordability and have reinforced the need for child care that caters to our 24/7 working life and economy.

The reality is that these themes generally impact the mother more so than the father, and hence have a significant impact on female workforce participation.

If we get these issues right, along with providing care in a quality environment, I believe we can set up the child care and early learning for the next generation.
 
I’ll now talk you through some of these key themes, starting with Access.

Access
You won’t be surprised to hear that lack of child care availability continues to dominate parent concerns.

Many people raise the lack of availability of child care with me directly because it represents an absolute barrier to workforce participation.
While we’ve seen strong growth in the sector over many years, supply and demand is still mismatched in some places.

We know access to care is a particularly acute issue in the suburbs of Sydney and here in Melbourne because of increased demand from commuters, on top of the needs of the local population.

In these areas, waiting times can be between one and two years.

What we’re seeing in submissions to the Productivity Commission is that specific issues resulting from poor accessibility include:

  • The waiting time for a place and the difficulty that results in coordinating child care with returning to or starting work
  • Trying to arrange for siblings to attend the same centre
  • The need to take a place when it is available and possibly ahead of earning the income to pay for it, as well as having to keep a place when you don’t really need it
  • The need to compromise on quality or convenience, simply to get a place
  • And finally, being unable to access child care that caters for a particular need, most notably care that is culturally appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

A couple of weeks ago I visited a child care centre in Hurstville Sydney which is run by the Chinese Australian Services Society, otherwise known as CASS.
 
They operate from a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse background, providing a wide range of welfare services to the community, assisting migrants to settle and integrate into the Australian society.  CASS also manages several types of child care services with a specific interest in promoting understanding of Chinese culture within suburban Sydney.

This is a great example of a service meeting an access issue by providing culturally appropriate care for the local community.

Flexibility
Unfortunately, flexibility in child care presents a very similar barrier as accessibility for many families. Too often, even if parents have access to child care, the conditions under which it is provided are not flexible enough.

As we know, the vast majority of early childhood services operate from early in the morning to late in the afternoon for between 10 and 12 hours and require parents to commit to the same days and number of days each week. This is a standard model which gives the service greater business certainty for its operation.

Most services do not offer shorter or half days, although family day care services can be more flexible.

The specific issues that result from limited flexibility are:

  • The need for parents to ‘tag team’ to cover work commitments out of regular child care hours and the stress that this can place on households
  • The impact on affordability by having to take the same days each week, when in any given week one or more of those days will not be required because of rotating rosters and contract work
  • Similarly, the need to pay for a full day when only part of the day is required
  • Finally, the difficulties in combining preschool care requirements with those of older children, particularly children only at school for part of the day.

We should also note that flexibility encompasses flexibility in the work place.
This can be highly variable.  We know that the parent who most often takes leave from work to care for a child is the mother, and that many seek part-time hours on returning to the workforce. Flexibility is generally available to professional women returning to the same position they had before maternity leave. This allows a mother to request hours and days to fit with available child care, rather than looking for a new position around the days she has access to child care.

However, we know that those doing contract and shift work face major challenges when it comes to workplace flexibility.

In their submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry, the Police Federation of Australia was concerned that:

“Due to the dynamic nature of policing, working patterns can change at a moment’s notice. Rosters are rarely consistent over an extended period of time; the shifts an officer is working one fortnight may be completely different the next fortnight.” (94)

This lack of certainty is an obvious barrier in securing and keeping child a care place. These concerns are also echoed in the Queensland Nurses’ Union’s submission — another sector where shift work is required — who state in their submission:

“… the lack of appropriate child care services is a major barrier to nurses returning to the workforce after having children … With the proliferation of non-standard working hours in other areas of employment this difficulty is beginning to become a “mainstream” problem for many working families.” (65)

Where parents would welcome assistance is in encouraging employers to provide child care facilities in the workplace.  This is actually a term of reference for the Productivity Commission Inquiry which is looking at “the role and potential for employer provided child care” – and one that I was determined on including.
 
I am very interested to see what can be done to encourage more employers to provide workplace child care, or to provide priority of access places near the workplace.

Affordability
Affordability also remains a serious concern for many families.
Child care is a considerable cost for many households and forms a barrier when the net financial gain to the household is negligible after child care costs.

Further, the interaction between child care fee assistance, other family subsidies, taxable income and income support payments is complex and varies between different household circumstances. The gains or losses from working an additional day can affect families’ disposable incomes differently, depending on their income levels, the number of children in approved early learning and care services and the fees charged.

Specifically, when it comes to affordability, I often hear frustrations around:

  • Being just outside the eligibility for the Child Care Benefit.
  • Many middle income households feel they are penalised by being hardworking and earning too much.
  • The number of children in care, because the same salary has to cover more fees.
  • Reduced value of fee subsidies as children attend more days of child care a week.

There are a number of other issues that frustrate parents about the cost of care, including having to pay for care on public holidays or when they have a sick child.

However these do not appear to be a barrier to workforce participation.
Critically, the main barriers to participation appear to be:

  • the need to pay for a place to hold it ahead of when it is needed; and
  • minimal financial improvement when the cost of child care is subtracted from wages.

On the other hand, people also tell me that current government assistance, particularly the Child Care Rebate, is much appreciated and makes working financially viable for many parents.

Let me further quote from comments to the Productivity Commission inquiry, concerning flexibility and affordability around some of the themes we’ve identified in the submissions:

  1. Financial needs of the family – one submission said: “If my job becomes in jeopardy because I cannot access the in home (care) hours I need and retain the flexibility, then this family falls apart.” (17)
  2. Specific needs of shift workers - “Lack of flexibility is a concern because you are locked into a fixed attendance pattern.  My husband is a shift worker, and if he kept the kids home on his days off we are penalised, because we still have to pay, and we are limited to how many allowable absences the children can have in a year.” (74)
  3. The increased complexity for single parents - “I am a single parent and struggle to meet the cost and inflexibility of before and after school care.”  (69)
  4. And another example - “Affordability of child care has also been a significant barrier as I am a single mother with no family support and I am losing a large percentage of my wage each week to child care. The rebates I find helpful but not enough to help people remain in the workforce…” (255)
  5. We’ve heard directly from mothers who link their difficulties in finding suitable child care with their level of workforce participation.  For example, one mother said - “I find the availability and affordability of child care services has greatly affected my ability to participate in the workforce.  After my first child I went back to work 4 days/week, using child care while at work.  After my second child I found, because of the cost of child care, it was actually better for me financially to reduce my work attendance to 3 days per week taking into account [the] extra day of care, travelling costs etc.”  (106)

In its submission to the Productivity Commission, the Business Council of Australia made the point that there are women who are under-employed as a result of high cost and lack of access to child care. 
 

In my experience of talking to women in these scenarios I believe they can be under-employed in two ways.  As I’ve just explained, they might not be able to work as many hours or days as they wish to.  But in other cases, there are educated women working in jobs that underutilise their qualifications.

This is a concern as all Australians should be able to work to their potential. A woman who is qualified for and experienced in a particular role should not have to return from maternity leave to a lesser position, just because of child care pressures.

In its submission to the Productivity Commission, the Business and Professional Women Australia (BPW) draws on data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report in 2013 to make the point that “Australia ranks highest in the world for the level of educational attainment for women, but only 13th in economic participation and opportunity” (85).  We need to consider how the lack of affordable child care choices available to these women impact their ability to realise the opportunities offered by their education.

Rural and regional areas
It’s important that we also consider specific issues for regional, rural and remote areas - not just because I live in a regional electorate - but because this really matters for many communities and affects our economy.

It is not surprising that people in rural areas with long distances to travel and work that falls outside business hours, or is seasonal, are bigger users of flexible care options such as family day care and imobile care.

As summed up by this parent from regional Queensland who is trying to drive growth in a farming enterprise:

“An on-farm environment is not always conducive to having children in the workplace.  Once the child progresses to toddler age, it is extremely difficult to accommodate their needs unless they have a dedicated carer…Due to our geographical dislocation transporting children to daycare requires driving 2 hours every day … When at least 6 hours every week are taken up driving we really question our productivity but can see no other choice available.” (13)

Complexity
For those parents entering the child care system in order to facilitate a return to the workplace, we need to also understand that the current system is complex and difficult for parents to navigate.

In their submissions to the Productivity Commission Inquiry, parents have described the current funding system as, and I quote, “excessively complex” (152), “mindboggling” (152), “utterly confusing even for highly educated people” (125) and “unwieldy” (144).

As I have mentioned earlier, the interaction of different payments, number of children in care and income earned make it incredibly difficult for parents to understand the net impact child care has on their household income.

In addition, people within in the sector have stated that they find the current system complex. Comments have included: "the complexity of claiming the Child Care Rebate and Child Care Benefit mean many families miss out” (046), “plain English is needed to interpret and understand government acronyms” (045), and “complicated forms need to be simplified” (045).

Everything I have spoken about tonight emphases the need to reform the child care and early learning system. The many concerns and comments I have shared with you reflect a broader view that the child care and early learning system needs to be brought into the 21st century for the benefit of modern families and our contemporary work environments.

People clearly expressed their views that the current system has passed its use by date and has not kept up with the needs of today’s families.

This is because families are struggling to find access to quality child care and early learning that is flexible and affordable enough to meet their needs and to participate in the workforce.

It is also true that a small but significant number of children start school with learning and developmental delays.

And there are shortfalls in reaching and properly supporting the needs of children with disabilities and vulnerable children, or families in regional and rural areas.

Addressing these shortcomings is complex and challenging.

We know that in Australia, women spend more time providing unpaid caring work than men, with mothers spending on average around eight and a half hours per day caring for children under 15 years of age, compared to almost four hours for fathers.[10]

The impact of this is shown in the differences in workforce participation between women and men in Australia, with men at 71.3 per cent, compared to women at 58.6 per cent. It is also reflected in the proportion of women working part-time, at 46.2 per cent – almost triple that of men.[11]
 
We also know that women have been graduating from universities in higher numbers than men for decades[12].  This might have helped fuel an increase in female workforce participation over the past 30 years, from 45.0 per cent in March 1984 to 58.6 per cent in March 2014.

Australia’s overall labour force participation rate[13] has increased from 60.7 per cent to 64.7 per cent in the same period.

The increase in female participation in recent decades has been due to a range of factors, including changing social attitudes to women working and perceived gender roles, more women completing higher education, reduced fertility rates, an increasing acceptance of women with children remaining in the labour force, the emergence of more part-time employment opportunities and most relevant to tonight’s discussion - greater access to child care.

The rise in part-time employment has also been assisted by the strong growth over recent decades in many industries that have traditionally employed a high proportion of women, such as health, social assistance and education.

In contrast to women, the labour force participation rate for men has been in long-term decline for several decades. Indeed, the male participation rate fell by 5.7 percentage points between March 1984 and March 2014, to stand at 71.0 per cent.

Interestingly, the proportion of males aged 15-69 whose main activity when not in the labour force was ‘home duties or caring for children’ has increased notably, from 5.2 per cent in 1994 to 11.0 per cent in 2013[14] - a doubling in just 20 years.

It’s clear that increasing the availability of - and access to - affordable child care is likely to increase the labour force participation of people with young children, particularly women. This matters for families’ financial wellbeing.

The Grattan Institute estimates that if six per cent more women entered the paid workforce, the size of the Australian economy would be increased by about $25 billion per year.[15]

The OECD has estimated that increasing the workforce participation of women — so as to reduce the gap to men by 75 per cent — could increase Australia’s projected average annual growth in GDP per capita from 2.0 per cent to 2.4 per cent.[16]

The barriers to female workforce participation are complex and interrelated – and while certainly not restricted to child care - it is clear that it is a key issue which disproportionately affects women.
 

The ABS has also highlighted the importance of the availability of more flexible working arrangements, such as working part time.  And as noted earlier, there are more than 100,000 women who cite caring for children as their main reason for not looking for work or working more hours.

It is clear – from the data, the PC submissions and the conversations I have had with many women on this issue – that families and the Australian economy would hugely benefit from increasing mothers’ labour force participation.

We know many mothers would like to increase their hours of work.
We also know there is currently a financial disincentive to increase hours of work.

That’s why we’ve asked the Productivity Commission specifically to look into the contribution that access to affordable, high quality child care makes to women’s workforce participation.

With respect to women’s employment, the Government aims to create a policy context within which women can make choices about their careers, rather than have child care accessibility dictate their level of workforce participation.

The Productivity Commission Inquiry is obviously an important medium term, holistic, review into the child care sector to ensure we deliver the right settings for a system that will meet the needs of the next generation.

But since being appointed Minister, I’ve also identified some shorter term measures that can help reduce the regulatory burden on child care services, which so often fuels increased costs for parents.

You may be aware that the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care was introduced on 1 January 2012.
This includes:

  • a national legislative framework that creates a uniform national approach to the regulation and quality assessment of education and child care services in Australia
  • a National Quality Standard that sets a national benchmark for the quality of education and care services, and
  • a national quality rating and assessment process that rates services against the National Quality Standard.

Improved educator-to-child ratios are required as part of the National Quality Standard meaning many educators have fewer children to look after.

However, I am concerned about the impact of the implementation of National Quality Framework on services.

Let’s be clear, I along with my Ministerial colleagues support the Framework and its goal of higher quality education and care for children. But the fact is that I constantly have child care service providers telling me about increased paperwork, reduced time for engaging with children, and the difficulty in meeting staff qualification requirements in some parts of the country.

In addition, many services are telling me that the NQF’s assessment and rating process is ‘stressful’, ‘onerous’ and ‘inconsistent’.

An independent report noted around 80 per cent of child care and early education providers find the ongoing reporting and red tape requirements of the National Quality Framework to be burdensome[17].  ACECQA’s Report on the National Quality Framework and Regulatory Burden last year showed that the NQF has driven up administrative costs – to the tune of, on average $140,000 per year for a long day care centre with 75 places and 15 educators.[18]

That’s not the cost of setting up NQF-compliant policies – which was expensive enough for centres – it is the cost of simply filling out the paperwork and complying with red tape every year.   This equates to almost $9,500 per employee – or just under $2,000 per child – in administrative costs!

These increased cost pressures on service providers are passed onto families as increases in fees, and inevitably influence decisions on whether or what level of workforce participation is financially viable for them.

I am therefore looking for ways to reduce unnecessary red tape, while maintaining quality and have made some constructive first steps working with my State and Territory Ministerial colleagues.

Many of you would know that we are also establishing a new Long Day Care Professional Development Programme to support the long day care sector in meeting educator qualification requirements and targeting known workforce shortages.

As Assistant Minister for Education, I am determined to get a better outcome that empowers choice so that parents can make decisions on how, when and to what extent they participate in the workforce, rather than have their decisions dictated by the availability and cost of child care.

I truly believe that we are in the middle of a once in a generation opportunity to place Australia’s early childhood learning and child care sector on a sustainable path.

I know we can deliver choice for parents who are considering how to manage their careers after having children by providing affordable child care that offers quality early learning. This is important if we are to ensure that the women who graduate from universities such as this one have the capacity to continue utilising that education in their chosen profession throughout their lives.

It is such an important aspect of this nation’s ongoing economic and social wellbeing.

As a working mother, I understand the critical role that child care plays in parents’ work participation decisions and I am excited by this opportunity.  I look forward to setting out a pathway towards a thriving child care and early learning sector that empowers all parents to choose their level of workforce participation, supported by a contemporary child care system that enables accessibility, affordability and flexibility for modern Australian families.

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