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Issue #1920      June 22, 2020

Govt cuts hit women and children

Women and children are targeted in the Coalition government’s early cancellation of free “childcare” for parents and JobKeeper for its workforce. Many low-income women will be denied access to early childhood education and care for their children.

Education Minister Dan Tehan announced on 8th June that the government would abolish free “childcare” as from 12th July, taking parents and the sector by surprise. He also signalled an end to JobKeeper from 20th July for employees of early childhood education and care centres.

Only days earlier, in response to a question from the media, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that “[...] the six months provision of JobKeeper has been set out in legislation and people can count on that.” Consideration of its future would be part of the review of packages in July, he said. So much for JobKeeper running until September!

In an about face, a few days later, Morrison said, “That [cutting the support] was seen as a better way of supporting more jobs and supporting the management and meeting of demand in the childcare sector. But, where there is a better way to do things, we won’t step aside.”

It takes more than a stretch of the imagination to understand how denying families access to free services is a “better way of doing things.” It is hardly better for struggling centres, their staff, or for the children or the families who rely on them.

Centres will receive a temporary transition payment.


When the childcare relief package was first announced, Morrison described the services as “vital.” He was correct on that point.

The government introduced the scheme because many early childhood centres were on the brink of collapse as parents withdrew their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents had lost their jobs, had their hours or wages cut, or kept their children at home for fear they might contract the virus at a centre.

“This package will help support families during these difficult times, particularly those who have lost their job and are doing it tough,” Education Minister Dan Tehan said when launching the program earlier in the year.

Well the “difficult times” are not over, but the package will be if the government is not forced to reverse its decision.

The removal of fees opened up access to families on lower incomes, including the under- and unemployed.


“A review of the package found it had succeeded in its objective of keeping services open and viable, with ninety-nine per cent of around 13,400 services operational as of 27 May 2020,” Tehan said.

“But, one of the reasons that we’re seeing increased demand in the child care sector is because children are going back to school, people are going back to work, and the economy is being opened up, as restrictions are eased. So, we are seeing more economic activity,” Tehan told the media.

Of course, by making early learning and care affordable, more families will use it and be able to go back to work as the economy opens up. That’s common sense.

Women and children hit hardest

As with so many of the Coalition’s policies, it will be women, those on lower incomes, the vulnerable, and children who are hit hardest by this latest move. Women are overwhelmingly the principal carers and hence reliant on the centres to be able to participate in the paid workforce or study. Many will be forced to give up working or studies as they cannot afford the fees.

Ninety-seven per cent of the staff in early childhood education centres are female. The professional role that early childhood educators play – seen by many as “women’s work” – is highly undervalued and underpaid, yet it carries with it considerable responsibilities for the care and education of under fives.

Educators in the sector are qualified with many having university degrees. Their incomes do not reflect this, with some paid as little as $22 an hour – barely above the minimum wage. The average wage for a shelf packer in a supermarket is $21.90. The nature of their work and the responsibilities they have are hardly comparable.

Child minding myth

The language used in the media and by some politicians suggests that the “childcare industry” provides a child-minding service – somewhere to dump their pre-schoolers while they are at work.

But nothing could be further from the truth. These centres are learning and care centres. The programs they run are pedagogically structured to meet the needs of early childhood development – the development of social, cognitive, and motor skills amongst others.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated how important these early years are in the development of a child in readiness for school. It is no accident that in the majority of developed countries early childhood education is free. In Australia, public education is free for later years. It should also be free for the earlier years.

Fees should not be reintroduced. They create inequalities that continue through the life of the children affected.

Pure economics

The early childhood education relief package is being shut down early for purely economic reasons. The government is obsessed with saving every dollar it can, regardless of the consequences, and creating a budget surplus as quickly as possible.

The wellbeing of the children, families or workers in the sector counts for nothing.

The aim of the package was to keep early learning and care centres open so that they would still be operating as the economy was turned around and people returned to work. They are “vital” to keeping the economy ticking.

As it does with most programs, the government describes cuts and programs as being “targeted.” Parents, and the children who stand to miss out on early childhood education, are the targets in the cuts to the early childhood education sector. They are being told to pay for the crisis. No worker should be made to pay for the crisis.

Next article – Editorial – Slavery is at the heart of Australia’s foundation

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