Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Libs set to renew attacks on childcare

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The new Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, is now in charge of making cuts to welfare and further privatising childcare services. This is the same man that the recently led the cruel ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ as the Minister for Immigration. Morrison has already dubbed himself the ‘strong welfare cop’.

The new so-called ‘families package’, while wide-ranging, currently centres on childcare and will aim to push more women into the workforce. “[I]f female participation in Australia were 6 per cent higher, at Canada’s level, GDP would be higher by $25 billion a year”, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently commented in regards to women’s currently untapped profit-producing ability.

Although the exact policy details remain unclear there is no doubt about the basic intention of the ‘families package’: the deeper privatisation of childcare, the long-term cutting of public funding and increasing the pool of workers who can be exploited for profit.

The ‘families package’ will largely draw upon a Productivity Commission review into childcare, which recommends the ‘streamlining’ (read: cutting) of the current childcare subsidies. Currently these are the means-tested Childcare Benefit and non-means-tested Childcare Rebate, which is capped at $7,500 a year. About 5% of families go over the latter cap and are forced to pay more.

The Productivity Commission has suggested a means-tested payment per child paid directly to the company for a maximum of 50 hours of care a week. The rate would be based on a so-called ‘benchmark price’ established using the (ever-escalating) median price charged by (generally for-profit) companies. That is unregulated ‘market’ prices with any extra being covered by parents. This will almost certainly mean that parents will end up paying more.

The subsidies would also be extended to include in-home nannies, opening up the well-documented possibility of extended and intensified workplace exploitation. The ABC reported that for families with an income under $60,000, that would pay for 85% of the cost. Parents would be forced through the onerous and degrading processes of proving they were working, training or studying in order to receive the subsidy.

The Socialist Party resolutely opposes the further privatisation of childcare and the cutting of public funds. We stand for more, not less, support for working parents, including fewer working hours without any loss of pay.

Public funding for childcare should be massively boosted – and directed only to publicly-owned community-controlled centres, rather than for-profit providers. This is the only way to avoid the child-endangering and disastrous experiences like the collapse of the ABC Learning Centres, as well as ongoing profiteering at the expense of working parents.

Childcare centres should be run democratically by childcare workers, parents and the community. They are best placed to know the needs of both the parents and children.

It is brutally clear that the childcare staff – mostly women – looking after our kids need to be paid a decent and living wage. Australian childcare workers are paid some of the lowest rates in the developed world, while the amount of children per worker is often staggering.

The solution to this is employing many more childcare workers. We also need to significantly improve the atrocious wages and conditions of these workers, for what is often deeply-emotional, personally-exhausting labour.

In a $1.75 trillion economy, it is a disgrace that OECD reports continue to show Australia has some of the lowest spending on early childcare and schooling in the developed world. If we allow Morrison to have his way this will only get worse.

Recent strikes by pre-school teachers point towards the kinds of action necessary to challenge the government’s profit driven agenda. As well as organised community campaigns, industrial action aimed at securing both better wages and conditions, and more public funding for childcare, will be necessary to stop the government’s plans and end this crisis.

By Simone Howard & W. van Leeuwen


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