17 February 2021

This piece was first published in The Canberra Times on Wednesday 17 February 2021. 

The latest Productivity Commission data on childcare costs would come as no surprise to families who have been navigating the system in the past year, as fees increase and parents struggle to stay afloat and anchored in the workplace. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical and essential nature of early childhood education and care for working parents. As we move forward with the recovery, accessible and more affordable childcare must be at the forefront of any plan to get people, and particularly women, back into the workforce. 

Data released by the Productivity Commission last week revealed that childcare fees rose by an above CPI increase of 5.6 per cent to a national median of $523 for five days between 2019 and 2020. The biggest increase in childcare fees was recorded in Canberra, where parents paid $595 for a child to attend five days of care per week in 2020. 

Families in Canberra have seen childcare fees rise by more than 35 per cent under eight years of this Liberal government. That's eight years of failing our families when it comes to access to affordable childcare. With the Morrison government itself conceding that rises in childcare fees will outstrip inflation for the foreseeable future, families in Canberra know the childcare system is broken. The Morrison government has no plan to fix it to support families during the recovery and beyond. 

Another alarming fact to emerge from last week's Productivity Commission data is that rising childcare costs are directly keeping parents out of the workforce and from returning to work, which is inevitably a hand brake on our recovery. The data shows that 90,000 Australian parents were locked out of the workforce last year because the cost of childcare was too high. These figures contained in the Productivity Commission's data highlight a 21.7 per cent rise in the number of parents and carers in Australia who didn't work because of the cost of childcare. 

For the COVID-19 recovery to succeed and leave no one behind, we need to have a government and a plan that brings down the cost of childcare for families and helps to boost participation in the workforce, particularly by women. Children are also direct beneficiaries of accessible and affordable childcare because of the positive impact access to early education has on their development and wellbeing. 

Unfortunately, we know the way the system currently operates means that for many women it is not worth working more than three days a week. This limits women's choices about their labour force participation, and choices for families about how to balance work and parenting. That's why an Albanese Labor government will bring down the cost of childcare for families and keep it down. 

Labor's cheaper childcare policy will seek to eliminate the many obstacles to participation placed by escalating childcare costs. It will do this by increasing the childcare subsidy for more than 1 million working families and removing the annual cap on childcare benefits. These reforms will make childcare cheaper for 97 per cent of families with children in care. 

A key plank of Labor's policy to keep childcare prices in check will be to enlist the ACCC to prevent out of control fee rises via a price regulation mechanism. Our plan also includes the Productivity Commission conducting a comprehensive review with the aim of implementing a universal 90 per cent subsidy for all families. In the absence of any plan from the Morrison government to address the rising tide of childcare costs, Labor's childcare plan is the buoy that will help families keep their head above water when it comes to childcare costs and making sure the recovery leaves no one behind in Canberra. 

Alicia Payne is a federal Labor MP representing the seat of Canberra. 

This piece was first published in The Canberra Times on Wednesday 17 February 2021.