Published: 13 June 2020

Publicly funded education is fundamental to the promotion of a civil and just society.

Why is access to early education and care not considered in the same vein?

Public policy should always aim for equity, target vulnerable and disadvantaged families and children and support women's participation in the workforce, thus leading to increased productivity.

The support provided to early education and care during the pandemic was welcome for all these reasons.
Private schools and early education and care have a role to play, however publicly funded early education and care is crucial to a modern, equitable and just society.

The last thirty or so years of uninterrupted growth in the Australian economy has not seen the benefits spread evenly, with housing and childcare costs rising faster than incomes.

The free childcare announced in April, admittedly aimed at helping parents of essential workers who were desperately needed to keep the economy working, was like manna from heaven.

But it has been withdrawn before anyone has had a chance to assess the efficacy or flaws of the policy. It's back to the old dysfunctional poorly designed system.

The Job-keeper payment in this sector, for some unfathomable reason, will cease next month, two months before other sectors disadvantaging women from every angle. Childcare workers are predominantly women, as are those on the margin requiring child care before going back to work.

Many small regional centres will find it hard to keep operating with many families who use their services having lost employment and income. The risk of further job losses in this sector is real especially without consideration of long term benefits of public funding.

Women are more likely to stay home to care for children when childcare becomes unaffordable, further impacting their capacity to participate in work and benefit from economic recovery. Children from vulnerable households, many in regional areas, will be further disadvantaged, falling further behind if these centres close and no other options exist.

We are letting the opportunity to overhaul the childcare system slip by. It should certainly take precedence over providing middle class welfare of $25,000 per family to those in a position to spend $150,000 on a new kitchen and bathroom.

The economic challenge is like no other seen in our lifetime. The need for an economic recovery plan is clear. Many businesses were forced to close and jobs lost at the stroke of the Premier's pen - certainly something he took no joy in.

Our blinkers give us a distorted view of the real world. Health and education are downplayed as if they're not fair dinkum industries like the building industry that builds things we can all see.

Childcare and early education are wrongly held in lower regard as if they're merely glorified babysitters. As for the arts industry, if it wasn't for David Walsh, MONA and festivals, many he promotes, arts would still be regarded as a pastime for those who don't like footy not as a fair dinkum industry that contributes to the economy and our social wellbeing.

The economic recovery plan needs to take a broad, long term approach that is gender sensitive. To date, we have seen anything but a sensitive and equitable response.

The Federal and State Government have resorted to giving the construction industry preferential treatment to help the economy recover. These jobs are important but the industry has been, and will continue to be, male dominated. Programs aimed at encouraging women into the trades have limited progress to date. Skills and trade training have been under-resourced and undervalued by governments.

Investment in infrastructure needs to create social value not just capital value. Building social housing, improving our educational and health care facilities and improving road safety, are all important investments.

Current economic stimulus measures will not assist the majority of those impacted in the tourism, hospitality and arts sectors, workers predominantly young and/or female in jobs that are lower paid than the majority of those in the construction industry.

Governments must re-think their approach to Australia's economic recovery. The trajectory we are on takes us back to the past, reinforces old views of what industries are important, reopens gender inequality gaps we had started to close and risks further disadvantage to vulnerable Australians.

Publicly funded early education and childcare should be the cornerstone of our recovery.

The Advocate 13 June, 2020

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