To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March 2022, the Victorian Women’s Trust, in partnership with Thrive By Five ran a discussion event with panelists Angela Jackson, Nyadol Nyuon, Jacqueline Emery and Jay Weatherill, canvassing the issues of childcare reform and examining the current state of affairs.
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MARY: Welcome everyone and happy International Women’s Day, the 8th of March 2022. I’m Mary Crooks and I’m the Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust and I’m the friendly moderator for today’s promising event.
I would like to start by acknowledging country, to say to you here in Northcote, Melbourne, I’m on Wurundjeri land and I would like to pay my respects to First Nations people across the country. As we celebrate over 100 years of International Women’s Day and the push for gender equality, I’d like us to pause a minute to reflect on the much longer and greater struggle that First Nations people have endured in this country in the face of colonisation, dispossession and generations of harm done. One of the things we could commit to do today is to do what we can to enshrine a First Nations people’s voice in the constitution as but one fundamental step we must be surely prepared to take.
Our hearts also go out today as well to our fellow Australians who have experienced incredible devastation in Queensland and northern New South Wales and Sydney. In the face of flood waters and loss of life. And family members and possessions. And facing a huge clean-up task.
And of course, I think it goes without saying that our hearts go out to the victims of the maniacal Putin regime, not just the loss of Ukrainian lives but also of the Russian soldiers sent to war.
Some simple housekeeping for today: the chat facility is available if you wish. We will strive to be pulling questions from the chat room in the later Q and A segment. Try to use your full name in that respect, and if you are representing an organisation include that too. We are recording the session for those who couldn’t make it today so respectful tones and obvious pleasure in each other’s company is the order of the day. If you have any technical issues you can send a private message to Zerene and Jane. Today’s event is captioned. If you need captions go to the settings menu—the little icon that looks like a cog—and go from there.
I think that’s it for housekeeping for the moment so let’s get into the substantive discussion.
What we would like to do in the next 50 minutes or so is open up this whole debate and discussion around early childhood education and care in this country. We want to look at the current state of play, with respect to early childhood education and care. How and why we think the system is failing children, women and families, educators and the broader community. How we think it’s failing diverse communities, including people living in regional and rural parts of the country. We want to focus on the reform needed for the system and empower you as participants and further empower the panelists and the Women’s Trust and central media to take action around this issue and to make it, for heavens sake, an election issue.
We have a fantastic panel here today to canvas this important social policy issue. I’d like to introduce the four panelists all at once, rather than interrupt the flow of conversation. Let’s go to the panelists: we have Angela Jackson, who started a distinguished career in economics in the department of Prime Minister and cabinet. She is now Lead Economist of Impacts Economics and Policy. She is a hugely experienced expert in labour markets, disability, health, gender, housing and fiscal policy. She is also currently the national deputy chair of the Women and Economics Network, a board member of Gender Equity Vic, and a member of the National Heart Foundation’s Victorian advisory board. She’s a regular contributor to The Age, that’s where I read her all the time, to The Conversation, where I read her all the time, and to the Australian which is where I don’t read her. She is an economist with a gender lens. This is not so much a rare breed but it makes her a leader.
Nyadol Nyuon is a lawyer, a community advocate, writer and accomplished public speaker. She’s a vocal advocate for human rights, multi-culturalism, the settlement of people with refugee experiences and those seeking asylum. She’s a recipient of the Future Justice prize and Harmony Alliance award, twice nominated as one of the 100 most influential African Australians. She’s settling in to her position as the director of the centre. She is chair of the Harmony Alliance and had a beautiful piece in The Age today if you haven’t yet read it.
Jacqueline Emery has been the CEO of the Royal Far West charity since 2021, serving as the Executive Director for Business People and Culture in the four years preceding. Royal Far West started almost a century ago in 1924. It’s an enduring charity that looks after kids in rural and remote communities across the nation. I love their website which tells us ‘we go boldly where government stops’. Jacqui has a long and distinguished record of energetic and effective leadership in start-ups, large listed and private companies and not-for-profits. She has been in organisations such as the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Australian Financial Review Group and Readers Digest. Welcome Jacqui.
And last but not least, Jay Weatherill AO, trained as a lawyer with an economics degree and elected to the South Australian Parliament back in 2002. He held portfolios in that time, before becoming premier he held portfolios such as environment and conservation, Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation, family and communities, housing, ageing and disability. He served as the 45th Premier of South Australia leading a Labour state government from 2011 to 2018. He is currently the CEO of Thrive By Five, and in that role is spear-heading a campaign to make child care, early childhood education and care, have the policy significance it deserves to have.
So welcome to our fantastic panel.
I’d like to start with you Angela in terms of you being able to provide the listening audience today with a very succinct national situational round up in economic and social policy terms, where are we at currently in this nation in terms of early childhood education and care?
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ANGELA: Thanks Mary, thank you everyone for being here today. I would also like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners where I’m calling from, also the Wurundjeri people of Kulin Nation, and pay my respects. On International Women’s Day, I think it’s a day for women to come together, but I think we need to pay special care and attention to our First Nations women whose struggle is much greater and needs much more support across the board.
I’m going to share a power point presentation. Bear with me while I get that started, just to run you through a report that we did last year that provides I think the context for where Australia is at today. I’m going to check with everyone because I’ve had issues with this, is everyone seeing that full screen? I’ve had issues with the presenter screen.
Last year we looked at where Australia stood right now and it’s not a happy picture. It’s titled the report Back of the Pack and it was funded by Parenthood. It showed that while Australian women are ranked number one for educational achievement we are ranked 70th in the world for economic participation and it’s that gap I think, where we see what the policy reasons are behind that gap. Why are Australian women doing so well in education yet so poorly in terms of economic participation?
What we tried to look at is compare Australia to some comparative countries and dig deep and see what’s causing this. There are clear stark reasons, and one of them we’ll talk about today is around the cost of child care. In Australia, it costs around 24 percent of average earnings versus 5 percent in Sweden, one of the exemplars in terms female of participation. What that means for Australian women, we know in terms of GDP more broadly, but for Australian woman compared to their Swedish counter parts, it means that we’re earning about $700 000 less over our working life and we would retire if we had the same rate of participation as Swedish women, with around $180,000 in superannuation. This is our goal, this is what we are aiming for and this is what a lot of the policies that we were formulating, especially on International Women’s Day, this is what it’s about. We’re saying we should be best in game not worst in gain.
If we look across the board we see Australia is lagging internationally, it’s not just Sweden, I know some people don’t like us comparing to Nordic countries, it’s across the board, Australian women are doing worse than their counter parts. It’s also really critical and here I will have a call out in terms of I would love to show you a graph that included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, but I can’t because we don’t collect the data regularly enough. We only collect data on participation and labour force every four years in this country on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. That needs to change. So that we can provide regular updates and really track and see how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are doing. I can show you women who come from migrant backgrounds speaking a language other than English and I can tell you they’re doing even worse than Australian-born women, both compared to Australian-born women, and compared to migrant men speaking a language other than English.
An area we don’t talk enough about in Australia and an area with greater focus, we can lift the economic participation of migrant women, but need to look at the issues and start thinking about what the policies might be and I hope we can discuss some of them today.
If we look at where are the differences, it is around child care, costs of child care in Australia are much much higher than international counter parts and it’s going to get worse because Canada, which was another area we are close to, is implementing reform which is reducing the cost of care to $10 a day by 2025. But we also see in maternity and paternity care really big differences in Australia in terms of both the number of weeks and generosity of pay and fathers taking leave. And these are key areas of reform as we talk about gender equity.
So what are the policies? It is a fully shared paid parental leave, that’s what we see in the high performing countries, we see free and high quality early childhood education and care, these are the policies these countries implement. And we see tax and welfare systems that don’t disincentivise women’s work, that actually incentivise women. What these policies do is benefit children, mothers, and fathers, in both in economic and non-economic terms. And they benefit the economy. And we now have a number of reports in the Australian context that have quantified this in terms of the lift in GDP, from moving to cheaper child care and universal free child care and the economic case I think is indisputable and should never be used as a reason not to invest more in early childhood education and care.
But what benefits are we measuring, because sometimes I think we use these billion dollar figures and we lose the point of what we are trying to do here. What early free quality education and care provides is well developing children that are happier and able to lead fulfilling lives. It leads to women that can make the best choices for them and their families, rather than forced in to choices because of the cost of child care. And it leads to families that are under less financial stress, and that has direct economic benefits as well.
Now that’s where I’ll leave it here today and I’ll hand over to the next speaker. Thank you very much, and I’m look forward to the panel discussion.
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MARY: Angela thank you and it was great you could put so much in the slides and give us that coverage. Thank you. Interesting isn’t it. As Angela says, we have the data, the economic case is made and it does remind me of the notion that we are rich country, we can pretty much afford anything, we can’t afford everything, but the question of whether the child care system, education and early education and care system is not designed appropriately, not funded appropriately is a political choice, not an economic one in that sense. Angela thank you.
Do we know whether Nyadol has been able to join us? So I’m thinking until I have that kind of feedback, I might move on to another panelist, to Jacqui if you don’t mind taking the reigns for now. So given you have been several years now, from the Royal Far West perspective of understanding the needs of rural and remote communities and children in that perspective, an Australian Talks program last year found a really huge discrepancy between the experience of child care in inner metro areas such as 41% having trouble finding child care, but the number across families in rural areas was considerably higher at 57%. So take us in to that discrepancy if you wouldn’t mind and start to show us from your experience, what are the particular challenges for accessing early learning in regional and rural parts of the country
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JACQUI: Thanks Mary, I’d also like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land I’m on today which is Gayamaygal land and I’d like to acknowledge the wisdom of the traditional owners and the future elders who at Royal Far West we like to walk alongside and support their healthy development.
So, in rural and remote areas, and thank you Angela for your slides, everything that you see there is just exacerbated in rural and remote areas, across a whole range of different metrics that impact children and families. But particularly around early education and care, a recent survey showed us that 57% of regional families have trouble accessing early learning, and care. In fact there is a new Mitchell Institute report around child care deserts, and we know that when you get outside of inner regional areas there’s no market for early childhood learning in care and that’s where local government steps in and provide the only kind of care that’s available.
Again, considering our remote and very remote populations which happens to be most of our country, we find that there are huge disadvantages for families trying to access this not only from a geographic perspective and the distance, to access affordable high quality early learning, but also, affordability is a massive issue for many of our rural and remote families and keep in mind so many of our rural and remote families have gone through years of chronic drought, obviously COVID that we have all been dealing with, floods now of course. And my thoughts go out to communities particularly in northern New South Wales, and south east Queensland.
These exacerbating factors are putting incredible pressure on families and where that’s an issue at Royal Far West is around children’s healthy development. So the science is clear, high quality early learning and care supports and improves children’s development and for us however, what we know about rural and remote children is that they’re twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable as city children, so they really need this universal access, possibly even more so than city kids and I’ll try and demonstrate that. So we know that the national average is 21.7% of kids starting school with a developmental challenge. This might be not being able to make friends, not being able to catch a ball, not being able to say the ‘r’ sound, however for children that have a developmental challenge on two of those domains, nationally that’s 11%.
So our headquarters historically for almost 100 years is based in Manly, in Sydney. In Manly, that is 7.6% of children starting school developmentally vulnerable on one domain, 2.3% on two domains. In the Wimmera in Victoria 27.5% and 15%. In Fitzroy crossing, where we work with a remote Aboriginal community that’s 54.5%, more than half the kids starting school are developmentally vulnerable and 27.3% on two or more domains. If you are vulnerable on two or more you are basically not ready to learn.
So for us we really need to ensure that universal, affordable, accessible child care is made available to our rural and remote communities because what happens with those children is they’re not showing up with having these challenges until they start school. Yet we know if we are able to find them and identify them earlier then we would be able to actually change their trajectory as their brain is developing.
So that’s core to us, however that’s only just part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that early childhood educators in rural and remote areas, we’re struggling to keep them. Together with the professional isolation they experience, all of these challenges that our regional communities have faced in the last three years, on top of fact that they aren’t supported to support these children with such level of developmental challenge, means there’s a perfect storm going on for these communities, and for these children.
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MARY: Have you got any final points to make?
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JACQUI: So I am noticing in the chat, the data I was referring to is the Australian Early Development Census data and that’s collected every three years and the last one, we are due to see the 2021 results, and what we are finding is that, and certainly our experience with children that we are working in early learning as well as educators that we are working with at the moment, they’re really at breaking point and they really need these supports. I think we have talked about the cost of this, if we can identify these kids early, and the important thing to remember is that the downstream costs for not providing the right intervention at the right time for these children is costing us a lot of money not just economically, but morally in terms of the life trajectories for these children
00:23:43.000 –> 00:23:48.000
MARY: Thank you Jacqui and I can see you’ve provided a link to the data and report. Now again, we haven’t heard from Nyadol and I’m hoping everything is okay with her. But we’ll push on. And –
00:23:54.000 –> 00:23:57.000
NYADOL: Mary I made it finally.
MARY: Fantastic welcome how are you?
NYADOL: Good thank you I’m so sorry.
MARY: No, you are a busy person too. Nyadol would you like me to switch now to Jay and give you time to chill out?
00:24:14.000 –> 00:24:43.000
MARY: Okay. Alright so let’s go now to Jay Weatherill, I gave you the introduction before, so we are especially privileged to have him join us today in his role as CEO of Thrive By Five. So Jay there is a great start to the debate and discussion with the argument and case that Angela has put and the fact that Australia is just lagging so badly in terms of any quality provision of affordable universal child care and Jacqui has come along and painted that important picture in terms of another part of the country in rural and regional Australia. So can you take us through about not just the fact that our system seems to be pushed to the limit, with impacts on women and children and families and more, okay the big question, how does the system start to be reformed Jay? And I know there’s no silver bullet but the system is broke, it needs fixing so let’s have you start the debate and the discussion in that respect.
00:25:37.000 –> 00:26:00.000
JAY: Thank you Mary, happy International Women’s Day everyone, it’s a real pleasure to be with you all. I’m coming to you from the traditional lands of the Whadjuk people, part of the Noongar nation here in east Fremantle, and one of the things that is probably worth pointing out which is a bit of a truism, and that is that not every good idea finds its time politically to actually cause change. There will be a lot of people on this call I can see a bunch of other people that have been talking about this for probably 50 years, the idea of universal high quality child care or what we now call early learning. So it does demonstrate that while there have been some improvements, little surges of activity, we are still a long way from where we need to be as a nation to support children, but women in particular who seem to bear the burden of these caring responsibilities in our community.
I suppose the good news is that the circumstances that have occurred recently, a whole range of circumstances which have conspired to put the early years on the national political agenda and that’s a good thing because once something is on the national political agenda it’s easier to keep it there than it is to get it there. And that’s really the point of the campaign, of the Thrive By Five campaign, is to try and make the early years a national political issue.
And obviously familiar for many people on this call, but there is a profound gender equity issue associated with early years reform. Our organisation comes from the perspective of children, which is the early childhood and education and care system or what we prefer to really understand it as, is an early childhood development system, one that scopes in a whole range of service from maternal health, child care, preschool, child protection and family and communities services, that we can create a coherent service system that integrates those things in a way that’s accessible for families and children. That’s the campaign objective but to get there you have to build a coalition for change and that needs to be bigger than just the people that work in that sector because the people that work in that sector are not strong enough by themselves to cause this change, the children can’t speak for themselves, the parents are very busy and the people that work in the sector are very busy as well. But they at least represent the ongoing permanent voice of children. But we have to make it broader than that, and that’s why one of the tactics in the Thrive By Five campaign is to create this forum which we call Women for Progress, it’s a group of high profile women who come together from diverse backgrounds and experiences and what we tried to build through the campaign is this notion of many voices one message. Because everybody has got their own particular thing, in this area which they think is most important, but if we can all congeal around one demand, which is universal high quality childcare, then we’ve got a chance of reinforcing each other’s voice.
This tactic of Women for Progress has led to a call for political parties to commit to ten policies which include a whole range of things like paid parental leave, action on women’s violence, violence against women, improvements to the way in which we calculate wages for women in the caring sector, a whole range of things. One of the asks, which is a common one across a whole range of different groups, is this idea of a commitment to a high quality universally accessible early learning system with securely employed and properly paid educators and co-ordinated from infancy to primary school. So that’s the principal aim, and there’s a petition which you can find here which allows you to sign up to that.
You’ve heard all of the statistics that have been provided about how this is such a profoundly important investment for the future of our nation. But probably the most important benefit, at least in terms of the wellbeing and also the prosperity of our nation is what it does inside the brains of our children. We are talking about the healthy, human development of the future of our country. What that will manifest itself is costs avoided in terms of all of our tertiary systems of support. It will manifest itself in happier healthy human beings that enter happier relationships with other people. But if you are interested in the economics, it will actually lead to a lift in the general level of capability of our citizens, as it prepares them for the jobs of the future. What we know through technological change is the sort of jobs that are disappearing are decimating those learning jobs, the process jobs, the only jobs that are going to be left in the economy of the future are the sorts of jobs that require the development of your brains that occur across the life course but crucially in those first five years.
So one of the reasons why, and I know this is difficult for many people who work in the sector hear us talking about the economy all of the time because many are attracted to the sector because of children and in some cases women, but the truth is if we are going to be on the national political agenda we have to talk about the economy. Because that’s the thing that writes in terms of getting the attention of the major political parties and that’s how we want to turn this in to an issue, in the coming budget so that’s the next cab off the rank, the budget in late March but also the election in mid May. So they’re the objectives. The more people that can raise their voice, join the thrive by five campaign you’ll see there, behind me that’s another mechanism through which you can be involved. Politicians respond to two things, a good argument but also pressure for change. And one out the other is insufficient we need both for us to be successful. I suppose for my looking at it as a somebody that was involved in the political process, I think the biggest driving force which is likely to cause change in this area is the women’s equality agenda. That’s the driving force that is animating politics at the moment, you’ve seen a suite of candidates across the nation but the major parties are driven to respond to the voices of these often very assertive young women who are adding their voices to the women that have been talking about this for many many decades now. So it’s very exciting time I think, it’s a real opportunity for us to participate.
And I think the other thing, just one final word Mary about the other context here. I think COVID revealed the fragility of the neoliberal economic and social policy model, as it’s applied to child care and aged care, so the systems that fell over during COVID weren’t the education and health care systems but rather the child care and aged care systems. The characteristics of those is that the Commonwealth has a very light touch model, it provides a framework and sets a market and expects the private sector or the not-for-profit sector to respond. And what we’ve seen in both of those areas are real fragilities and massive market failure especially in the regions and remote areas. So I think there is an opportunity for a rethink about system design, there’s an opportunity to surf this wave of activism that’s emerging, amongst women and some enlightened men and hopefully we can get the change we need in the coming budget and the next election.
00:35:24.000 –> 00:35:30.000
MARY: Jay when you made a reference to the election having been called in February my heart missed a beat I thought damn it I’ve missed, but it’s good to know we’ve got it up our sleeve.
Let’s move on now to our final contributor, in this round of four. So welcome, Nyadol, and I did introduce you earlier on when we introduced the three other speakers but I might just reference the fact that you are navigating the system yourself, well and truly, in terms of your children. So let’s hear from you first up in terms of someone in your position, juggling your roles and responsibilities and navigating the system itself.
And then because I know you are fierce, rightly so, in arguing for genuine diversity in our public policy, and responses around multi-culturalism for you to maybe have us think a bit more deeply about how the system must also be culturally appropriate. Over to you Nyadol.
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NYADOL: Good question about managing the child care processes. I have two children, a son that turned three in December, and I have a daughter who is five—in fact it’s her birthday on the 12th this Saturday. I suppose there are two really difficult things with the current child care system, obviously the first is how expensive it is. And so as, a single parent, and some people might be in that same situation where you simply have to work to be able to look after your family and children the way you want to. And I suppose I want to share the experience not because I’m trying to get any sympathy, I’m sure you are all very nice people, but to draw a line between the theory and policy frame works and how they actually operate in practice. So there is no way currently at the moment and to be honest, to a certain degree I feel a bit concerned saying it, there is no way at the moment with the price of paying for child care that I will be able, considering the price of housing and market that I will be able to afford it, not any time soon. Not even just in terms of affordability of child care and how it impacts other economic opportunities that you might have along the line. I think it’s also not just about a house but the ability to be able to save enough to survive on, if you are working for more than three months. And that’s different for everybody, for me it’s different because my family came here as refugees in 2005 so my mother and my family came here with no dollar to our name. So that means economically we haven’t had much choice by virtue of coming here and what might seem like an equitable or fair policy or paying a certain amount might actually not be sufficient to uplift or cause the necessary uplift of certain groups of people to benefit fully from the implication of that policy, for example the child care policy in this instance.
I understand the government is introducing some new legislation that might have come in to effect, where I think they pay more now with two children in care which is good. But I think one thing that I think would be really really useful is not just to look at the particular income that a person may have as a judge for everybody, because I think someone who has assets and advantages is different to someone who only earns that amount of income and that’s literally all they have in comparison, the child care cutting points make such huge generalisations, that you end up falling between the gaps. And in some ways I’m tremendously advantaged in that I’m able to work and I’m able to earn sufficiently, but for those members of my community and other women who may not be able to be in that position, child care becomes so unaffordable especially if you are a single parent that it’s better not working because it means, on the current pay that Centrelink offers, there’s just no way of giving your family the basic minimum. They just can’t, it just doesn’t work out between having to pay the large amount and it’s almost like you are working to pay for child care and most women give up their career so there’s the consequence of giving up a career both in terms of your ability to earn but I think in terms of the sense of self dignity as a person. So I think that’s another experience of navigating the child care system.
My view on it is that really all women should have access to free child care. If they want to access it, and when I say all women I also mean women here on temporary visas, I also mean women who are still seeking asylum or still under consideration because for most of this benefit you have to be either an Australian citizen or a permanent resident to qualify, and that cuts off a large amount of extremely vulnerable women. They then don’t have access to that, because they’re not considered as part of Government responsibility to assist them in accessing childcare.
So I think shifting the debate when we say free child care emphasising should be free for all women in the context of those who enjoy citizenship, all the way to women that are migrants come to Australia. And I think that is just the two areas where I think those policies are so important, in childcare and also in sort of domestic violence spaces. Those two problems impact women because they are women and you don’t stop being a woman because you’ve come to Australia, and as a result I think that when it comes to those two major issues, our advocacy as women should be that all women in this country should enjoy access to either free child care or in the case of domestic violence access to shelter that’s not limited by their visa status.
I think those should be my introductory remarks.
00:43:53.000 –> 00:43:57.000
MARY: Thank you Nyadol for bringing that degree of nuance as well to the heterogeneity here in terms of people needing access to the system. I should have noted in my introduction too Nyadol that she also is one of the women in the Women for Progress group that Jay spoke about before. Just in case she hasn’t got enough to do with her time.
We are going to throw over to some questions from people in the audience, I wanted to pick out a few that would go to the panelists, and I’m just wondering Angela, whether you might be happy to field a question from Naomi Burns around women as shift workers in the economy and their access to a system that enables them to keep working in that arena and afford support.
00:44:35.000 –> 00:44:45.000
ANGELA: It’s a really important question. I think any of us who know shift workers whether they’re nurses or people working in wholesale, wherever they’re working that access to child care is a huge issue because they’re not working child care hours and how do you organise around that? The logistical nightmare that presents on its own is huge, let alone the cost involved in that.
So we need to think about child care as very much about early development. It’s about kids, it’s about creating a healthy environment for them to grow and develop but also around supporting women in the workplace and to work. And I think just picking up on the point around temporary migrants is critical because when we look at migrant women in this country and how they aren’t participating at the same rate, if we can’t draw the connection to how little support we provide temporary migrants and that’s generally how Australian migrants are coming in. Remember that today’s temporary is tomorrow’s permanent resident and they are our future and they are future Australians, so investing in them and in their kids is the right thing to do anyway, just on the basis of basic human rights but also in an economic sense because cutting these women off from work when they first arrive in Australia that makes it much harder as the years go on. So I think that’s another area of reform and unfortunately the benefits that temporary migrants or lack of access to benefits, given the fact they become permanent migrants makes no logical sense at all.
00:47:05.000 –> 00:47:10.000
MARY: We have a question from Lynne from Gowrie, South Australia and Lynne asks a question for you Jay, perhaps consistent messaging about access to early learning as a right for all young children is a message priority rather than other messages based on the evidence around finances and costs and so on. What’s your response Jay?
00:47:10.000 –> 00:47:33.000
JAY: I agree in part. In fact the Centre for Policy Development recently published a report called Starting Better which does frame the question around a guarantee for children and families so it talks across those domains, parental leave, child care and preschool, talks about minimum guarantees for every child in this country. So I think that’s a useful frame. But what we have found is that there are four main narratives that if you take together are very powerful. One is the brain story about how children’s brains develop in the first five years and most people think they know a bit about that, but when you explain there’s neural connections formed every second and a child’s brain is 90% built up by the age of five, and that 20% of children are developmentally vulnerable by the time they reach school, it starts to really, starts to get people thinking it’s important, thinking it’s vital. The second major argument is cost of living, the pressures on young families, and that’s obviously powerful. Third argument is the one we have been talking about today, the female economic participation argument about how for many women its more expensive, they lose more money in child care than they earn in terms of going back to work. The fourth argument which really works very well is a catch all argument about the economy, that this is good for the economy. The reason why that argument is important is it heads off the only decent argument that’s ever advanced against us which is that it costs too much. So you can respond by saying well one, we are already paying the price of the cost of late intervention, secondly it unleashes benefits and essentially this reform pays for itself. The arguments together, brain story, cost of living pressures on families, female economic participation and good for the economy, together when we measure that, that gives you about 75% of the community saying yes to this reform.
00:50:08.000 –> 00:50:11.000
MARY: Jay thank you for that. Angela, I’ll come back to Jacqui and Nyadol in a minute, can I throw to you following on from what Nyadol said and that question from Lynne another question from Rob Roseby from Monash Children’s Hospital and he says are there gains to be made by investing across the board or are there greater gains to be made by investing in the areas for priority groups who are doing worse on measures of early childhood development and health and wellbeing already.
Interesting question—so Angela do you want to give it a crack and try that?
00:50:45.000 –> 00:51:09.000
ANGELA: It’s always difficult aiming for such a big reform which is universal child care, which is why people are coming together today, what bits do you carve off, no doubt in terms of children from migrant backgrounds, kids of parents living on job seeker who are unemployed, they have the greatest benefits. And we know, again another absolute policy no brainer, that for those kids in households which are under financial stress, possibly experiencing higher rates of mental health and we are talking about people on job seeker or on benefits more broadly that accessing child care is vitally important for those kids in their evidence and evidence from overseas the biggest gains in terms of childhood development. And yet we don’t provide it, we say unless you are working or doing this, sorry. And it completely misses the point about one, what early childhood education can do and the benefits and long-term benefits and also what it means to be a community and I know that’s not what economics is about, but ultimately we’re talking about the most vulnerable families in the most vulnerable conditions, the people who need child care the most and yet we are denying it.
Yes I think there is an argument for prioritising those groups but we’ve seen that we can spend money when we want, this is not a huge huge amount of money in the context of the Commonwealth budget. The pay offs are massive, in terms of the economic benefits, the social benefits and for gender equity. And look, to Jay’s point, and I understand that putting this always within the gender equity is in the politics, but Australian women are falling behind in the world and Australians are competitive and I think that’s why politically that argument does gain some currency. But obviously there are broader benefits that we can enjoy as a community. And investing now will deliver benefits for the future
00:53:01.000 –> 00:53:31.000
MARY: Thanks Angela and I might take this perhaps as the final question because there are quite a few and I am hoping that a question—to Jane and to our staff, it would be great I think if the chat comments can be captured generally, and that we can feed them in to the participants on the panel today to Jay, Angela, Nyadol and Jacqui in terms of policy implications, because there are too many to cover off on. The final one is from Cathy Tischler, how do we manage guarantees for child care in rural areas when we have state funded kindergarten models often delivered in a way that doesn’t support workforce participation and doesn’t talk to child care systems, so the idea in a rural setting especially, mind you I don’t think it would be confined to the rural area, to have one system, to have a chance of being economically viable and viable for families, that’s a big question.
Jackie can I throw to you on that one?
00:53:57.000 –> 00:54:21.000
JACQUI: It’s a great question and in fact we are gaining traction here in New South Wales with the New South Wales Government that see the benefit of seeing this early learning reform as part of the education system. And that would go to addressing a lot of the items that are brought up in the chat around stopping thinking of this as child care, and parents just putting their kids in for child minding, this is about learning, this is about education and certainly in rural and remote areas I think that that’s a really important consideration. It’s great to see that New South Wales is leading the way on that if anyone has seen Matt Keen’s recent comments it’s worth his position here.
I think the other thing as well, Royal Far West is a campaign partner of Thrive By Five and we want to champion the rural remote voice, we work closely with rural families, and educators and the key adults around the child in the work that we do. We have established a rural and remote action group to try and identify and are about to launch our own five point plan that complements this because you can’t just take a universal approach without actually understanding the additional complexities that living in rural and remote communities involve.
So we are hoping to kind of add that voice to the campaign in the coming weeks. So the questions are really relevant, I think as well the other aspect to that is that early childhood educators are asking for more wrap around supports, I think someone said wages is not enough, and absolutely you would have a lot of support in that. They want the right supports to do the best work they can do with children. Because that’s what gives the best outcomes for children and their development. Again I think all of the points are so relevant, I would like to make a comment in terms of how this fits in to certainly the women for progress agenda, and why early learning is so key, so pivotal to so many of these issues around gender equity. One in four women who want to leave a violent relationship are unable to leave due to lack of financial resources. During the pandemic, the earlier outbreaks, we ran a pop up safe house for the Department of Communities and Justice in New South Wales. We had probably about 20 percent of the residents were women on temporary visas, all of those women wanted to work, all of them were educated, experienced, they could not work because they could not access, they had absolutely no relief, despite the situation they found themselves in, to access child care or early learning. So what that meant is those women either faced a homelessness situation, or returning to the perpetrator and that’s not good enough, we need to see change.
00:57:18.000 –> 00:57:23.000
MARY: Thank you Jacqui, before we wind up, Nyadol would you like to have the last word.
00:57:23.000 –> 00:57:35.000
NYADOL: Thanks, sorry I thought with two minutes to go. I think the starting position about access to free child care, is a little bit different to how that child care will be provided. You’ve got issues that child care running away, that responds to shift workers or responds to people in rural areas. But I think it would also be useful to think about it also in particular communities. How that child care can be delivered in particular communities and I want to give you two quick examples.
A lot of migrant women, women from my community who come here want to work but because of either their language skills or because the job market is very competitive in Melbourne, most of them would go to Alice Springs or Perth to get a job. And what happens when they to do, they leave their children which is common in cultural practice they leave children with the larger extended family members. And that arrangement is not at all recognised in any way, in terms of supporting the family that begins to look, I think creatively, about allowing as many women as possible access. Women who want to, because it’s fine to be at home, should have access to that universal, access to child care we have to think about what those models look like.
There was a family daycare model that came in to place a while back and what happened was a lot of people in the community jumped in and took it on but because of certain regulations they fell foul of those regulations. What then happened was that I think the Department of Education shut down this whole operation, so members of particular communities, because of their incapacity or capability to respond, don’t have access to running these facilities. I don’t think that the failures, to some degree some of the behaviour was fraudulent that some people conducted and that’s criminal and can be investigated separately, but I don’t think that approach was justified. It felt as if certain members of that community were being punished for the lack of the system being able to manage, it failed to manage and monitor it and as a result took out an opportunity that many women were using to access child care and in some ways able to develop their economic freedom through working
01:00:09.000 –> 01:00:11.000
MARY: Thank you. That’s a great insight. We do need to wrap up. I’m told by Maki that a recording of the zoom and the chat log will be on the Women’s Trust website in the coming weeks so stay tuned for that.
Let me wrap up and let me do so quickly by a part from the importance of a women for progress initiative we are about to launch, hopefully this time next week, our federal election initiative called Matters That Count, so I urge you to stay in touch with our website. In essence, we are standing on the shoulders of giants so we are channelling political screening processes that the women’s electoral lobby adopted decades ago. What we are going to do from the Trust is to trigger a process in every lower house seat in the country not just Victoria, but every lower house seat in the country where a small number of women will come together, they can bring the men in to the exercise, and they will screen two to three candidates they believe have the greatest chance of winning those seats. And screen them for their preparedness to make commitments on eight key policy issues in the country and when they’ve established the results from the two to four candidates in a table of tick tick cross cross no response and so on, those results will be published networked across each seat by women using their vast networks at the community level as a way of helping people make choices in the next election.
So keep your eye out for Matters That Count next week because one of the eight policy commitments is asking elected candidates if they’re elected if they’ll use every bit of their power in this instance to press for a redesigning of Australia’s early childhood education and care to redesign it, to get it away from the neoliberal business model to something that every child deserves. So keep an eye out for matters that count.
I’d like to thank now our four wonderful panelists today, Angela, Nyadol, Jacqui and Jay for giving us their time on 8th March on International Women’s Day and thank them on your behalf for their contribution to the debate and the access. I would like to thank you today in Zoom land for turning up because it’s what democracy relies on and you don’t at this point, don’t get arrested as you do in Putin’s Russia for turning up, and thank you for turning up and hopefully taking this issue on in ways you can. Thanks to Zerene and Jane at Central Media for helping us put this event on today to the women’s trust staff, to Lucy, Rachel and other trust staff for supporting them to bring you the event.
And on that note stay well, take care, and make the election count.