We didn’t get a lot more information about the Government’s planned “families package” at the Press Club yesterday, but we do now know that Tony Abbott’s signature Paid Parental Leave scheme is – to coin a phrase – dead, buried and cremated.
Which leaves a rather large sum of money now up for grabs, funded by a 1.5% levy on some of Australia’s largest companies. Predictably, the business community has insisted that since the PPL is gone, the levy should be gone as well.
The Government has made no mention of what will become of this levy, though it seems reasonably clear given Tony Abbott’s address and Scott Morrison’s recent media comments that it will be kept and redirected in some way to the childcare budget.
The members of the business community quoted are flatly stating that any additional funding of childcare is the Government’s responsibility. I am fine with this argument in a broad sense, and indeed strongly advocate for full Government funding of all forms of early childhood education and care.
But this is still a cop-out from Australia’s businesses. The potential short-term increases to workforce participation (particularly for women), and the enormous long-term improvements to the economy are now almost universally accepted. Business has a chance to be a real part of the solution in ensuring that childcare is affordable, accessible and of high quality.
In the heady days of 2014, when members of the Government tended to laugh until they cried when anyone suggested they increase investment in childcare, I wrote that the sector may find a possible partner in Australia’s business community. This sprung from the Business Council of Australia’s submission to the Productivity Commission enquiry into the sector which strongly advocated for a much stronger childcare sector.
For the business community to now simply turn around and say “not our problem”, while demanding that the Government provide billions of dollars worth of tax breaks, incentives and other financial palliatives to support them is more than a little hypocritical.
Business leaders have made a habit recently of complaining about the short-term nature of politics, which doesn’t look beyond the next term. They should start looking beyond the scrapping of a levy that isn’t even in place yet, and think long term about what sensible structural reform to Australia’s childcare sector could mean for the entire community.