Senate Report reveals sector is taking a huge gamble supporting the Jobs for Families Package

The partisan report from the Senate Committee hearings into the Jobs for Families Package clearly articulate the Government’s view of ECEC as parent welfare, not education for children.

After consultations, public hearings and duelling economic modelling at ten paces, the long-awaited Senate report into the Jobs for Families has been released. Predictably, the Government-majority Committee has recommended the Senate pass the package as it currently stands. Labor and the Greens delivered dissenting reports.

For advocates in the sector with a focus on children (not workforce participation with a side order of children’s rights), it’s a tough read.

I’ve argued for months that the entire bedrock of this package is the view that children’s access to early childhood education should be tied directly to their family’s working status. Basically, some children are in “worthy, hard-working” families and some aren’t. The language in the Senate Report is the clearest indication yet that this Government views ECEC funding as welfare for parents, not education for children. When education or learning is referred to at all, it is in complete subservience to workforce participation outcomes. Some choice highlights:

The aim of the Bill is to support improved affordability, accessibility and flexibility of child care for families and thus encourage greater engagement from families with the paid workforce. (p. 1) [emphasis mine]

Even stakeholders who seek changes to the package concede that, as ECA did, ‘most working families will be better off as a result of the package’. (p. 19)

Encouraging greater workforce participation is a primary aim of the Jobs for Families package, and the committee is of the view that the activity test provisions of the Bill are a fair and equitable way to ensure that the Child Care Subsidy is targeted best at the families who will need and use it the most. (p.19) [emphasis mine]

These are specific examples, but it must always be remembered that this is about the fundamental thrust of the entire package. I’ve gone into my concerns into greater detail elsewhere on this blog, so I want to use this post to tackle something important that this Report makes clear.

The Government’s defence against all attacks on the disastrous impact of this Package on children and families experiencing vulnerabilities has been the new Australian Child Care Subsidy (ACCS). Details about the ACCS are hard to come by, and the Report makes clear that the actual functioning of the subsidy are still being worked out.

The department’s submission further notes that the department is ‘currently developing the list of circumstances in which a child may be considered at risk of serious abuse or neglect’. The completed list will be incorporated into the Minister’s rules. The Minister’s rules will also provide a legal basis to grant or reject an ACCS ‘at risk’ claim. (p. 21)

Let’s just be clear on this. The Government is expecting everyone to support a package that includes a fundamental safety net that is still being worked out.

And many in the ECEC sector are doing so.

Just to pick an example from today, this Government is planning to send 90 children to an island torture camp, and we’re expected to just trust that they will develop a good system to determine funding support for at-risk children.

That’s not a gamble, that’s throwing your money away. They cannot, and should not, be trusted to do so. People advocating for the passing of this package, and using the ACCS to do so, are taking a huge risk. It’s one that should not be taken.

There are huge unanswered questions about this package. But at least the Conclusion makes the Government’s view crystal clear.

Conclusion

2.67 The Jobs for Families package as a whole aims to encourage and enable families seeking to increase their workforce participation, whether by working more or undertaking activities (including studying and training) that will improve their options for participating in paid work.

2.68 One component of the package is to improve access to and affordability of early childhood education and care. The committee recognises that access to high-quality early childhood education and care is of substantial developmental benefit to children in addition to its role in helping to facilitate parents’ workforce engagement. (p. 23)

The package aims to increase workforce participation. ECEC is “one component” of that. Not a fundamental part, not an unassailable foundation. A component. And even mentioning that, it’s only an “addition” to helping workforce engagement.

This is where we’ve ended up in our fight for professional recognition.

This Report should unify the sector against this Package. It’s clear that it won’t.

Looks like we’re all in. Roll the dice.

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