I was deeply disappointed, but not entirely surprised, to see free child care scrapped by this government after just two months. Ending free child care is a huge mistake. Thousands of families have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis and now have to make some very hard choices. Many stakeholders have come out to express their shock and disappointment with the transition package, the scrapping of JobKeeper or the end of free child care. These include centres, peak bodies, parent groups and the union movement.
Australian childcare fees are some of the highest in the world. We need a radical revamp of the whole system, and it starts with looking at how we make child care free for good. Child care is an essential service. In our patriarchal society, the caring work has long been seen as women's work and undervalued, creating the heavily casualised and underpaid conditions for so many workers in child care and early learning. This is not an accident. The entire system—our entire economy, in fact—relies on the unpaid and underpaid work of women in caring roles, and the skilled, difficult work done in childcare centres is too often seen simply as an extension of that. Making child care free and well funded and supporting carers and educators is essential to dismantling these retrograde ideas.
Ending JobKeeper for early childhood educators and carers well before all other workers in Australia is unfair in the extreme, and most of these workers are women. Free child care, combined with decent conditions for workers and educators, is essential to building a system that is fair for all. While there were clearly issues with the scheme that has run since April, these could have been fixed by widening JobKeeper eligibility and raising the subsidy for centres as enrolments increased. Instead, the government has taken the easy way out, despite finding $60 billion down the back of the couch just a couple of weeks ago. The Greens and I will do everything we can to show the government just how essential early learning and care is.