Despite the Henry Review suggesting that increased workforce participation for mothers of young children was crucial, and other reports supporting this need, the government and opposition are giving anti signals. The opposition’s decision not to oppose the Budget cuts to the child care tax rebate signals a rare confluence of views. It seems it’s OK to reduce the rebate just as costs are going up because of higher government staffing standards.

Sharman Stone, according to The Age, said on May 12:  “I can assure you we are not going to want to do anything that makes it even harder for families to afford good quality childcare.” But the report claims she was rolled by the economic hard heads in the shadow cabinet, who wanted the $86 million in savings.

The sum shows that the costs of care will rise substantially for quite a few parents over the next few years, not the trickle of wealthy mums the Treasurer suggested. The decision also sits oddly with the pious statements by coalition front benchers supporting their version of paid parental leave, as recognising the needs of mothers in paid work.

Taken together with the cuts in capital for new child care centres and the lack of action on other Henry proposals to increase the attractiveness of participation, the government doesn’t look very enthused about working mothers. They also refused the Henry proposal to get rid of the absurdity of a payment to single-income partnered parents, Family Tax benefit B. They are hanging their hat on the somewhat flawed but only feasible paid parental leave payment. As it is not a leave payment as such, this is a wobbly hook and there are many future problems to solve.

The coalition is not appearing as a great defender of the rights of working mothers or preschoolers. They are offering a very extravagant version of parental leave, which sits so oddly with their anti-great big tax stand so one wonders whether it will ever appear. There are suggestions of generous rises in the baby bonus to compensate for the extra money for working parents, which will be expensive, and apart from that they have bad forms in the past.

The coalition’s latest about-face suggests their support in this area is very thin indeed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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