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Mar 28, 2012

Abbott's nanny state could expose kids to lesser levels of care

Tony Abbott's thought bubble on government funding for nannies may expose children to lesser levels of care as well as assisting more affluent women to exploit many less powerful ones.


Asking for government funding for nannies may expose children to lesser levels of care as well as assisting more affluent women to exploit many less powerful ones. Rather than expanding this type of payment, government should fix the supply and other problems in its child care services that make access hard. Then the government can legitimately make it clear that the public subsidies are for quality childcare that meets clear standards as well as ensuring that their parents can be economically or otherwise engaged.

Tony Abbott has stirred a long time debate on what should child care funds subsidise. In the past he had supported subsidies for stay at home mothers, now he is trying to promote his new age support for working mothers. He is playing into the campaigns by Chief Executive Women who have supported nanny subsidies for some time. It’s still only a suggestion as he would refer the question of funding home-based care to the Productivity Commission.

Both his intervention and the arguments of the groups supporting nanny subsidies push the economic benefits of increasing the participation of women in paid work. They look at the serious difficulties that even higher income women have in finding appropriate care and argue therefore that public funding should therefore extend to parents who hire nannies. It is demonstrably very expensive to pay a home-based worker the pay they are entitled to for the hours needed for full time care.

Yes, there is a significant shortage of care placed for the under threes, the staff ratios make these places less attractive to commercial centres, despite demand. However, the government ignores these shortages, quoting only overall vacancy rates, not by age and locations. Services can also be inflexible because late pickup incurs extra costs. However there are options for changes here that could make more places available and offer more flexibility.

However, most noisy nanny advocates are not interested in better access to funded services, they want home-based care. It suits them better to have someone at home who can also do the cooking, clean up the children’s mess and be there if they have to stay back late. A surrogate wife in fact! And that is where the question become murky, as it meets their needs but not the needs of others.

There are many questions on both the quality of care on offer to the children in home and setting adequate working conditions for the carer. Arguments for nanny subsidies focus on parental needs. There are rarely mentions of the benefits of such care for either children or the home based worker.

The advocates say that parents should be the judges, but parents tend to ignore evidence of not-quite-good-enough–care in services because it is too hard to change. At least the services have regulations and other adults there to make sure basics are covered, but these safety valves are not there in home based care. If there were obvious problems, they may worry but parents are unlikely to notice lack of engagement, limited ability to meet emotional and social needs and lack of understanding of child pay and development. So care may not be as good as even an average centre.

So what is the purpose of public subsidies for a range of children’s care services? These were introduced specifically in the 1970s to ensure good quality of care was on offer for children in day care services. Governments set staffing ratios and qualifications so care services can meet children’s needs for social, emotional, physical, intellectual, and educational development. The recent child care rebate of a maximum of about $150 per week was added to ensure that higher costs of government regulated good care was affordable for all users. This is paid for full time care where at least double the amount is spent on fees.It is this payment that nanny users want, but it would not even cover one day’s care by a nanny, leaving four days plus still to be paid. If one estimates nanny pay as at least $24ph, as a casual payment, add on super and workers comp insurance and possible overtime, the costs go up to around a $1000 a week! If you had three children, there would be more subsidy, but think of  the one carer with no lunch breaks or relief! Current nannies are often in the black economy, paid cash, often students or travellers and settle for less cash in hand.

What about the working conditions of a sole worker in a household? Presumably, she will be expected to do the associated domestic work and have no meal breaks and often longer hours than normal work shifts. She may have a cert 3, the new minimum qualification for working in a centre, but these are designed for people working with better qualified supervisors.

Many are also suss as they are now delivered by a range of colleges of low repute. The qualification don’t cover skills in learning activities, assessing the needs of children or exploring ideas and creativity.

Those relatively low paid workers who take these jobs are often young and often students or on the move and not so likely to take up formal taxed jobs. Others may be recently arrived migrants and others who may have few other work options. None are likely to be confident enough to ensure that they have good working conditions and are not exploited. A scary possibility is if the nanny industry become more legitimate and expanding, the shortage of workers may bring demands for temporary visas for migrants from low paid countries. We would then seriously exploit women and parallel those already working as maids etc in Hong Kong and the Gulf states.

Home based workers are vulnerable, if not employed by an external agency who ensures they are appropriately paid and not exploited. Home and community care services have standards and regulations that ensure that workers have decent working conditions, mean breaks etc. The argument that registering them in order to get a subsidy will improve their situation is doubtful, as the isolation of the workers makes it too hard to regulate and police.

There are other options as there is already a service of in home carers, that is subsidised for families who for good reasons can’t use centre-based care. This could be expanded for carers who are both qualified and supervised by an external agency.


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27 thoughts on “Abbott’s nanny state could expose kids to lesser levels of care

  1. Michael James

    For all of Ms Cox’s horor at the concept, it works very well in Singapore, where the government encourages the placement of maids (Nanny’s by another name) to encourage and facilitate the return of educated professional women to the workforce.

    The Singapore government has a comprehensive licencing and monitoring system in place to ensure that both maids and families are protected, from unscrupulous maid agencies, from abusive families and from manipulative maids.

    I am not suggesting that we should introduce such a scheme here, just that there are pros and cons to all proposals, and perhaps a more nuanced article might have looked at both sides.

  2. Michael

    Eva you degrade yourself by placing ideology ahead of sensible Coalition policy

  3. Paul

    The only reason to take this seriously is is the realization that Abbott will offer any bribe imaginable to get the vote of selfish rich and high income families. But that is Abbott to the core.
    It will mean the low income families will receive less support, as is the way with the Tories (don’t believe me look at the UK government – advised by Australian right wingers). Sadly Abbott and most of the media will present it as a quasi female friendly policy and many Australians will be sucked in.

  4. Liz45

    @MICHAEL – I do NOT agree with you. I much prefer Eva’s “idealogy” to Abbott’s? As Paul correctly points out, Abbott is only concerned with one person – HIM! He wants to live in the Lodge, and by his own words, he’ll do anything to achieve that, including “selling my arse”?

    Image the horror that would be shouted about if somebody suggested, that mothers of small children could have their childcare paid for if they continued their studies etc. The shock jocks and programs like TT and ACA are persistent in their demonising of young unmarried women with babies, but I assert that they’d be equally condemning if the Labor Govt offered this incentive? I can almost hear the screams, and the smoke is coming out of numerous nostrils! Sophie M would be leading the charge. ‘Working class’ welfare is always fun to guarantee irate followers?

    I think it would be better to support child care at the workplace/s. Women with babies could more easily breast feed their babies if they were on site. All kids would benefit if they had access to one parent at least, during the day.

    If the right wing in the Coalition parties are horrified by Abbott’s maternity benefit scheme, imagine how they’d respond to this suggestion.

    Anyway, after he was elected (NO!) he’d do what he did over the Private Health Rebate. Do an ‘ooooppppssss’, sorry folks, didn’t realise it would cost THIS much! Sorry! It’s off the table! ‘And not a murmur would pass the lips of the Murdoch press or the shock jocks and others!

    As many of us are aware – a Coalition PM can tell lies, withdraw promises etc and not a criticism is heard, but let one Labor PM do it – wow! (Anyway, it was never removed as ALP policy, but who’s interested in facts???).

    MICHAEL JAMES – How much do Nannies get paid in Singapore? Does this include the physical and emotional cruelty that’s dished out to them?

  5. Clytie

    Family Day Care can already care for children in your own home, and it is licensed, qualified and attracts the childcare subsidy.

    However, you can get a grey-market nanny for a lot less money. Hey, we’re offering you room and board etc., we’ll let you study in your (chuckle) spare time, so how about a bit of cash in hand and we’re square, huh?

    Registration won’t be enough to protect these workers, overwhelmingly women with few support structures and little knowledge of their rights.

    Family Day Care (in your or the carer’s home) also allows for late pickups etc., and simply charges by the hour. So I don’t see why relatively well-off women need a nanny, if they’re looking for available and flexible childcare.

    If they’re looking for a P.A. on less than minimum wage, in an environment they can control completely, that’s another matter.

  6. John64

    “Then the government can legitimately make it clear that the public subsidies are for quality childcare that meets clear standards”

    … or the parents could, of course, look after the little rugrats themselves without any care for “quality” or standards needing to be met.

    I think as a society we’ll one day become aware of the obvious conclusion that the best people to look after children are that child’s parents. No ifs, no buts and no “economic” excuses.

    You’d think raising children was some sort of terrible punishment the way some of these arguments play out. “Imagine, having to look after a child without someone else coming in to cover the lunch break!” Sometimes I wonder just how my parents did it with four of us.

    I think what I’ll do is register the wife as a nanny and “pay her” (money that goes right back into the family bank account of course) just to get the Government bonuses, then register my home as a “childcare premises” to score some more hand-outs. It’ll be a great little earner.

  7. Rebecca Te'o

    The level of ignorance and prejudice on this topic is astounding. Given the reasoning above, we should also have no in-home care for the aged or people living with disabilities, just because in past eras someone else always looked after that sort of stuff. Contrary to what many of you seem to believe, parents who pay for day care aren’t monsters; they are merely trying to make the most of providing for their families in a nation where the cost of living is extremely high.

    I’m a professional, I use day care, I love being with my kids, but I also have to work. We don’t own any property, have one working vehicle, have no medical insurance because we can’t afford it, and don’t own extravagent items like a plasma television (in fact, we have to bang the side of ours to get the colour right). I mention the plasma TV because that’s a product that usually crops up as an example of a modern parents’ apparent skewed sense of priority: “There’s something wrong with today’s parents – they think it’s important to have the very best of everything”. Well, I call bullsh*t. This is not the experience of anyone I know.

    This I’m fed up to the back teeth with a simplistic dismissal of parents – and let’s face it, you really mean “women” – who use day care as selfish and privileged. Apparently, in previous eras, parents could leave children with neighbours, relatives, their mums, friends, or, according to all the rose-coloured memoirs banging around the place, just let them (apparently) play in the street until sun down. Or you could give the old lady from around the corner a bit of cash to mind them twice a week while you went to work. That is not the world we live in, and pretending things are still this way is at best unhelpful and at worst ignorant.

    Like a manky carpet, the entire child care industry needs to be flung over the back fence and given a good whacking to get the parasites out – the only losers in day care are the parents who pay a fortune and the workers who are paid a pittance for their excellent care.

    Get real, and stop avoiding the issue by pretending it’s about class or political persuasion. Those who carry on about it being a class/party issue are demonstrating they know absolutely nothing about how the average person lives. It’s embarrassing, it’s incorrect, it’s ignorant and, actually, it’s bloody patronising.

  8. geomac

    Another policy that invites rorts and does nothing for the average punter . Remember how well the ABC child centres went with government largesse and how non profit child care centres were squeezed out of the industry . Who were the Nationals who had a part in that industry ? Y can,t recall but I think Kroger was involved as well .

  9. AR

    From this is is a short, ideological step to tax deductible nannies, maids, butlers and sundry other domestic servants, as per the UK tories.

  10. Ben Dudley

    Our household would be snookered without our nanny. She has also become our daughter’s best friend. Having said that, we have been very fortunate to find an excellent nanny (fourth time lucky!) and we believe we pay her appropriately and do not ask her to do any inappropriate tasks (yes, she cleans and cooks but that is about it) or work inappropriate hours (8 til 6 is a long day but so is 7 til 6 in an operating theatre).
    My wife is a professional who has spent 15 years getting her career established and to stay at home would jeopardise that. She feels guilt on a regular basis for not spending more time with our daughter.
    We have been on waiting lists with 4 childcare centres in our area since our daughter was six months old. We still have not been offered a place in any centre at any time (originally we selected our preferred days but later we extended our preference to any day and any time). We registered our daughter to start in a pre-school around the time she would turn 2 but we were recently notified that the centre has changed its policy due to changes in government regulations and they are no longer taking kids until after their third birthday and so they hoped to be able to offer us a place a year later than expected.
    We pay about $1,000 per week. Ok we can afford it but why not make it tax deductible? It is an expense incurred in enabling both of us to work and with the skills shortages etc etc shouldn’t there be encouragement to keep professionals in the work force?
    (Don’t imagine for a moment I am a coalition supporter. I think their current economic offerings add up about as well as Enron’s accounting and I think they’re racist, homophobic and untrustworthy.)

  11. khtagh

    Here we have the Mad Monks next exersize in buying the middle/upper class vote, he learnt well from Howard.

  12. briandwyer45

    Mr Abbott has hit on a potential vote winner here. At a stroke he will have many women helped back to work (full or part-time) and will provide a supplement to the income of those of the relatives (especially the parents of the husband and/or wife). This will be especially attractive to those many folk who do not have the benefit of a carer’s allowance. It is a natural (and vote winning) extension of the above policies and will get legs, even if the Productivity Commission doesn’t like it. It will share round the goodies, will provide more welfare to many, and could go on for years after the mum is back at work and the kids get home before she does. Ideal for Gran’pa, Gran’ma, Aunty or Uncle. A winner !

  13. Groucho

    It’s a myth that childcare costs are keeping educated high powered women at home. Everyone else seems to manage to put kids in daycare.

    As with most of coalition policy, like maternity scheme, this is about flattening out the tax base. If you can’t cut high earners tax or cut low income welfare the next best thing is to flood middle/upper income earners with handouts. It acheives much the same aim.

    Perhaps if a nanny is such a priority get a japanese car instead of a german one or purchase a house in a slightly less affluent suburb. At the end of the day that is what these subsidies are really funding.

    The extra freed by this handout will go on more expensive cars, houses, holiday as was openly admitted in reference the Baby Bonus and family tax handouts.

    Stock in trade though from the Libs. Give people a sense of entitlement based on an overestimation of their worth to the country as a whole.

  14. Rebecca Te'o

    Hey Groucho, I paid just over $1500 per fortnight to have two kids of my kids in day care and one looked after for two hours after school at the same centre. Don’t talk to me about high costs being a myth. And, actually, not everyone manages to put their kids in day care – and those who do manage to get their kids in really do have to sacrifice a LOT. That is, actually, the entire point. Parents pay a lot, workers get paid a very little (and have their wages capped after the first few years). This is one industry that needs a big broom through it.

    Also, you might be interested to know that day care fees are more expensive than most private school fees. That, also, is not a myth.

    Day care fees are the exact reason we have never been able to save for a house. We also took our FRIST family holiday in 17 years last Christmas. I think you’ll find the people buying expensive cars and properties, and going on holidays, are not the people paying for day care.

  15. Liz45


    I’m on your side. I wonder if you live in NSW as we have the most expensive child care in the country. O’Farrell announced prior to this school year, that children attending pre-school on a school site will have to pay fees for the first time. In other States, particularly WA, more schools have a child care centre and parents do NOT have to pay. All other States are cheaper than NSW, and yet O’Farrell has just made it worse. He’s not taking into account the socio-economic status in the area, kids who have English as a second language and aboriginal parents are sick to death of being used as a ‘yardstick’?

    Like Health and other areas, education is becoming a business, with the main focus being on cost, outcome(in a business sense) and profits.

    Rebecca, I’d like to see a better child care system altogether, but firstly, let’s bring NSW up to standard. I believe that women like you should have access to first quality, AFFORDABLE child care. Further, that parents, single or other should NOT have to justify their reasons for working. I’m constantly amazed by the double messages of all govts – state and federal. On the one hand childcare is too expensive, but govts want women in the workforce, and so do bosses. In fact, sole parents, (most of whom are women) where the youngest child is 6 or8? MUST show that they’re trying to get a job or they lose their sole parent benefits. The same applies to too many people with disabilities. The Govts should make up their mind, and stop ‘bashing’ women around the head!

    As I’ve said earlier, workplaces should be encouraged to have child care on site. This could be phased in, but it would be ideal for babies and toddlers to have at least one parent available. There’s heaps of businesses that take handouts from State and Federal govts, but apart from wages(of which they whine about, constantly in many cases) they don’t contribute to the community at all. All state schools should have a child care centre attached. Didn’t Kevin Rudd say that that was his goal? What happened? At the moment, a family of three children could travel to three different addresses every morning and evening. My son and daughter in law did this for a couple of years! Child care centres on school grounds? One drop off point for all kids, with care after school hours for working parents. That’s what should happen!

    I’m not in favour of Abbott’s views on women, kids, families, just about anything really. He’s a misogynist and is trying to buy womens’ votes – he’ll never get mine! His latest sexist comment re Julia Gillard’s wardrobe would be classed as sexual harassment in another workplace – ‘unwanted comment about appearance, based on sex’? Again, the media let him get away with it! I did NOT!

  16. Groucho


    I think you need to reread what I wrote. I said that the high costs keep high powered ie high income earning women out of the work force was a myth not that child care costs were not high.

    There is a problem with some of this middle class welfare in that most of the benefit is simply soaked up by operators rather than easing the cost pressures on families.

    A further two points.

    Firstly I was directly referring to nannies. Now i’d suggest if your struggling with day care there is no way you’d be able to afford a nanny. Like Private health insurance for those on very high incomes a reduction in rebate or lack of one is not going to have them joining the back of the public queue or staying out of the workforce.

    The reality is this policy will never see the light of day. I suspect its more about wedge politics and class warfare than anything else.

    This is typical Liberal policy to provide targetted handouts that disproportionally benefit the more affluent.

  17. Michael

    It’s great that you are keeping an eye on things for Labor. Not sure where they’d be without you.
    Keep up the great work and with some luck we may see another Labor Govt elected before the end of the 21st Century.

  18. beckstuff

    @Groucho, I’m having difficulty understanding your point, because if you have a high income, yet this is eaten by exorbitant day care fees, the upshot is you either keep working to keep your toe in your career, or you stop working because there’s no point because you’re not getting ahead financially. So when you’re looking at fees that high, it effectively achieves the same thing – parents being forced to choose between their careers and their day care fees.

    I think it’s ridiculous to pretend in-home care would not be a more workable option for many average working families, particularly for those who have more than one child in day care. If parents outside the high income bracket are saying they’d like to have that option, why should that possibility not be examined? Also, no matter what argument you mount, nothing can actually clarify the strain of paying any kind of day care fees like the statement that the fees are higher than most private school fees. And people still want to argue that government policy (either past conservative or current ALP) is supportive of parents in the workplace.

    No one has yet answered the question of how parents access care for their children outside the operating hours of the centres in their areas. With some exceptions, in most places outside metro centres, day care doesn’t operate outside 6/7am-6pm or weekends. In-home care would be an enormous help in these situations.

    You can’t really be accurate if you’re accusing only the Libs of trying to sell better day care options to parents. I’d dearly love to be able to take the chance to get stuck into Abbott (there’s obviously no shortage of topics you could start with), but I’d be selectively forgetting the grand (and rather exciting) hoo-ha regarding promised day care reform in the lead-up to the ALP’s election win with Kevin07. Those of us who watch those debits leave our accounts are left having to acknowledge it’s all a major disappointment, from EITHER side of politics. And meanwhile, the costs just keep rising, and rising, and rising, as does our bitter gall.

    Until the system is fixed, and someone bites the bullet to reform day care (hopefully to mirror the school system where you have a choice between government and independent facilities), we’re stuck with what we have, and we need to look at as many options as possible for working families.

  19. Jack Stepney

    @Michael “… sensible Coalition policy” Oxymoron?

    Voting for the Coalition used to be a vote for smaller Government. Whatever the real costings on their promises, no one, not even Hockey or Robb, are denying that they are going to cost a packet.

  20. Liz45

    Indeed JACK – In fact if you read Lindsay Tanner’s speech at the National Press Club prior to the 2007 Election, you’ll see just how this comment from the Libs is so much bs. Howard increased the public service by ???% and had the biggest Govt in history. (Tanner has all the figures). Why, prior to that Election, Senator Boswell? had at least 6 (I think 9 but?) extra staff – he didn’t even have a shadow Ministry. It was just extra ‘hands’ to help him get re-elected!

    Almost everything the Coalition carry on about re the Labor Govt, they were more guilty under Howard. I get so frustrated at times, because journalists are so damned lazy to do some homework prior to interviews. Or could it be, that they know the truth but will never refer to it, because??????They want the Coalition in at any price. Truth is often the first casualty of a free and fair media? Another oxy moron?

    @GROUCHO – Many of us know that Abbott will say and do anything to get into The Lodge – he said so himself. Don’t take any notice of anything unless it’s written down – that’s what he said – or words to that effect. I wish a journalist would make that point at every interview, and show him up for the ‘show pony’ that he is! Good luck if it’s a female journalist wearing a jacket!!!!With or without a big ‘b**’. Anyway, Peter Fitzsimons said she doesn’t? Ha Ha!

  21. Liz45

    @MICHAEL – IF people vote for Abbott, they’ll get what they deserve. Trouble is, as a woman, I’ll have to cop it too. I’m no bell ringer or cheer leader for the ALP, but I can’t stand the idea of Abbott as PM. Or for any other Conservative Govt, for that matter!

    It’s OK for you! Unless you’re using a false ID, you’re a bloke, and perhaps you’re every bit of a misogynist as Abbott is. I’ve read between the lines, or heard? and working anywhere near Abbott is an unpleasant experience. Women dislike him intensely, and trying to buy our votes won’t work! We remember all the horrid stuff! The sexist, denegrating and demeaning comments/actions of this so-called Rhodes Scholar? If he’s a RS, then I’m Einstein!

    Remember you saw it here first! If you’re a worker and voted against WorstChoices, watch out if Abbott is RE-elected! He’ll make WC look like a ‘stroll in the park’ by comparison! Look at O’Farrell in NSW, the bloke in Vic, and the Liberals in WA. I give Newman a couple of months at best! Then we’ll see his true colours!

  22. Michael

    Look Liz, I’m not sure where your utter hatred for Abbott comes from but it’s not sane & not healthy. No sane woman should carry such hatred in her soul. I actually feel very sorry for you, your head must hurt terribly. Abbott is a conservative, that’s all. He is not a mass murderer or a rapist or a paedophile, just a man with an alternate view, one shared by a vast majority of ordinary Australians doing it tough under a corrupt government.

  23. khtagh

    Re to Michael “He is not a mass murderer or a rapist or a paedophile” Said who? from the The Mad Monks own mouth ” I’ll do anything!!! even consider selling my arse” to get into the lodge. You can’t take the good you think he says with the utter crap that gets mixed in with it. Remember the 3 minute death stare he gave Mark Reilly when he had the audacity to ask Abbott why he refereed to a soldiers death as “shit happens”
    Liz45 top of the class. You are right.

  24. Liz45

    @KHTAGH – MICAHEL – If my memory serves me correctly, Abbott went to the same catholic university in Sydney that made the headlines a few weeks ago. A young woman was ‘encouraged’ to drink alcohol, even though she insisted she was allergic to it. She almost died! The history surrounding this place is horrific. I’d like a journalist to do some digging, and find out about Abbott’s behaviour when he was there? When misogyny was rife, and women were at best sexually harassed and offended! I wonder………? Perhaps you were there MICHAEL?

  25. Liz45

    @MICHAEL – I don’t hate Abbott – he’s not worth the energy that hate requires. I more apt description is contempt. I have nothing but contempt for him. He’s a self serving opinonated narcissistic person who’ll do or say anything. He has no vision as someone has already pointed out. He’s almost incoherent in his verbal utterances.

    Every morning when he awakes, he has a thought bubble – and he stays with it all that day. Two or three sentences that don’t have sincerity or rational thought behind them. He walks around like one of the great apes(I apologise to all beautiful creatures of this type??) – he’s an embarrassment. Wouldn’t you think that someone close? to him would tell him how damned stupid he looks! I’d die of embarrassment!

    Tell me three things that he has a policy on, in which he’s articulated his Party’s position on. Not the one liners or the “No, No, No,” position! He’s like a two year old having a toddler tantrum. So damned cranky that he was denied his ‘rightful’ place? How dare the people not vote for him(enough?).

    All I can say is, I’m glad I don’t have to live with him! He’d be a dominating control freak! His way or the highway would be his home brand I’d suggest!


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