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Mar 29, 2012

Spicer: I want to live in a nanny state

There’s nothing wrong with a nanny state, literally and figuratively, says Tracy Spicer.

There’s nothing wrong with a nanny state, literally and figuratively.

Nannies are not “chauffeurs” or “chefs” hired by wealthy women who want to go out for a spot of tennis. They’re qualified professionals doing one of the toughest jobs in the world: caring for children. For some families, it’s the only choice.

Australia has a hodge-podge of unregulated family day care and expensive formalised care, neither of which caters for parents who do shift work. In fact, a nanny is cheaper than a childcare centre if you have more than one kid.

The problem is the federal government gives you a 50 percent rebate, capped at $7500, for registered centres, but not nannies. Finally, a politician is prepared to address this anomaly. As part of his continuing campaign to woo women voters, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he’ll extend the rebate to nannies. But Childcare Minister Kate Ellis has accused Mr Abbott of effectively cutting assistance for low-income families:

“I think that when we have a look at nannies we see that they’re often chauffeurs, they’re often chefs … some of them do ironing, some of them do the washing and the household chores.”

This is incredibly insulting. Thousands of Australian women have gained degrees in teaching, psychology or early childhood studies. Suddenly, they’re seen as nothing more than house slaves. In any case, the current rebate pays for cooks and cleaners in childcare centres. Why is it so different if these tasks are performed in the home?

Now, I’m no fan of Tony Abbott. But his policy gives families the option of cheaper, more flexible childcare, allowing women to go back to work without going backwards financially.

One of my friends returned to the workforce six months after the birth of her second child. But the cost of childcare was so crippling she was losing money. Now she’s a stay-at-home mother, not by choice but circumstance. Another friend had her shifts changed, finishing at 6pm instead of 5pm. She had to quit because she couldn’t find a childcare centre that stayed open in the evenings. This is not just an issue for families: It’s affecting our productivity.

A research report by JB Were/Goldman Sachs entitled Australia’s Hidden Resource has found that closing the gender employment gap could boost our GDP by 11 percent. Ms Ellis says Mr Abbott’s plan is uncosted, like his “Rolls-Royce” Paid Parental Leave policy. In response, the Opposition Leader says he’ll ask the Productivity Commission to look into it.

If this means broad cuts to the childcare benefit or rebate, clearly it’s not worth it. But putting nannies ‘on the books’ would transfer money from the black economy into the tax system. There is a danger, as with all rebates, that it will open the floodgates to unqualified workers who charge through the nose. But rigorous regulation – a nanny state, if you will – would put a stop to that.

Which brings me to Scandinavia. Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are the best in the world on all indicators of children’s well-being. They believe it takes a village to raise a child. Generous paid parental leave and quality state-sponsored early childhood care help mum and dad better balance work and family.

It’s no coincidence that Sweden has among the highest rates of women active in politics. So instead of degenerating into a debate of he said/she said, perhaps we should look at the policies instead of the personalities.

And embrace a true nanny state.

*Tracey Spicer is a journalist who has worked for many years in radio, print and television. This post originally appeared on The Hoopla.

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15 thoughts on “Spicer: I want to live in a nanny state

  1. Oliver Madonna

    It amazes me how the nation’s “haves” harp on about the “welfare” they are missing out on. For the most part, the only people who can afford nannies are the people who “have” more that most already. Good on you for being successful. But don’t stick your hand out for a hand-out.

    This is a nation that had squandered opportunities under Tony Abbott’s colleagues in the Howard Government by spending money on the middle classes and not building for the future.

    I hope this Government will heed those lessons and focus on growth rather than shoring up votes from the wealthy.

    Another issue for nannies: regulation and accreditation. It’s already difficult for child care centres to manage the paperwork involved in mantaining their accreditation. Imagine being a nanny trying to undertake the rigorous administration and on-going training involved to maintain their registration so their double-income professional employees can get them to mind the kids.

    Nice idea folks. But wake up: this is a ridiculous notion in a world where we have to be very careful about spending. Unless of course the nanny-bound “haves” put their hands up for a tax increase? The money has to come from somewhere.

  2. Sean Baker

    The above comment misses the point that the ‘haves’ get rebated child care at the moment.

    As a father I wish that I could be supported (by equal pay for my partner for a start, perhaps government handouts too, if it’s worth it to society) to stay at home and care for my child. I wish this was an option that was talked about more in Australian society.

    To follow up on Eva Cox’s article yesterday, many studies confirm that for under 3 year olds, care at home by a single dedicated carer is the optimal option, and that things like socialisation, etc, etc don’t mean a fig until a child is over three. In my experience many child care centres are baby factories that don’t account for many of the needs of under 3 year olds.

    A proper policy in this area would attempt to offset the costs for people to be able to give the best care to their children. Full stop. Where this can be supported by government, it should be. Where regulation is needed, both to make childcare centres excellent and to ensure nannies and other single carers like parents and grandparents have the support, skills and paperwork, it should be provided. To draw arbitrary boundaries on the basis that childcare can be controlled and regulated (how well? I hear you ask) but that nannies and other at-home carers cannot is ridiculous.

    As Spicer said, WWNCD*, and there we probably have an answer that suits women, their partners, and most importantly, children.

    *(What Would the Nordic Countries Do).


    There are other arguments that I believe support the funding of nannies (if the family meets the current income eligibility test). Not everyone is eligible for the child care rebate as it is means tested. However Stacey is correct, many mothers cannot get child care because of the opening and closing hours of child care centers. Also if you work part time you may have to pay fees for the total opening hours of the centre, ie 12 hr day, regardless of the hours your child attends. This makes child care unaffordable if you are not receiving the full government rebate. Parents often have to pay for hours they don’t need just to keep a place for their child/children. What a waste both in money and unutilised child care hours.

    But more importantly, wouldn it not be better, emotionally and psychologically, for a baby/young child to be able to stay in their own home with a qualified nanny. Perhaps this might enhance a child’s sense of security and well being. At the present time many children are in full time institutional care for much of their childhood and adolescence ie for 17-18 years. And it would provide a choice in child care options for everyone.

    Twenty years ago I struggled to juggle my working hours to fit in with the operating hours of local child care centers In desperatiom I employed a qualified nanny and this changed the quality of my and my children’s lives. No more getting toddlers out of bed early in the morning, rushing them through breakfast and into the car, or arriving home in the dark to rush them through dinner and bedtime The stress reduction was unbelievable for all of us and improved the quality of our lives and relationships. Sadly nearly a quarter of a century later we are still having this debate without considering what is best for the children. Surely the solution is that child care expenses have to be recognised as legitimate work related expense.

  4. Clytie

    As I said in a previous comment, we already have a rebated, fiexible, accredited child-care service: Family Day Care. It is most definitely “regulated”, and also makes it possible for the carer to work in your own home.

    Qualified child-carers would have no problem being accredited under Family Day Care, so if you know someone who wants to work as a nanny, suggest they get accredited with FDC, then set up the work. Your carer will be visited and supervised, his/her qualifications and skills will be checked and reviewed, and you pay by the hour.

    Either this “nanny state” call is a storm in a teacup, or these well-paid, educated women somehow don’t know which rebated childcare services are actually available to them.

  5. Lyn Gain

    Fascinating. Did anyone read this quote from today’s SMH “Her nanny, Caroline McKeon, works from 10am to 6pm minding Alec, 7, and Joshua, 4. When they are at school she does chores, ”all the stuff I would do if I were home”, Ms Hrdlicka said. So taxpayers are supposed to subsidise the cleaner/cook/housekeeper are they.

    And Jdiehm, the child care rebate is is not means tested.

  6. Brigid Tancred

    Thought bubble Tony has done it again. Does he know so little about our society that he doesn’t realise that aunties, sisters, grandmothers etc are the people who look after children when the parents cant be home. Would the government like to pay them a wage? Great!

  7. Kez

    Trace, why bring up Nordic countries at the end of your piece on how I (tax payer) should fund your child care choices? You nullify your own argument, really, because their decent childcare system is what we should aim for, not Nannies For The Rich. If you want a nanny, pay her (and pay her well) but don’t expect subsidies.

    And another thing, where do these magic nannies come from? I do shift work and I’ve never been able to find someone to fit in with my stupid hours no matter how much I paid. We’ve had to opt for ungodly early starts for me and ridiculously late finishes for him so we can both work. Why can’t the gummint do something about that, hey?

  8. Mark from Melbourne

    Before you come u p with “this is incredibly insulting” please try to do some more research than one of your friends. I have spent decades mixing with peers who have nannies and in general they are treated as cheap labour and expected to be chauffeurs , chefs, gofers etc at wages you and I wouldn’t get out of bed for

  9. mrsynik

    Sweden is also one of the highest taxing nations on the planet. No wonder they have so much cash to splash around on everyone elses kiddies. This is not Sweden – if you have kids, they are your responsibility as a parent – not anyone elses. The author should stick to reading autocues.

  10. CML

    Never mind the insults – this is an incredibly stupid article! As MRSYNIK says, Sweden (and all the other countries mentioned) have very high income tax levels. Nothing wrong with that as these people are happy to pay for their world class services. Not only for childcare, but in health, education and many other areas.
    Fast-forward to Australia – what some people here want is world class services WITHOUT high income tax levels. Sorry folks, can’t be done. It continues to amaze me that no one in Australia is able to see this. Nothing is free. You either pay for all these services yourself and maintain the mediocre tax you pay now, or the government pays and “charges” you for the pleasure.
    The budget is already in structural deficit – there is simply no more money for handouts unless tax revenues increase. Think about it!