Don’t be surprised if the government’s childcare package provides a boost for the Turnbull government — and unlike the artificial boost of last week’s Snowy Hydro silliness, this one is fairly earnt. The government has implemented, in broad, the recommendations of the Productivity Commission in the critical area of childcare and early childhood learning, and in doing so will make the childcare subsidy system more effectively targeted and more progressive, while also supporting female workforce participation. And it’s fully funded by savings elsewhere. 

For months now, the government has been stuck in vicious circle of infighting, poor policymaking and poor judgment, not least from the Prime Minister himself. The desperate effort to use the gas crisis as both a wedge against Labor and to placate the climate denialist right within the Liberal Party was a new low for a man who once boasted he would refuse to lead a party not as committed to climate action as he was.

But now, on a core issue for working parents across the country who see so much of their income disappear in childcare fees, the government is intervening — and it’s for good economic reasons. No wonder Labor is trying to focus on the demands of a (fairly loose) requirement that parents work, volunteer or study eight hours a fortnight, and the pause in the indexation of family tax benefits instead.

The challenge for the government is to build on the boost from this week’s win — although, problematically, next week is likely to be dominated by the 18C debate. Obsessing about the fetish of a small number of old white people rather than the bread and butter issues of voters is exactly what a government that has just encouraged voters to take a fresh look at it doesn’t need. On the other hand, it might shut down the undermining and sniping from the right for five minutes and give Turnbull some clear air to talk to voters about issues of actual relevance to them once the debate is done and dusted next week.

Peter Fray

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