Advocates make ‘dire lack’ of child care election issue

Suzanne Simonot |

Access to affordable child care has been cited as a major obstacle for women in the workforce.
Access to affordable child care has been cited as a major obstacle for women in the workforce.

Australian women are being priced out of work and promotions “at warp speed” because they don’t have access to affordable child care, a leading parent advocate says.

Not-for-profit The Parenthood is one of 30 organisations that will campaign to ensure early learning reform is front and centre at the next Queensland election.

The Parenthood interim CEO Jessica Rudd said there was a “dire lack” of accessible and affordable quality early learning in regional, rural and remote areas including in Queensland.

“It’s clear families with young children in Queensland need more affordable, accessible early learning to deal with higher interest rates, rising rents and the cost of living crisis,” she said.

In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Ms Rudd said critical staff shortages in sectors such as teaching, nursing and aged care would be exacerbated without a robust and well-supported early education workforce.

CEO of The Parenthood Jessica Rudd
Jessica Rudd says there is a lack of accessible and affordable early learning in rural areas. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

“Australian women are being priced out of work and promotions at warp speed because they don’t have access to affordable care,” she said.

She said the Productivity Commission had rightly identified addressing the crisis in the early childhood workforce as the most urgent priority for reform.

“Workforce shortages in critical service areas like health and education worsen when parents can’t return to work and towns suffer as a result,” she said.

Ms Rudd said the solution – high-quality universal early childhood education and care – was both the right thing to do and “smart politics”.

“Like Medicare, like superannuation – it’s really worth fighting for,” she said.

“All parties and crossbenchers should unite behind the government in prioritising efforts to secure universal early childhood education and care for their constituents.”

While that was “probably a 10-year project”, Ms Rudd said fixing the child care subsidy activity test and increasing wages for workers in the sector were “things that we can do now” to ensure children did not miss out on quality care and education.

Ms Rudd’s address came as 30 organisations including The Parenthood signed an open letter to Queensland election candidates and major parties urging them to prioritise endorsing the six-point Queensland Early Years Plan.

The plan calls for universal access to kindergarten for all children aged three and four and a holistic early childhood system that supports children’s developmental outcomes from birth to school.

It also includes a workforce strategy to attract and retain the best teachers, educators and experts and advocates local solutions connected to communities.

Ms Rudd told the press club research by The Parenthood had found 85 per cent of two-parent families said they needed two incomes to “pay for life”, while seven out of 10 parents who have kids in centre-based care found fees a severe burden on their family.

While the imminent introduction of free kindy for four-year-olds in Queensland would help ease some of that financial burden, Ms Rudd said more ambition on early learning reform was needed.