Dear friends and supporters,
The Federal Budget was big for a few reasons. It delivered cost of living relief for families in some key areas including the cost of medicine, visits to the GP and, of course, early childhood education and care. The abolishment of ParentsNext and restoring the Single Parenting Payment until the youngest child is 14 were both welcome.
The increase to JobSeeker and Newstart was modest but, again, welcome.
It was the 5th Federal Budget handed down in the 3 years I’ve been CEO of The Parenthood and this one, like the one in October last year, had people at its heart. There was welcome recognition in this budget about the need to recognise entrenched disadvantage and seek to counter it.
This is not to say it was perfect. The scale and scope of change that we’d need to get close to “perfect” is inestimable. Right now in social services, education, housing, health, aged care, early childhood education and care, the NDIS, violence against women, Closing the Gap and so many more portfolios, there is an extraordinary amount of major change that is needed. I won’t pretend to be an economist but I do know we are in a tricky spot with structural deficit, a cost of living crisis and other Important Global Factors*.
This budget doesn’t - and can’t - fix everything all at once. It does, however, take steps towards repair and reform in many areas. As someone clever pointed out to me last week - this is the best budget we’ve had in a long time but after a decade of inaction in so many domains that’s a low bar.
I’m an impatient idealist with an ambitious wishlist for reform, but I am also a pragmatist. This weekend will mark one year of the Albanese government and in that time we’ve had many significant wins.
The expansion of paid parental leave, the introduction of legislation to make early childhood education and care more affordable, the new multi-employer bargaining laws to help ensure workers in low paid, highly-feminised workforces can negotiate better rates of pay and conditions, funding to support recommendations in the Wiyi Yani U Thangani report, the full implementation of the [email protected] report recommendations to make workplaces safer, the reintroduction of gender responsive budgeting, paid domestic and family violence leave and an $11 billion wage rise for aged care workers.
We’ve got a Productivity Commission inquiry underway looking at making early childhood education and care universal and we have a National Strategy for Gender Equality and a cohesive Early Years Strategy in development.
Two years ago, a week out from the 2021 Budget, I stood up with Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia, Sam Mostyn who was then-President of Chief Executive Women, Michele O’Neil from the ACTU, Natalie Walker from Goodstart Early Learning and our Patron Wendy McCarthy and released a joint policy statement. On behalf of each of the organisations we represent, we agreed on a set of key asks that would help ensure all women in Australia could live and work freely and safely and reach their full potential.
Almost all of those asks are now in train. It’s not everything but it’s not nothing.
I am a member of Women For Progress, a group that the Minderoo Co-Chair Nicola Forrest convened in late 2021, to campaign for meaningful policy reforms to improve the lives of women and children. Of the ten areas we identified, almost all are either being implemented or are under active consideration. A year ago we could only have dreamed of this.
All of which is a very long way of saying we are running a marathon here, not a sprint. Positive progress is absolutely underway but we are a long way from the finish line and we must continue.
One disappointment in this budget, however, was that the activity test was not abolished. It restricts hundreds of thousands of Australian children from accessing the lifelong benefits of high-quality early learning and acts as a barrier on employment for mums in particular. We will keep calling on the Federal Government to remove it.
Post-budget, here at The Parenthood we are focused on one issue right now and it’s wages and conditions for early childhood educators. Almost 96% of early educators are women and despite doing skilled, valuable work they are one of the lowest paid cohorts of workers in the country. They are leaving in numbers that none of us can afford - not children, not parents, not employers, not communities. And they’re leaving because they can’t afford to stay.
Quality early childhood education and care starts and ends with early childhood educators. The new sector-wide bargaining laws will take effect early next month - and our hope is that through that process the Federal Government will agree to fund a meaningful and long overdue pay rise for early childhood educators.
*I made this acronym up but you get the gist?