I think everybody could agree on how expensive child care is. I would argue that one of the reasons child care is so expensive is that there is very little choice or competition and very little flexibility in the type of child care that parents can choose.
The government now pays the childcare centre directly, rather than the parent, so that removes the choice the parent has. If, for example, they want to have an at-home nanny for three hours a day rather than eight hours a day, they are forced to pay a full day’s child care. This just doesn’t work for a lot of shift workers like police, nurses and hospitality workers, for example. Either they might work early, from six o’clock in the morning through to two, or they might work from two through to 10 or 11 o’clock at night. So it’s very difficult to use what I’d call the formalised childcare system if you’re a shift worker.
Likewise, if you come from a regional part of Australia where you’re out on a farm and the nearest town is 40 kilometres away, are you really going to spend half an hour to 40 minutes driving into town and then driving back to the farm, only to have to waste another hour and a half going back five or six hours later? Farmers just don’t have the time to drop off their children at child care. Why would they?
One of the main issues we have is the more we increase childcare subsidies, the higher childcare fees go and I’m not convinced that parents and children are getting better outcomes out of it. Twenty years ago we spent about $500 million on child care. Today we spend over $10 billion. I’m not sure that parents get greater choice or greater flexibility in the type of child care that they get either.
As a father of 3, I would like to see Australian families have greater choice in Childcare.