May 14th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: The death of Islamic terrorism?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Can Julia Gillard deliver on her three core commitments?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Growing anger at supermarket price war

NEW SOUTH WALES: NSW Liberals set new course

CHILDCARE: Exposing the lies in the childcare funding debate

RESEARCH PROJECT: Australia's food security under threat

CARBON TAX: Remorseless killers of our industries and jobs

MILITARY: Dispatching women into frontline combat

MARINE SCIENCE: Bluefin tuna: an endangered species?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Prime Minister Gillard kowtows to China

CHINA: China's economy at risk of debt crisis

UNITED STATES: PC intimidation threatens the rule of law

HISTORY: The long debate on how to alleviate poverty

IMMIGRATION: The vexed question of illegal immigration

OPINION: An inglorious tale of guile, envy and deceit

BOOK REVIEW: The deceivers and the deceived

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Exposing the lies in the childcare funding debate

by Tempe Harvey

News Weekly, May 14, 2011

The headline sounded too good to be true: “Australian mums paid $900 a week to help with housework”.

On closer inspection, however, the media release last month was about a new insurance policy for stay-at-home mothers. Suncorp’s new Million Dollar Woman policy offered “Australia’s 2.1 million mums up to $900 a week to pay someone to do their cleaning, cooking, laundry, shopping and child-care if they are injured or fall ill”.

Much of the online response to the story was so positive, Suncorp could have written it. “When Suncorp rang us to do a quote for my husband, I asked them how much it would cost to insure me!” posted At home mum of 4. “The operator laughed, and I told her I was serious. It’s wonderful we can insure against loss of income, but have a really good think about what would happen if the main caregiver was unable to give care for a while!!! It made sense to her, so I asked her to discuss it with her supervisor. Well, maybe she did!! What a brilliant idea, finally!” she said.

Rollseyes of Brisbanewas having none of it. He wrote off the scheme as “another way lazy people get an easy ride while the hard workers get [exploited]”. Another blogger, Vanessa, gave the politically correct line on the scheme’s beneficiaries, stay-at-home mothers, saying, “The lazy get richer!”

In truth, families with stay-at-home mothers are mostly at the lower end of the income scale, but is Vanessa right to call them lazy? The offensive and demeaning tag “stay-at-home mums” makes them sound like prisoners or parasites, but they are of course working. As Suncorp’s media release points out, the unpaid work Australian mothers do every day is finally being recognised as crucial to the Australian economy.

A 2003 Institute of Family Studies report found that women aged 25-44 years contributed around $130 billion in unwaged work to the economy. This included almost $29 billion in unpaid childcare work.

So why, from Prime Minister Julia Gillard down, do people repeat the lie that stay-at-home mothers are “not working”? Why do mothers even lie about themselves? The standard response to “What do you do?” is “I’m not working” closely followed by “I’m just a stay-at-home mum”.

The lie that stay-at-home mothers are “not working” is a sort of key-card used by the paid-work lobby — comprising business, unions and paid workers — to extract daycare funding from the Taxpayers’ Bank of Servility.

These corporate welfare lobbyists enjoy bipartisan political support. Politicians happily parrot their false claims that productivity will rise if we ramp up taxpayer-funded daycare (and paid parental leave) to “incentivise” women who are “not working” into paid work.

In truth, however, unwaged mothers are already working. If they exit the family workforce for the paid workforce, taxpayers will be slugged with billions to take over that work. Pretending that mothers are not working is great for the daycare industry but not so good for taxpayers.

The second lie at the heart of the childcare debate is that only some families pay for, let alone use, childcare. In reality, all children need childcare or else they will suffer or even die. Childcare also comes at a cost to every family. Childcare reduces a family’s income by the amount of any childcare fees, or the amount of income lost by a family member in order to take on childcare work. In other words, every family gives up or gives away income to pay for their children’s care.

Discriminatory childcare funding currently gives twice as much, on average, to families using daycare ($6,000), as to those using parent-care supported by Family Tax Benefit B ($3,000). It ignores families’ preferences. As a result, informal family-based options, including parents-as-childcarers, are being systematically de-funded, even though mother-care is the overwhelmingly preferred choice of mothers with children and the nation’s most used form of childcare.

Pretending that only some families pay for childcare is great for the minority of daycare-users, but grossly unfair to most families using informal care. Similarly, why should the 44 per cent of mothers in continuous paid work get a Super Baby Bonus in the form of paid parental leave? It averages $3,000 more than the Baby Bonus, which goes to the 56 per cent of mothers doing family work, including parent-care.

Before the 2010 federal election, very little was said about stay-at-home mothers and even less was done — nothing, in fact!

Opposition leader Tony Abbott vowed to “do something” for them, while Prime Minister Gillard was criticised for daring to question in Cabinet whether some mothers might be unhappy about paid parental leave discrimination. What can we look forward to now?

The coming federal budget is rumoured to means-test daycare funding to bring it into line with parental childcare payments. However, this does nothing to address the 2:1 funding discrimination against parent-care.

Politicians must ditch the term “stay-at-home mum” and use “family-work mum” instead. Childcare policy must also be re-framed to recognise, as Suncorp has, the value of unpaid childcare work.

The political party that gives equal funding (for both childcare and parental leave) and equal recognition for parent care and the need to keep taxes low, will have an electoral advantage at the next tightly contested federal election.

Tempe Harvey is president of Kids First Parent Association of Australia.

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