OPINION - SUBSIDISED CHILDCARE CAN BE CATALYST FOR POSITIVE CHANGE

By MATT KEOGH MP

26 August 2020

The reintroduction of childcare fees across the country is holding back small business and the recovery we all need.
 
A recent report from NAB found that small and medium enterprises make up 99 per cent of  all Australian businesses, employing two-thirds of  all workers and producing half  of all output.
 
To put that into perspective, should each of those SMEs employ one additional person, our current unemployment crisis would be resolved.
 
Nearly 40 per cent of  small businesses are owned by women, who continue to bear the burden of  unpaid care work.
 
For many of  these small businesses, free childcare through the height of  the COVID-19 pandemic was the only reason they were able to keep their families and their businesses afloat.
 
But now, as SMEs return to the new “normal” of  recession and uncertainty around the health crisis in Victoria, the last thing small businesses need is the resumption of childcare fees.
 
For many Australians, there has never been a tougher time to be in business.
 
Indeed, a number of  the small businesses owned by women are childcare providers, which lost access to the JobKeeper payment for staff back in July at the same time the Morrison Government removed free childcare.
 
Meanwhile, JobKeeper has remained for other industries. The re-introduction of childcare fees has resulted in the withdrawal of  more children from care, which means less income for the centres and job losses for the educators who work in them.
 
All of  this leaves many working parents, mainly mothers, with no choice but to reduce hours or give up work in order to look after their children, despite their desire to continue working.
 
This is detrimental to women running their own small businesses, women trying to work to support their families and further their careers, as well as to businesses that rely on these workers.
 
All in all, this is bad for our community and economy.
 
As Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell declared to the National Press Club mere weeks ago, childcares an essential service for small business — just as it is for many Australian working families.
 
Carnell underscored that the reintroduction of childcare fees will prevent many small businesses operated by women from reopening.
 
Yet the Morrison Government is making it harder for Australia’s workers to run their businesses, get back into work or increase their hours — especially women, who have been the worst hit with unemployment through the COVID-19 crisis.
 
Recently, the Grattan Institute identified that increasing female workforce participation is one of  the biggest economic opportunities for government and that cheaper childcare for more workers can deliver it.
 
They say simply increasing the childcare subsidy could have a multibillion-dollar impact on gross domestic product.
 
Vulnerable workers and small businesses deserve a comprehensive plan to get them through the recovery and alleviate some of  the anxiety in our communities.
 
So why isn’t the Federal Government making it easier for these SMEs to fulfil their true potential? Why is it making life harder for small business owners and the people who want to work for them?
 
The role of  government is to encourage and support our communities to thrive and this should include small businesses.
 
Supporting small businesses isn’t just good for those businesses, it’s good for two-thirds of  our national workforce and countless Australian families.
 
There’s no reason why subsidised childcare can’t be the catalyst for positive change.
 
First published in The West Australian on Wednesday 26 August 2020