WEL analysis of the NSW 2022-3 Budget Women’s Opportunity Statement
Following the Morrison Government’s defeat, the NSW Government has performed an ‘about turn’ in relation to dealing with issues impacting negatively on women, with significant social policy commitments in their June 21 2022-2023 Budget.
The centrepiece of the ‘Women’s Opportunity Statement’, issued as part of the NSW Budget, is a $15.9 billion investment in early childhood education and pre-school reform to be implemented over 10 years.
We are delighted to see the NSW Coalition Government undertake a major women and children centered social policy initiative, following a decade of ‘bloke focused’ employment creating infrastructure projects.
WEL’s 21 June Budget press release expressed our disappointment with the Budget’s failure to allocate urgently needed additional funding to domestic violence and sexual assault services. The allocations to increase personal safety in public places and for support for court appointed cross-examiners for DV complainants were welcome. These investments are however marginal.
NSW frontline social and care services are overwhelmed by demand for safe refuge from violence and the desperate need for support and advice following sexual assault. The budget made no provision for increases in the cost of running and staffing services in the health care and housing services sector.
Typically these services employ women on low wages and often on funding dependent contracts. Women’s Health Centres and housing support services are facing a funding shortfall as the budget does not cover the increase in the minimum wage and in superannuation for these services.
The NSW Government yet again ignored any substantial additional investment in social housing, with waiting lists of 50,000 people, including many single parent families headed by women and older women suffering a rent and cost of living crisis.
Sam Mostyn’s advice to the Treasurer as chair of the Expert Reference Panel of the NSW Women’s Economic Opportunities Review, is an impressive piece of economic analysis, one whose scope is insufficiently captured in the Women’s Opportunity Statement
We remain concerned about the long-term substance of the $15.9 million, 10 year investment in early education and preschool reform outlined in the Budget’s Women’s Opportunity Statement. Such long-term forward planning - even with an initial $775 million, 4 year investment in an ‘Affordable and Accessible Childcare and Economic Participation Fund’- draws a long political and fiscal bow.
We are also concerned that much of this funding to increase private or ‘not for profit’ childcare places is in ‘childcare deserts’ – poor and low income areas which are currently insufficiently lucrative for most private operators. The Women’s Opportunity Statement proposes government initiated creation of ‘markets’, with the successful private childcare bidders as the default providers. They would do this by offering private commercial and ‘not for profit’ operators funding to expand or build new centers, with the promise of 47,000 extra places.
In striking contrast, the Victorian Government has announced $9 billion over the next decade to deliver free kindergartens across the state, a new year of pre-prep for 4-year-olds, and 50 new government operated early learning centres. Centres will be located in areas of most need and co-located with primary schools. Educators at the new centres will be directly employed by the government.
Acknowledging the desperate shortage of childcare workers and educators, the Women’s Opportunity Statement also includes $281. 6 million over four years for teacher training and scholarships. This investment is commendable but ignores the evidence that early childhood educators leave the industry because of meager pay (as low as $22/hour) low levels of recognition, truncated career prospects and poor working conditions.
A section of the Women’s Opportunity Statement sets out ways in which the fee subsidies provided by the NSW Government, with the new subsidies included in Labor’s national policy for cheaper childcare, could finally address the taxation disincentive which discourages women from returning to full time work. This tries to tackle a long-standing barrier against partnered women’s equal workforce participation, but the solution mooted here depends on unguaranteed longer-term continuation of the subsidy system at state and federal levels.
WEL is concerned by the potential of the reforms to exacerbate the fragmentation and complexity of the early childhood education and childcare sector in NSW. The Women’s Opportunity Statement acknowledges this complexity but fails to ‘bite the bullet’ on enhancing public ie universal and guaranteed vs private provision of services. Currently public pre-schools, long daycare and childcare provision are a mix of community centres, not for profits and a burgeoning private ‘for profit’ sector (now 48% of providers) with some big providers and a large number of small private concerns.
We do not accept publicly subsidised ‘for profit’ entities in school education. Why should we do so in early childhood education and care? Why should we proceed to create more private childcare markets?
WEL is looking forward to the new Federal Government’s Productivity Commission Review to implement a universal 90% childcare subsidy for all families, their consideration of a price regulation mechanism relating to childcare costs and increased transparency of fee and revenue information from providers. But it is still unclear how substantial this reform might be.
We urge that the terms of reference for the Productivity Commission Review allow for the possibility of moving away from the provider subsidy model which underpins the burgeoning market driven private childcare system and partly drives the constant rise in fees. Similar market models which are now deep seated in VET, Aged Care, the disability services sector and of course school education do not augur well for the future of a nationally coherent universal and quality early learning system. Labor has indicated that any outcomes of the proposed Review would not be implemented in the next electoral term. There may still be room to move.
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