Jay Weatherill, CEO of Thrive by Five speech at National Foundation for Australian Women online workshop.
JAY WEATHERILL AO
CEO, THRIVE BY FIVE
NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR AUSTRALIAN WOMEN
MONDAY, 29 MARCH 2021
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I speak to you from the lands of the Whadjuk Noongar people and pay my respects to their elders.
The Thrive by Five campaign shares your concerns, and your view that reform to early childhood education and care is critical to addressing these concerns.
The implications of the current system are dire.
The system we have today is bad for children, bad for families, and bad for the economy.
But they are especially bad for women.
For these reasons, I endorse your vision that reform will enable outcomes including:
- Benefits to child development
- Gender equality and women’s workforce participation
- Australia’s economic recovery and resilience
But let us first look at the broader context for Australian women.
BROADER CONTEXT: WOMEN IN AUSTRALIA
Reforming Australia’s out-dated childcare funding arrangements will create lifelong economic advantages for women.
In the absence of reform, women will continue to face greater challenges, and experience inequitable outcomes.
Policy failings are the reasons there are so few women in executive positions today. You are all aware of the numbers: six per cent of Chief Executives of ASX-200 listed companies were woman.
Which is a shame, when one considers recently released Workplace Gender Equality Agency report found that a female CEO increased market value by 5 per cent. So, there are broader implications to the Australian economy.
Policy failings are the reasons why Australian women have far less superannuation. According to research from Industry Super Australia, on average women retire with just over half the superannuation savings of men. And 23 per cent of women retire with no superannuation at all.
Policy failings are the reason why Australian women, who are better qualified than their peers in other developed nations, are more likely to be in part time work than the women of other developed nations.
The current policy settings continue to create circumstances in which women are adversely affected; their upward mobility constrained; their financial situations limited.
Reform is urgently required.
And if we are to create a more favourable context into which the next generation of Australian women will enjoy successful careers and, if they choose, thriving family lives, we need people like you to add your voice to a discussion which is, right now, central to political discourse in Australia.
ECEC SPECIFIC PROBLEMS
It is not as if Governments are working under a veil of ignorance.
Numerous reports have elucidated the problems with the current system.
When decisions are made about access to and affordability of childcare, they are made in full knowledge of the impact this has.
Almost three years have passed since KPMG coined the term: Workforce Disincentive Rate. That is, the proportion of any extra earnings that is lost to a family after taking account of additional income tax paid, loss of family payments, loss of childcare payments and increased out-of-pocket childcare costs.
A 100 percent Workforce Disincentive Rate means the family is no better off from the mother working more hours, while a Workforce Disincentive Rate greater than 100 percent indicates the family is actually worse off when the mother works additional hours.
The study found that Workforce Disincentive Rates of between 75 percent and 120 percent are commonplace for mothers seeking to increase their days of work beyond three per week.
In many cases, therefore, women working additional days or taking additional shifts are financially worse off.
To borrow from Montaigne, writing in an era in which gambling took place by candlelight: “The game isn’t worth the candle.”
The study found that professional, university-educated women are disproportionately affected.
Often, their fourth or fifth working day cause the family’s income to exceed one of two “cliff” thresholds, significantly reducing the family’s Child Care Subsidy entitlement.
These are speed humps down a financial cul-de-sac for Australian women, as men navigate careers towards the highway of life.
The current system financially penalises second income earners and provides a strong disincentive to pursue professional fulfillment and advancement.
But there is much we can do to reimagine early learning, and lend our influential voices to the movement for system change that has the power to end the inherent bias against professional women who have made the choice to have families.
REFORM: AN IMPERATIVE OF A MODERN ECONOMY
The Thrive by Five campaign is calling for a universally accessible, high-quality, early learning and childcare system.
An improved system would remove the disincentive to participate in the workforce.
It is critical to the futures of many Australian women. It will help addresses gender inequities evident in leadership positions, in wages, in superannuation.
It is also critical to Australia’s economic future.
The KPMG report cited earlier showed that closing the gap between male and female workforce participation would increase our annual GDP by $60 billion over the next two decades.
The Productivity Commission has previously estimated that 165,000 parents – mostly women – would like to work, or work more hours, but are unable to do so because of lack of affordable and suitable childcare.
This is a question of greatest proximity to women but is ultimately relevant to every Australian, man or woman.
Even before COVID, the party was coming to an end and the underpinnings of our economy was showing signs of corrosions.
Now, we no longer have the luxury to ignore policy settings that hold the promise of significant improvements to workforce productivity and economic growth.
Our global competitors understand the importance of reform to early childhood education and care.
Many commentators reach for the great Scandinavian social democracies. It is true there are excellent arrangements in place in northern Europe.
But although they moved first, they are not alone in understanding the importance of reform to this area of public policy.
Far from it.
The United Kingdom started down this path decades ago.
The United States elected a Biden Administration with a strong mandate to deliver serious reform to early learning and childhood.
Closer to home, Singapore recently doubled its investment in preschool and childcare.
Japan’s conservative government in 2019 amended the Children and Child Rearing Support Act to make three and four-year-old preschool free, and heavily subsidise childcare.
It was critical to economic growth, particularly in Japan where population has been in decline since 2011 and workforce participation for women has historically been low relative to other developed economies.
Workforce participation is critical to economic growth.
If Australia does not reform its early learning system, we will be uncompetitive within a generation.
A high-quality, universal system is an imperative to a modern economy.
I note within the National Federal for Australian Women there is general agreement to:
- promote children’s early development through participation in quality ECEC
- increase access to affordable ECEC for families
- increase female participation and productivity to reduce the gender workforce participation gap and earnings
- support the ECEC sector and improve early childhood educators’ remuneration
- make economic arguments for quality, accessible and affordable ECEC, better paid parental leave (PPL) for families and women’s increased workforce participation.
Our campaign is aligned in almost every respect.
We have a campaign of one message but many voices.
And would love to add your voice to our campaign, to ensure we achieve reform to this critical area.