Kelly's plea to PM: fix child-care

Sydney Morning Herald
January 15, 2006

By Kerry-Anne Walsh

A former minister and a close ally of Prime Minister John Howard has urged the Federal Government to scrap the "shambles" of a child-care system and start from scratch to build a national policy.

High-profile western Sydney MP Jackie Kelly said Treasurer Peter Costello should spend the $12 billion government surplus "wisely" by fixing the child-care crisis rather than spending it on tax cuts.

Ministers should also stop "doing their own thing" and work together to respond to the escalating problem, she said. "We need a cohesive approach." Ms Kelly said the system of care needed to be treated by all governments "in the same way they treat male-dominated issues".

"We shouldn't have the Treasurer with a 30 per cent rebate solution, [Employment Minister] Kevin Andrews saying women should negotiate [for child care in their workplaces] and [Family Minister] Kay Patterson saying other things," she said. "And we need [Education Minister] Brendan Nelson to start taking an interest in preschools.

"They all need to say, 'OK, how can we do this?' At the moment, they are just coming out with policies and asking women to fit in with them."

Ms Kelly said the only way to fix the growing problem - a national child-care waiting list of 175,000 and skyrocketing prices - would be to dismantle the current system and take a "totally fresh look" at what working women and families needed.

"We are spending $9 billion in the next four years on child care - more than in the history of our country - and what I'm saying is the system needs to better reflect what women want," Ms Kelly said, adding that the total child-care budget should increase by at least another 50 per cent. "The way it's paid out in an itsy-bitsy way needs to be scrapped and done under a more flexible scheme."

Remarking pointedly that the child-care system was "designed by people who don't use it", the MP who 10 years ago revived the Liberals' fortunes in western Sydney outlined a suite of radical solutions.

She said the Government should allow companies to claim a tax deduction for child-care spots bought for employees in private centres and further compensate employers with a cash rebate.

Employees should be allowed to salary sacrifice (using pretax income) to pay for the remaining cost of the child care. She said the Government should scrap all incentives given to working mothers, with rebates to be funnelled through employers, and a national preschool program should be introduced linked to workplaces and run through child-care centres.

On holiday on the NSW Central Coast with husband Gary and children Dominique, 5, and Lachlan, 3, Ms Kelly urged the Government to consider lateral solutions to the growing child-care crisis. "We can spend [the surplus] wisely, or we can give it out in tax cuts," she said.

After the 2004 election, Ms Kelly declined another frontbench appointment so she could spend more time with her young family.


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