Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Bill 2022
(Second Reading Debate, 11 October 2022, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund Bill 2022 will quarantine a new fund dedicated to increasing access to and affordability of child care in New South Wales. A board will be set up to provide the Government with advice on how to best spend the fund, which aims to help mothers, fathers and other parents who take on the childcare load to get back into the workforce after having children. Having children can take a big toll on a person's career. The burden has generally fallen on women, who traditionally take on a larger role in caring for young children. That situation has contributed to the massive gap in women's participation in full‑time work compared to men. In Australia the women's workforce participation rate is less than two-thirds that of men.
When they return to the workforce, they usually go part time and are missing out on opportunities for promotion and leadership roles. The interruption leaves women with fewer savings, less financial security and at greater risk of poverty and homelessness later in life. The economy and society also miss out on opportunities to engage some of our best and brightest minds, slowing our capacity to innovate and change. Increasing access to affordable child care will help to increase women's participation in the workforce and I will support the bill. But it is not the only factor that impacts on women's participation in the workforce.
The jobs that traditionally have been performed by women like child care, aged care, nursing and teaching attract lower wages. When women perform other roles, they still earn less than their male counterparts due to biases in the system. The result is that where small children have a mother and a father, the mother typically earns less and the family is financially better off if she stays home and looks after the children. Cultural barriers in many sectors also turn women off whether they have children or not. Many workplaces have very white, heterosexual, male-dominated cultures that can feel unwelcoming and unsafe for women and others who do not fit that norm. The recent Independent Review into bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct at the Parliament of NSW demonstrated that even here we have a toxic culture that is turning women off participating in it.
Last week's release of the Equal Power Now survey by Plan International revealed that treatment of women in politics has made Australian girls and young women more disillusioned by politics than their overseas counterparts. The recent occurrence of a member of the other place—stating that someone should have "clocked" a female member of this House because she did not toe the party line—is a case in point. Just today the Hon. Greg Donnelly referred to the Minister for Women, Minister for Regional Health, and Minister for Mental Health as "howling", which shows in this workplace we still have a lot more to do to support women and make it a safe and welcoming workplace for them. The Parliament's blokey culture is preventing us from attracting the diverse range of leaders we need to address the challenges of the future. The make-up of the House and the Ministry certainly fail to reflect the diversity in the community and I hope the make-up of the new Parliament will be more diverse and our policies can therefore help to reflect that.
All work places benefit from diversity, which brings new ideas and new solutions while making the working environment more attractive and safe for all. Much of the discussion of this bill has focused on families where there is a mum and a dad, but there are families across the State that are very diverse. Many children have two mums, two dads, one mum, one dad, or one or two parents who are gender diverse. Focusing on stereotypes during this debate is not helpful for anyone. Indeed, it can entrench the expectation on women in families with a mum and a dad to sacrifice their career and take up the greater role of child rearing. Even with child care and after‑school care, it can be difficult for parents to leave work in time to pick up their kids. Long work hours are challenging to all family life and the pandemic has shown that people want flexible working arrangements to achieve a better balance. All parents need support returning to work after having children and I acknowledge that diverse families certainly will benefit from the bill. It is great that the Government has taken the step to provide better access to child care and I look forward to more work in this space.