28 October 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the crisis in care in Australia: care for frail older Australians, support for people living with a disability and early childhood education for our young. It's said that we're all in this together when we're not. Before COVID-19 the royal commission had already laid bare the neglect in some aged-care homes. Now there are 102,000 older Australians waiting for home care. For the past two years there have consistently been more than 100,000 older Australians on the wait list, leaving them at risk and their carers vulnerable.
Childcare fees in Australia are some of the highest in the world. More than 100,000 families are locked out of the system simply because they can't afford it. This crisis has exposed the fault lines in our society. People in my electorate—and others like it—on the Central Coast of New South Wales, which is home to many young families and older Australians, are shouldering the burden. What a disappointment this year's budget has been for those Australians who were hoping these needs would be met.
We have debt approaching a trillion dollars and yet somehow vulnerable Australians are being left behind and people at risk are falling through the cracks. What every Australian was hoping for in the budget was a plan to get Australians back to work and to get communities like mine back on their feet, not to see support cut too soon, like JobSeeker or JobKeeper, while unemployment is still rising; not a series of announcements with big numbers that somehow don't get delivered. Australia needs a plan for secure, well-paid jobs for those hardest hit by the pandemic, for women and young people in particular because they were more likely to have been in insecure and low-paid jobs before COVID-19, and they've been left behind in much of the government's response. Since March 200,000 women have lost their jobs and 110,000 have left the workforce altogether. Youth unemployment has risen to 14.5 per cent from 11.6 per cent in March and is higher in regional and remote Australia, outside of big cities.
Where are these jobs going to come from? One of the biggest missed opportunities in the budget, and there were others, was for greater investment in the care economy. Investment in the care economy would be a win-win: a win for those desperately needing care, for those frail older Australians, for those people with disability, for young people and for those who need jobs and could be providing that care. But it seems that this government seems to think that the only jobs that matter are ones that give them a photo-op in a high-vis vest and a hard hat—jobs traditionally filled by men. Don't get me wrong, my dad was an engineer and a builder and I welcome investment in infrastructure and roads, and I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of it in my electorate. I certainly hope some of the promised investment in manufacturing finds its way to the food hubs of the Central Coast.
With 17 jobseekers for every job vacancy on the coast—at the peak of the pandemic it was 36—clearly we are going to need more jobs. Who would benefit most from those jobs, the better paid and more secure jobs? It would be people working in the care economy. That's right: women and young people. Currently women make up 87 per cent of registered nurses and midwives, 87 per cent of aged-care workers and 96 per cent of early childhood educators. While we would welcome more men taking up jobs in these sectors, it's clear that greater investment in the care economy would boost women's employment opportunities and provide them more security.
These sectors can also provide opportunities for young people, opportunities which would be boosted through Labor's Australian skills guarantee, which, in cooperation with providers, would cover aged care, disability and child care. Under the Australian skills guarantee one out of 10 workers employed in a federally funded worksite would be an apprentice, a trainee or a cadet, which would make an enormous difference, particularly for young people living outside of big cities, for those in regional and remote Australia. Expanding the skills guarantee to the care economy would give thousands of young people a foothold, a firm start, in the workforce. Investment in care would grow the economy.
Labor's childcare policy would make quality, affordable child care universal, giving kids the best possible start through early childhood education, and supporting parents and families to more fully participate in, or to re-join, the workforce. Investment in the care economy would lead to greater workforce participation by people whose education and training or employment is held back because they don't have enough support in caring for family members living with a disability, illness or who are frail and elderly.
I'd like to see us come out of this pandemic a fairer place. I'd like to see our country be a more equitable one. I'd really like to see young people, women, those who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 get more support and be able to more fully participate. We need to make sure that the most vulnerable aren't falling through the cracks, that they aren't left behind. In Australia where you are born, where you live and grow up, matters, and everybody needs to count.