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Monday, 10 September 2018
Page: 8330

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:01): It is extraordinary that yet again we have a government that is so chaotic, so unable to govern that, although we have four speakers to this motion in my name on this side of the chamber, there is not a single speaker on the other side of the chamber that's prepared to get up and debate the issue of equal pay for women and, particularly in this instance, the focus on equal pay for women who work in female-dominated industries such as child care. On 5 September, I was very pleased to speak to a rally of early childhood educators who had walked off the job in protest at the gender pay gap that they face in their industry. Last week's rally was bigger than the ones I've been to before. I think this is a movement that's growing in support amongst childcare workers and, most importantly, is growing in support amongst the parents, who value the work that early childhood educators do every day caring for young Australians.

I was also very pleased to recently be part of the launch of the Big Steps campaign in parliament last time parliament sat, because the Big Steps Campaign is a recognition that early childhood educators ought to be paid better for the complex, difficult, important work that they do. High-quality learning-and-development experiences in a play based learning setting are absolutely critical in the early years of a child's life. More and more science tells us how important those early days and weeks in a child's life are for neurological development, laying down neural pathways that last a lifetime. We know that in those early years 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the brain development occurs and children's cognitive and non-cognitive development is being nurtured along with foundations being laid for learning, behaviour, thinking and communication, and emotional and social skills.

Quality early childhood programs offer a very strong return on investment for taxpayers. We know that, by investing early, we save across the lifetime of a child. A child who starts school developmentally or educationally vulnerable requires more help in the early years of schooling. If we can invest early, we can actually smooth that pathway. Currently, one in five children start school developmentally vulnerable, and that's just not acceptable in a country like Australia.

If we value early childhood education, if we see the importance of this investment, we have to value the early childhood educators who do this important work, and there is no way anyone can tell me that it's a coincidence that you see this sort of undervaluation of the importance of this work in an industry where nearly 98 per cent of the employees are women. It makes no sense to me that someone with a certificate III in early childhood education earns 20-something bucks an hour, and someone with a certificate III in metal work earns 40-something bucks an hour. There is no way that is anything other than gender based discrimination.

Early childhood educators shouldn't hold out too much hope of the government actually fixing this problem. When asked about it last week, both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer brushed off the concerns of early childhood educators. The Prime Minister waffled on, 'I want to see the gender pay gap shrink because I want to see our economy continue to strengthen and because of the improved conditions and arrangements that are there for women right across the workforce. I wish everybody the best in coming to the best set of arrangements they can.' He totally disregarded the bargaining position of most of these workers, who are in very small workplaces, with perhaps half a dozen or a dozen staff. The short answer from both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister was, 'Not my problem'. I don't think that parents feel that way. Parents have generally been very supportive of the campaign of early childhood educators, because they see the complexity of the work that early childhood educators do. They see the way these staff pour their hearts and souls into the children.

This government have no plan for equal pay. They have no plan to lift wages and no plan for women. I think all these complaints last week about bullying within the Liberal Party, bullying of Liberal women—these two things cannot be a coincidence—go together. This government have had an appalling record in early childhood education. They cut $20 million from the national quality agenda at the last May budget. They introduced a new childcare subsidy system which leaves one in four families worse off, including some of the poorest families, and they want to cut $440 million from the national preschools program. So I move:

That this House:

(1)   expresses concern that despite recent improvements in the gender pay gap, Australian women continue to experience sustained economic disadvantage, in particular women working in undervalued, traditionally female dominated industries;

(2)   notes that on 5 September, early childhood educators around the country staged industrial action to highlight the need for equal pay and proper recognition for the value of their work;

(3)   acknowledges the important contribution these workers, along with workers in other undervalued care professions such as aged care, health and disability care make, not just to our nation’s economy but to Australian society; and

(4)   calls on the Government to take action to support equal pay and recognition for women working in undervalued care professions.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Is the motion seconded?