WHAT will it take to get childcare for rural and remote families on the government’s agenda?
Providing secure access to childcare is one of the single most powerful things the government could do for regional productivity.
In refusing my amendments to its Omnibus Bill in the Parliament last week the government did exactly the opposite.
Women contribute in excess of $14 billion to the regional economy through agriculture.
Their participation in the workforce depends on access to sustainable and suitable childcare.
In rural and regional Australia, that often means a need for mobile childcare services.
The proposed childcare reforms will force mobile services to go through an arduous competitive grants process just to secure the funds to operate – and then do it over again when the grant runs out.
The guidelines for these grants do not yet exist and the Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham is asking rural Australia to take it on trust that they will look after rural families.
The government says it wants to “transition” these 42 services across Australia but, sadly for many services, there is nowhere to transition.
Often they are the only childcare available, particularly in remote aboriginal communities.
There is nothing to transition to.
Some have already indicated that without certainty of funding, they will not be able to continue.
Some have already closed - their loss is significant.
The implications are not news to Minister Birmingham who visited Indi and met with the families and service providers in November last year at my invitation.
There were many subsequent meetings and discussions with the Minister and his staff.
My amendments were constructive, practical and simple.
They asked the government to commit in its legislation to monitoring and reporting on the impact of the reforms on the mobile services.
How incredibly disappointing and inexplicable it is that the Coalition, including 14 Nationals MPs in regional electorates, said no.
These services have been marginalised because they aren’t centre-based and don’t fit the government’s “one size fits all” approach to policy.
What will it take for Australians living beyond metropolitan borders to be seen as part of mainstream Australia and not as an ‘add on’ to policy decisions?
The government says it is consulting.
Consultation does not mean listening and then doing what was always intended.
There is a direct link between this lack of engagement and the fact that just under a third of Australians prefer independent or minor party representatives.
People are tired of not being heard by the major parties.
They are fed up with good ideas being rejected because of who they came from.
The fight for access to childcare for farming families is not over and I will lobby Senators while the Omnibus Bill waits to be considered by the Senate in March.
It is not too late for the government, and particularly the Nationals, to reconsider their stance.
At its core this conflict stems from the lack of a whole-of-government vision for regional Australia.
The government has announced a review into rural and regional education.
It appears to be dipping its toe in the water of regional policy and that’s welcome.
Now is the time to commit to jumping right in, for the good of all Australians.