Now for Abbott's nanny state
Tony Abbott is planning to offer the childcare rebate for nannies as he pledges to make working mothers a key constituency in his bid to become prime minister.
Tony Abbott is planning to offer the childcare rebate for nannies as he pledges to make working mothers a key constituency in his bid to become prime minister.The Opposition Leader is keen to rebut perceptions of him as negative and anti-women, saying addressing the "inflexible" childcare market was the best way a government could support parents juggling work and family responsibilities."This is not just a women's issue or a family issue, it's an economic issue," Mr Abbott told The Sun-Herald in an exclusive interview.One of Mr Abbott's first acts in a Coalition government would be to ask the Productivity Commission to examine how much it would cost to extend the childcare rebate for in-home care, such as nannies, in recognition that existing arrangements do not meet the needs of many families."We want as many women as can be to have challenging and demanding careers rather than having to fit a bit of work in around the edges," Mr Abbott said.The Opposition Leader's childcare plans are likely to further inflame the argument within the Coalition about his spending priorities.He is already fighting internal dissent on his $3 billion paid parental leave scheme that would pay a woman's replacement annual salary up to $150,000 for six months after the birth of a child, but which Mr Abbott maintains is an article of faith.While paid parental leave was important to allow women to take adequate time off to care for newborn babies, Mr Abbott said the bigger issue was how to make it easier for women to juggle careers and work once they were ready to return to paid employment.The issue of "responsive, flexible in-home care" was central to this, Mr Abbott said."It's easy to stereotype this as handouts to the female lawyer and accountant but the fact is that if you've got a large young family, having in-house care might be the most appropriate way of having childcare," he said."Parents with young kids don't work the standard nine to five hours, five days a week, and the childcare sector still caters overwhelmingly to people in that position."Mr Abbott's interview comes as the Coalition seeks to make a pitch to families for support in the lead-up to an election next year.Labor maintains women are wary of Mr Abbott and seeks to paint him as a social conservative.Although opinion polls suggest Mr Abbott is more popular with men, the margin is small.There is also anger within the Coalition about the decision to maintain the superannuation increases associated with the mining tax, even though it has promised to abolish the tax.While the Coalition maintains its policies would not put the budget into deficit, it is having a difficult time outlining where it would make big enough savings to pay for some of its big ticket items.Mr Abbott acknowledged the budgetary impact of broadening the definition of childcare for the purposes of taxpayer-funded subsidies."Having a much more flexible system is not going to be easy, particularly within the existing funding envelopes," he said.However, Mr Abbott said the daily struggle faced by families trying to piece together work and childcare centres' opening hours was now so demanding it was time to revisit the issue of in-home childcare."We would ask [the Productivity Commission] - within the existing funding envelope - to explore ways of making the system more flexible so that the parents of Australia are better able to contribute to our economic as well as our social wellbeing," Mr Abbott said.The Coalition first considered a policy of including nannies within the definition of childcare services that attract the government rebate before the 2010 election, but ditched it for fear it would be too expensive.The government spends about $3 billion a year on family payments to help with the cost of childcare.But the 50 per cent non-means-tested rebate on out-of-pocket childcare costs, the main payment, does not cover nannies.Including nannies would increase the cost to the government but possibly not as much as might be expected because it would mean replacing one form of care with another.