To underline its pitch for women, the ALP is using deputy leader Tanya Plibersek to do much of the talking on the policy. The Coalition has only men to give its side of the argument.
The Coalition has argued that the childcare subsidies prove Mr Shorten would run a “tax and spend” government if elected.
How the Coalition’s attack on ALP tax policies will play with female voters remains to be seen but the Coalition should look closely at the ALP’s approach to childcare and consider what message it wants to send to women. The conservative side of politics is rightly wary about subsidies in normal circumstances but a substantial cohort of women deserve greater incentives to work.
While high-income earners complain about the top marginal income tax rate of 45 per cent, women in middle-income households who work are paying a lot more. For each extra dollar they earn, many lose about 80 cents in tax, childcare costs and reduced family benefits.
Given that high effective marginal tax rate, it is hardly surprising that the share of women aged 25-54 in the workforce is still about 15 percentage points below men. That figure also underestimates the gap between the sexes because more than twice as many women as men are only working part-time.
Yet, if increased childcare subsidies make sense, it is not clear that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is doing it right. In the past childcare providers have just raised prices and pocketed the cash. Mr Shorten must explain how he can stop it happening again.
There are also questions over Mr Shorten’s pledge to raise childcare workers’ salaries. There is a moral case for correcting the legacy of low pay in a sector which is 96 per cent female and an educational argument that higher pay should improve care for children by attracting better qualified workers.
But once again it is not clear how Mr Shorten can guarantee money will go to childcare workers rather than raise profits for their employers. Nor is it clear why childcare workers should win a better deal than other low-paid workers.
- The Herald’s editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here