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Former Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Current system ‘punishing women’: campaign for early childhood education reforms

Landmark reforms to Australia’s early childhood system would provide a significant boost the economy as it recovers from COVID-19, Jay Weatherill says.

The former South Australian premier and Nicola Forrest, co-founder of Minderoo Foundation, are urging governments to make childcare universal and affordable for parents.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Weatherill warned that Australia would be uncompetitive “within a generation” if changes were not made to prevent women being forced into part-time work after becoming mothers.

“There’s no doubt the current system really punishes women,” Weatherill said on Wednesday.

“We have got all these highly educated and talented women who are close to the peak of their productivity. We’re not actually utilising their services and we need them.

“We need them in our economy and many of those women are demanding this for their own wellbeing and the way in which they want to live their lives.”

The Thrive by Five chief executive said without reforms, women’s career progression, financial security and superannuation would continue to suffer.

"The Grattan Institute has documented that if you want to work more than part time work, you're facing effective rates of disincentive which exceed 100 per cent. In other words, you actually go backwards – by coming to work, it actually costs you money," he said.

Weatherill and Forrest are urging governments to make the early childhood education easier for parents.

“A system that is accessible, affordable and high-quality, not one or the other,” Forrest said.

“We need a trusted early learning centre in every community that fulfils any and every need.”

Forrest said the COVID-19 crisis had given states, territories and the Commonwealth the architecture to address the issues, through national cabinet.

She said Australia’s failure to set kids up for success before they were aged five had far more than just an economic cost.

“The cost of our inaction is stained on the government’s budget papers – $5.9 billion for child protection, $2.7 billion for youth crime, $1.3 billion for mental health,” Forrest said.

“Today is our line in the sand moment. We need major economic and political reform.”

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