‘Outsourcing parenting’ comments draw criticism that Nationals lag behind voters

Labor is seizing on a political opportunity to promise transparent childcare fees to reassure taxpayers their money is actually helping parents, after some Nationals expressed unhappiness with the amount spent subsidising parents who work.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told Parliament he absolutely supported childcare, after two of his close allies told Coalition MPs on Tuesday the government should be spending more money to back parents who looked after their own children.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has two young sons, says he is a beneficiary and supporter of childcare.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Alana Johnson, convenor of the Victorian Women’s Trust and a former state rural woman of the year winner, said it was astounding that any political party could lag so far behind public opinion on the issue.

“It really demonstrates that they’re not listening,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“We want women to have the opportunity to participate in the workforce, on an equal footing with men – and we’re nowhere near that.

“The fact that they are still talking this way, just indicates how far behind the electorate they are.”

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese will announce on Thursday that Labor would require large childcare providers to publish real-time data on their fees, along with revenue and profit results, on a central government website.

Last week, Education Minister Alan Tudge said the government was removing information about 521 providers from its childcarefinder.gov.au website because they hadn’t publicly reported their fees.

Recent research from The Front Project found parents were often confused about childcare options and costs and wanted more transparency.

The government’s policy, announced in April, is to lift the subsidy on fees for second and subsequent children where parents have at least two children aged under six in care at the same time. This will cost $1.7 billion over five years.

Nationals MP George Christensen told Coalition MPs on Tuesday that parents were outsourcing the care of their children to big corporations. Senator Matt Canavan said he couldn’t back the legislation without there being additional support for those who looked after their own children.

Their comments sparked outrage, particularly from their female colleagues.

Asked whether he backed the views of his close allies, Mr Joyce told Parliament he was a beneficiary of childcare. He has two preschool-aged sons.

“At times it’s the case that both [parents] have to go out to make the payments, to pay for the house, to pay for the car, and this is a vital component of how our society works, and we’re lucky we can do it,” he said.

“We have to have these changes that are actually improving it.”

Labor has already announced a plan to increase childcare subsidies across the board, up to a maximum of 90 per cent for lowest-income families, and extend eligibility to those earning up to $530,000. It would cost $6 billion over three years.

Labor says 86 per cent of families using childcare will be better off under their plan and 6 per cent will benefit just as much under both policies.

Mr Albanese will tell the Committee for Economic Development of Australia on Thursday that Labor is offering families a stark contrast.

“Even this week, we saw an astonishing display of the contempt some in the Coalition have for working families, with a member of the government reportedly saying that women who use child care are ‘outsourcing parenting’,” he will say, according to a draft of his speech.

“The level of disrespect in that statement is galling, and shows how out of touch they are with working families.”

Legislation for the government’s proposed changes is expected to be put to Parliament on Thursday.

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