opinion

PM makes move towards an early election, but parents still face huge uncertainty.

Malcolm Turnbull has this morning announced moves that may bring on an early election.

Let’s get the boring process stuff out of the way first. The Prime Minister has asked the Governor-General to recall both houses of Parliament early. They had been due to sit in the second week of May, however they will now return to Canberra in the middle of April to deal with contentious legislation relating to the construction industry unions.

He also said the budget would be presented a week earlier than previously intended.

If the legislation for the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation fails to pass both houses, the Prime Minister says he will call a double dissolution election for the 2nd of July.

While there are a number of things that the Australian community remains concerned about (negative gearing reforms and education funding for example) parents face ongoing uncertainty over childcare funding reforms and paid parental leave.

It's been a year since childcare funding reforms were announced, but we still don't know if and when the changes will be introduced. Image via iStock.

Last year, the Government made a number of announcements relating to paid parental leave. Currently, the Government's policy is to fund 18 weeks of paid parental leave at the minimum wage to women, but only to women who don't have access to an employer funded paid parental leave scheme that is 18 weeks or less.

When it was announced, this scheme was supposed to start on 1 July 2016. However, legislation to make this policy law has not yet been introduced into the Parliament. If it is introduced and rushed through the House and Senate in the next few weeks, some question the bureaucracy's capacity to accommodate the changes in time for a 1 July start date. That's not a criticism of hard working public servants, it's merely a comment on the size of such a task and the lack of resources and time available.

Simply put, for parents who are due to have a baby after 30 June, they just do not know what and how much paid parental leave they will be able to access. With a baby on the way, parents need as much financial certainty as possible so that they can concentrate on those critical first few weeks of caring for and bonding with their new child.

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For parents who have children in childcare, there is ongoing uncertainty about childcare funding reforms. It's now been a year since the Jobs for Families package was announced, a package that is due to start on 27 July 2016.

At first glance the package makes a great deal of sense. It simplifies the confusing two payment system, while introducing means testing and a stronger activity test for parents.However, critics have raised significant concerns about the impact the parental activity test may have on vulnerable children who may need early childhood education as a strong boost in first few years of their lives - to help set them up for greater success in the future. Critics have also pointed out that means testing will leave many families worse off than they currently are.

woman didnt know she was pregnant
Simply put, for parents who are due to have a baby after 30 June, they just do not know what and how much paid parental leave they will be able to access. Image via iStock.

While the Government has introduced legislation to support the package into the house, they have made it clear they won't bring the bill to the house to be voted on until after the election.

Here's the thing about that timing. If the election is on 2 July, we could expect the results to be finalised around two weeks later. That then leaves about 9 days for the parliament to return, be sworn in, the legislation to be debated and passed by the House and the Senate, receive assent by the Governor-General and then for the bureacracy to roll out the administrative changes required.

It's safe to say, these changes won't be starting on 27 July, and that means we have gone from election to election with nothing done to make childcare more affordable and more accessible.

These two issues must be resolved as soon as possible to allow parents to plan ahead, and have financial certainty.

Political disclaimer: Alys Gagnon has previously been employed by the Australian Labor Party.

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