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Dear Tony Abbott, it's time to pivot.

Where should the money go: to the PPL scheme, or childcare?

By FIONA SUGDEN

The Abbott government has finally reached a fork in the road on their new “signature” paid parental leave scheme.

They can either take the super highway of turning a mistake into a win for families by dropping the scheme and redirecting the $5 billion to boost our childcare system.

Or they can struggle down the bumpy, dusty, unpredictable, bush-bashing dirt track and try to crash their PPL legislation through the Parliament to what will end in a sure defeat.

From every mistake lies an opportunity.

It is politics 101.  It’s an old truth that it’s never the mistake that gets you into real trouble – it’s how you handle the aftermath.

That is why political strategists always search for the glimmer of hope in every shit sandwich.  How can I turn this into a win? How can I transform this train wreck into a poll bounce?  Mistakes happen. It is the clean up that counts.

It has never been more important for the federal government to put more money into childcare with the Productivity Commission undertaking a massive review of the early learning system right now.

Will Tony Abbott try to crash the PPL scheme through Parliament?

They have been directed by the Government to only make recommendations within the current funding envelope. It is critical for you to know at this point that the entire budget for childcare per year is currently only $1 billion more than the entire cost of the Abbott Government PPL scheme per year.

With such a limited scope to make recommendations it is really no surprise that the first draft from the PC recommends cuts to the quality of care for our kids in childcare centres and cuts to the child care rebate for parents.

For example, they’ve suggested lowering the qualification levels of educators that look after children under the age of three. This is contrary to the evidence from neurologists and child health experts that the most critical time for brain development for a human being is between the ages of zero to five.

We should not be reducing the qualification levels of the people that are educating our children to save money.

Further, the PC suggests averaging out the ratios of the number of educators to children required over the working week. This would mean safe and adequate ratios would be in place in centres at SOME times of the day not ALL times of the day.  But how do you know when a child will become sick, or choke, or try to propel themselves out of a high chair? That can happen at any time of day because kids are unpredictable.

Reducing child to educator ratios also means ours kids would get less one on one attention. The ratios that are currently legislated ensure child safety and quality of care is paramount. Parents do not want to see them reduced to save money.

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One million Australian families use the childcare system every year. Childcare benefits each child in a family for up to five years.  In contrast the new PPL scheme would benefit approximately 160 000 families a year for a six month period.

There is little doubt the best use of taxpayer funds is to invest in childcare.  That is why the PC inquiry and the National Commission of Audit recently made this recommendation to the Government and suggested severely paring back the PPL scheme.

Writer and mother of three, Fiona Sugden.

We know businesses agree the greatest barrier to women returning to work is gaining access to quality childcare. Outgoing NAB CEO Cameron Clyne said recently the levy his bank would pay for the Abbott Government PPL scheme would be better spent on childcare.

We know influential organisations such as the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have called for it to be scrapped for the same reason.

Parents have also made it clear they place a very high value on quality childcare. When asked in a recent Parenthood national survey what the three most important things were to them when choosing childcare, parents ranked quality of the education program, qualification level of educators and affordability as the highest.

And recently a national Parenthood survey found 97% of parents would prefer the money on the new PPL scheme was instead invested in kindergarten and pre-school.

So, businesses don’t want it and don’t want to pay for it.  Parents are very unsure about it.  The independent PC inquiry and National Commission of Audit want it slashed and the Government’s own members of parliament and new Senate won’t pass it.

Further, to try and sell this scheme to the community right now is a complete nightmare in the context of the other broader government cuts underway.

The truth is this scheme failed before it started.  It is now time to recognise this and turn it into a win for Australian families and their children.

The Prime Minister making this great announcement would enable the PC inquiry to make recommendations that include much more financial investment and help to offer our children the best start in life.

If you are interested in joining The Parenthood’s quality not cuts campaign for childcare then visit www.theparenthood.org.au.

Fiona Sugden is Executive Director of The Parenthood, a not for profit national advocacy body that aims to be a voice for all parents in business in government. Before this, Fiona was Press Secretary to former Prime Minister Rudd and is currently a media consultant and Mum in Brisbane. You can follow her on Twitter @FiSugden.

Do you think Tony Abbot should scrap the paid parental leave scheme, and increase funding to childcare instead? 

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