Gender equality still a long way off when it comes to childcare

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during a visit to Bestchance Child and Family Care Centre in Glen Waverley, Victoria.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during a visit to Bestchance Child and Family Care Centre in Glen Waverley, Victoria. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

When Federal Labor Leader Bill Shorten spoke about men "relying on women" to organise childcare he started a war of words surrounding gender equality.

"Let's face it, men in Australia rely on the women in Australia to do the child care and to organise child care," he said when speaking about the Opposition's new childcare policy on the weekend.

"Where you've got mums working part-time or full-time, it's the second job in the family, and frankly they're doing a lot of the unpaid work. They've got to try to work out the child care bills."

Lisa Wilkinson criticised Bill Shorten over his comments.
Lisa Wilkinson criticised Bill Shorten over his comments.  Photo: Today

The comments drew an angry response from Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash, who took the Labor leader to task for his "prehistoric language", and called on Tanya Plibersek and other Labor women to condemn their leader.

"I think Bill Shorten's disgraceful comments yesterday, saying that men were having to look to their little women to look after childcare, were simply appalling," Senator Nash said. 

Today host Lisa Wilkinson was equally scathing, referring to the Labor leader as a "dinosaur".

"When Bill Shorten describes women as having the second job, that men 'rely on women to take care of all things when it comes to looking after the kids', in other words so men can get on with doing all the important stuff, isn't he simply entrenching a stereotype of women as second class citizens?" Wilkinson said.

"Isn't parenting about sharing responsibilities? And isn't it confirming the outdated belief that women should always be in charge of the unpaid work and therefore giving any men who still do, permission to keep thinking that way ... isn't that like so last century?"

But the Labor Leader backed himself when asked about the matter on Monday, arguing attitudes to childcare were changing but women still bore the brunt of the responsibility.


"Men are stepping up in terms of childcare. In this centre you will have noticed dads here absolutely pulling their weight but the fact of the matter is that the burden of childcare falls disproportionately on working mums," Mr Shorten said.

The accuracy of his statement is supported by Essential Baby readers, with most mothers agreeing they are the ones who organise childcare arrangements.

A poll of more than 230 readers found in almost 85 per cent of households mothers took care of arranging childcare. In 10 per cent of households the responsibility was shared evenly; only 4 per cent of dads organised childcare.  

While EB readers believe Mr Shorten could have used better language to express his view, they overwhelmingly accept he was referring what is happening at the moment, rather then what should be happening.

"My issue with Bill Shorten's comments were not about accuracy - I don't doubt that it does mainly fall to women - but he should have acknowledged that it should not fall mainly to women," one mother wrote.

"Childcare is not a women's issue. Childcare costs do not come out of my wages. He's perpetuating that old chestnut that it's not worth it for women to return to work. Because childcare costs. That must somehow come from her wages." 

Another wrote, "I think it is important to acknowledge that the burden does actually fall disproportionately on women. If we don't acknowledge this is an issue then how can we change it?" 

But regardless of what they thought of Mr Shorten's statement, the majority of parents welcome Labor's proposal to increase the cap for the Childcare Rebate from $7500 per year/per child to $10,000.

"It's long overdue. Childcare costs have risen about 30 per cent since I had my first child - the rebate has been static," one mum wrote.

Who does the majority of the childcare organisation in your household? Vote in the poll and see what others had to say in the forum, or comment below.