STAY-at-home parents provide the best start in life for a child according to the Prime Minister.
John Howard yesterday said that every time he had increased the funding given to institutional childcare he had also helped stay at home mothers with boosts to their incentive payments to stay home.
But he also said it was important to provide childcare choices.
“I am a very strong believer in the proposition that the care provided full-time by a parent is the most precious child care of all,” Mr Howard said.
“But I'm also a believer in choice and that parents have the right to decide what is best for them and best for their children and we've tried to help both.”
Mr Howard was responding to a talkback radio caller who was critical of the baby bonus paid to new parents and to the increase in childcare benefits, saying they encouraged people to dump their children in day care.
Mr Howard defended the baby bonus payment of $4000 to new parents and said along with help for childcare fees, the government gave financial support to stay-at-home parents through Family Tax Benefit B.
“Every time we have increased benefits for child care, we have also increased the benefit for the stay-at-home mothers,” Mr Howard said.
“The baby bonus is a recognition of the additional cost of having a child and it is widely supported by people who share your views, maam, about the caring of children as well as people who believe that putting them in child care and returning to the part or full-time workforce is the appropriate thing to do.”
But Labor says this week's “family friendly” federal budget has failed to provide enough incentives to help women return to the workforce.
The government introduced a range of measures in Tuesday's budget, aimed at increasing the participation of mothers in the workforce.
These measures included reducing taxes for low and middle income earners and increasing child care assistance.
But Labor's spokeswoman for women Tanya Plibersek said the measures failed to address the “unfair and inflexible” industrial relations and child care system, which would prevent women returning to work.
“This budget misses the opportunity to invest in education or in workforce measures to help women returning to work after child-rearing,” Ms Plibersek.
“Australia's future economic prosperity depends on lifting women's workforce participation, especially mothers of older children.”
The current labour force participation rate for women is about 75 per cent that of men.
But the hours worked by women is only 50 per cent of male hours worked, with married mothers working less than 40 per cent of the hours worked by married men.
Ms Plibersek said Labor had already promised a range of incentives to help women including a shake up of industrial relations laws which allow parents to request an extra 12 months unpaid maternity leave, with workplace flexibility until the child reaches school age.
She said a total of 260 new child care centres would be created and funding allocated for 1,500 new early childhood university places at a cost of $34 million each year.
The Labor policy also includes a national plan to prevent violence against women and children.
Ms Plibersek said Labor Leader Kevin Rudd has made strong commitments in all these areas.
“Kevin Rudd and Australian Labor understand the opportunities and demands facing women in Australia today, and will meet the challenges of a modern society and economy.”