The government's recently announced increases to childcare subsides are "peanuts" according to NSW Riverina feminists, who say that the reforms don't go nearly far enough for women in the workplace.
The funding boost was announced in the leadup to the 2021/22 budget, but it came with several asterisks: it only applies families with at least two children in childcare simultaneously, it does not apply to the first child, and it only comes into effect in July 2022.
Wagga Wagga Women's Health Centre founder Jan Roberts said she suspected these "tidbits" were designed to placate the Coalition's "very unhappy female voter" base, especially in light of recent events.
Ms Roberts said the reforms did not go nearly far enough to encourage women into the workforce, having long campaigned for childcare to be free for all Australians.
She said that the rising costs of childcare were a growing obstacle to women wanting to be in the workforce, saying she knew of many women who gave up their careers because childcare was prohibitively expensive.
"That's been the story of Australian childcare for the last 20 years, escalating costs upon escalating costs and women have to make decisions," Ms Roberts said.
"I hear it all the time: when they take into account the costs of the childcare and what they're getting paid, they say it's just not worth it. It puts a real brake on women returning to work after they have children."
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Ms Roberts said free childcare would help men, too, saying that many two-income households were struggling to shoulder the financial burden.
Father-of-two Cameron Abood was a recipient of free childcare last year, when preschool fees were temporarily subsidised for his toddler due to the lockdown.
He said it made a huge difference for his two-income household, saying it was a blessed reprieve from the "ridiculous" fees.
"Fortunately we were able to access free childcare during that period of time for three days a week, so I was able to focus on my work, teaching," Mr Abood said.
"You can't work effectively without distraction with the kids running around at the same time, it's just not physically possible."
Mr Abood said he was unsure about the prospect of free childcare, but that he would certainly like it to be far cheaper than it is at present.
Wagga Greens' Jenny McKinnon said Australia should follow the example of other Scandinavian countries where childcare was either free or almost entirely subsidised.
"It boosts the tax coffers of the government because the more people paying income tax the better for the budget all around. The entire country benefits by the increased productivity and education standards that come with people being able to get into better jobs," she said.
"This can't just be any childcare; it has to be good quality childcare in a very well regulated industry and provided at no-cost or very-low-cost so we encourage everyone who can contribute in the workforce to be in the workforce."