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Did child care help swing the election?

By John Cherry - posted Monday, 1 August 2016

After the longest election campaign in a generation, the election outcome ended up pretty much the same as the polls predicted at the beginning of the campaign.

Yet dig into the results a bit deeper, and below the surface some issues seemed to have more impact than others. Childcare is one of those issues.

In marginal seats with large numbers of families using childcare, the Government did much better than in seats with low numbers of families using childcare, influenced it would seem by the Government’s commitment to spend Government’s $3.1 billion to make childcare more affordable had some influence.  Delivering on that commitment should be top of the agenda to keep faith with those families.


Across the 34 seats decided by a margin of less than 3%, the swing against the Government was 1.5% lower in seats with an above the median proportion of electors claiming Child Care Rebate than those with a below median proportion of families claiming the rebate.

To put that another way, if the Government seats with large numbers of households using childcare had swung at the same average rate as with low numbers of households using childcare, then seats like Forde, Robertson, Chisholm, Latrobe, Dickson and Petrie could have been be further at risk, and Herbert, Cowan, Longman and Lindsay would have been pushed even further out of reach. That would be the difference between a Liberal and a Labor Government.

The Government went to the election promising a $3 billion overhaul of childcare subsidies first announced in the 2015 Budget. Labor released its policy during the election campaign promising to match the Government’s investment but with relief delivered earlier.

The ensuring debate elevated childcare to the most discussed political topic early in the fifth week of the election campaign. The “Daily Telegraph” editorial on Saturday, 11 June, headed “Election outcome rests on childcare”, concluded: “With around 30 per cent of all female voters presently still to decide how they will vote, getting the answers right on childcare could easily determine which party forms Australia’s next government.”

That childcare was a key topic in the election campaign it not all that surprising. Analysis of four decades of elections and electorates by demographic profiler (and former Senator) John Black, (writing in “The Australian” on 4 May), identified that parents of children aged under five were the ‘most responsive voters per election budget dollar spent’ and that they tended to cluster in outer urban marginal seats. Writing after the election on 5 July, Black found that young mums were crucial to the big swings recorded to Labor in seats like Lindsay, Macarthur, Longman, Herbert, and Burt.

What distinguished these seats was the high proportion of families claiming Family Tax Benefits, that is, families with an income of less than $100,000. Indeed, swings across the 34 most marginal seats ranked by Family Tax benefit claimants were a mirror image of the Child Care Rebate results, with average swings against the Government 1.4% bigger in seats with above the median proportion of families claiming Family Tax Benefit Part A.  


It seems the Coalition’s childcare policies were most attractive to middle income working families, while Labor’s childcare, family benefits and Medicare policies were more attractive to lower income working families.

Interestingly, the three Labor seats to record large swings to the Government (Chisholm, Griffith and Melbourne Ports) were all seats with a low proportion of families claiming Family Tax Benefit, but a high proportion claiming Child Care Rebate. Of the four marginal seats recording a swing to the Government (Reid, Petrie, Brisbane and Deakin), all had a high proportion of families claiming Child Care Rebate and three of the four had a low proportion of families claiming Family Tax Benefit.

Reachtel pre-election polling released by the parent advocacy group The Parenthood found that young mothers were twice as likely to cite ‘cost of living for families’ as the issue most likely to change their vote than ‘jobs and growth’ and ahead of funding for hospitals and schools. Women and younger parents were also twice as likely to be undecided voters compared to men or older parents, with childcare and family payments identified as key issues they were weighing up.

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About the Author

John Cherry is a former Senator for Queensland (2001-5), economist and journalist. He is currently the Advocacy Manager for Goodstart Early Learning, Australia’s largest not for profits provider of early learning and care. This article reflects his personal views and not necessarily the views of Goodstart Early Learning.

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