MORE female Coalition politicians have urged a radical redesign of the nation's child-care system, saying it should cater better to women's changing work patterns.
Treasurer Peter Costello has pledged to fund more child-care places in the May federal budget, but yesterday sidestepped calls for fundamental reform. He said child care was just one of many areas competing for a slice of the $11.5 billion surplus.
But several prominent Liberal women have backed former minister Jackie Kelly's calls for a revamp of child care.
Queensland Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro, who raised two children as a sole parent, said child care had not adapted to changing work patterns.
"Work has changed — people are working out of hours; we have seven-day-a-week businesses. The traditional 9-to-5 model no longer exists," she said.
Victorian Liberal senator Judith Troeth said better child-care access should be a priority.
"I have a daughter with young children and lots of her friends would go back to work if they could find suitable child care," she said.
"If the Government is serious about higher levels of productivity and getting and keeping women in the workforce, we should make child-care funding a higher priority."
Senator Troeth called for incentives for business to provide care — such as scrapping fringe benefits tax on off-site child care that companies provide.
Government Senate Whip Jeannie Ferris renewed a call for the cost of nannies to be tax deductible.
"The cost of care for a second child makes it marginal for many women to return to work," she said. "I have never understood why deductibility can only apply if you pack up your child at 7.30am and take them off to care elsewhere."
Sydney-based Liberal backbencher Louise Markus said more could be done to boost the flexibility, access and affordability of child care.
"Any improvements need to be responsive to the variety of child-care options that parents prefer and (should include) a more flexible approach to the delivery of child-care assistance," she said.
Mr Costello defended the Government's child-care record. But he acknowledged there were shortages in some regions, renewing arguments for more care out of school hours.
"I think there is probably still unmet demand so, sure, we will be looking at increasing places where we possibly can," he told Channel Nine.
Labor's child-care spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek accused Mr Costello of ignorance of the problem.
"The greatest child-care shortages and the highest fees are for children under school age," she said.
Meanwhile Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce called for child-care rebates to be extended to cover kindergartens and nannies.
Senator Joyce said many rural areas lacked a child-care centre or places, so parents were missing out on federal aid for the care of their children.
Families Minister Kay Patterson said there was always room for improvement in any government service.
"We welcome intelligent debate on the issue," her spokesman said.