House debates

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Measures) Bill 2014; Second Reading

7:58 pm

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

This bill is part of the coalition government's ongoing commitment to families, particularly those with young children who rely on child care. The Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Measures) Bill 2014, which I commend to the House today, will apply from next month, for three years, to 30 June 2017. This bill maintains the childcare benefit income thresholds for three years and ensures that the childcare rebate limit will continue at $7,500 per child, per year for a further three years. It is an important reminder of how this government is making fair and responsible choices for the people in my electorate on the Central Coast. There are around 7,720 children from 5,760 families who attend child care in 109 dedicated services in my electorate of Robertson. For many of them, child care is essential because one or both parents are commuting to Sydney or Newcastle. We have 30,000 to 40,000 people on the Central Coast, as I often say in this House, who leave early in the morning to work and return home late at night to their families because that is where their job opportunities are. I am actually a mother in one of those families. My own husband, Chris, travels to Mascot every day, relying on the right connecting train to be home in time for dinner. We have been married nearly 18 years and he has never been able to work locally. His story reflects the story of thousands of other people on the Central Coast.

We are fortunate, of course, to have access to great child care for my own two children, Oscar, who is five, and Mollie-Joy, who is 3½. This includes some amazing grandparents—and I acknowledge my parents, Max and Mary Warren, who help out on so many occasions; a fantastic babysitter, Isabella Mitchell, and I thank you, Isabella, for all you do; and an incredible long day care centre, Little Miracles, where Oscar and Mollie-Joy are taken care of every week in a wonderful, supportive, caring and nurturing environment. I take this opportunity to place on record my thanks and my appreciation for the directors of the childcare centre at Terrigal, Rob and Sue Bateman, and also for the centre's supervisor, Sue Noble, and to say thank you to the 109 centre supervisors and operators who do such a great job for our children every single day.

Yes, child care does come at a cost. Childcare fees now average $370 per week for families who work full time on the Central Coast, which is an average cost per hour of $7.15. While this is lower than the national average of $7.35 an hour, $375 per week is a lot of money for most families and it underlines the need to make child care more affordable, more accessible and more flexible. That is why the coalition's decision to task the Productivity Commission with looking at this issue is an important part of the process. While the bill before the House tonight is important, it is also timely to note that the measures do not in any way pre-empt the Productivity Commission's inquiry into child care and early childhood learning.

We need a holistic review into how we can best ensure that child care is affordable, accessible and flexible for families in my electorate of Robertson, for families in New South Wales and, indeed, for families right around our nation—for the sake of our children, for the sake of their parents and for the next generation and generations to come. That is why the Productivity Commission's draft report, due next month, will give us a good first insight into their proposed reforms. In the meantime, the measures in this bill are necessary.

Families are struggling to access affordable, accessible and flexible child care due to fees skyrocketing 50 per cent nationally during Labor's six years in government. These increases are simply unsustainable. The former government, including the former member for Robertson, claimed to support child care and families and yet they watched while family budgets were thrown into chaos due to these soaring prices. In contrast, the coalition government is making decisions that repair the budget and, through our Economic Action Strategy, build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe and secure Australia.

Let us remind ourselves of one salient fact: because of Labor's debt, $1 billion a month in interest is being wasted. If no action is taken now, debt will grow to $667 billion in a decade and that monthly interest bill I mentioned before will become $3 billion per month. It is clear we need to get the debt and deficit back under control and this budget is part of our responsible plan to do just that. Included in the budget is the childcare benefit measure contained in this bill. It is also part of the government's broader measure to maintain eligibility thresholds for Australian government payments for three years. It is estimated that maintaining the childcare benefit income thresholds will provide a saving of $230 million over the forward estimates.

This bill amends the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 to continue to maintain the childcare rebate limit at $7,500 for three income years, starting from the beginning of next month. The rebate covers half of the out-of-pocket childcare expenses, up to a maximum amount per child, per year, and it is not means tested. As a result of these amendments, a family on the Central Coast will continue to receive up to the maximum rebate amount of $7,500 per child, per year to help pay for out-of-pocket childcare costs. This will be in place for those three years.

The bill also locks in the childcare benefit income thresholds for three years, again from 1 July this year. Unlike the childcare rebate, the childcare benefit is means tested. It is based on a family's income level and is designed to help with the cost of child care. It is important to note that the government will continue to index the childcare benefit standard hourly rate, the minimum hourly amount and the multiple child loadings by the consumer price index on 1 July each year.

So what this bill means is that families' childcare benefit income thresholds will remain at the amounts on 30 June 2014 for the three income years ending on 30 June 2017. It proposes a three-year pause on the indexation of income thresholds which set out how much parents are eligible to claim. But even with this measure government assistance through the childcare benefit and the childcare rebate combined will still increase to $28.5 billion over the next four years. These measures are about ensuring this substantial investment rises at more sustainable levels over the long term. There is, as any parent or childcare provider would know, a pretty complex way of calculating the childcare benefit. It depends on a family's income, the number of children in care, the type of care and the hours used. But this bill ensures that these measures will not impact families who have incomes below $41,902.

As a reminder to those opposite, keeping the childcare rebate limit at $7,500 per child per financial year for a further three years was a savings measure first implemented by the former Labor government in 2011. Labor announced an extension of the measure as part of their 2013-14 budget and then took the $105 million in savings from the budget bottom line but never legislated for it. The savings were included in their budget, but the legislative amendments that we are debating here today were not introduced in the last parliament. Yet, when this government sought to legislate the measure as part of the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, Labor combined with the Greens in the Senate earlier this year to block its own measure. So, put simply, our hands are tied.

The simplified arguments that we heard earlier tonight about raising the rebate will not work either, as we found in 2008. Back then, Labor increased the amount parents could claim under the childcare rebate from up to 30 per cent to up to 50 per cent of their fees. The result was that out-of-pocket costs for parents soared by up to almost 40 per cent in low- and high-income families between 2008-09 and 2012-13. Raising rebates makes these payments more unsustainable in the longer term without providing a plan to slow the rate at which the fees are increasing.

I recently invited the Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley, who spoke on the second reading of this bill, to my electorate of Robertson on the Central Coast. The minister spoke with parents and childcare providers at a childcare forum in Erina where there was a rigorous debate about the need for affordable, flexible child care. We visited one of our biggest childcare centres, Erina Kindergarten. The owner there, Paul Klumper; directors Melissa Commins and Ashlea O'Rourke and their team do an absolutely fabulous job of providing a warm and caring environment where our little 'coasties' can learn and be nurtured.

During the day we discussed the government's reforms including the coalition's record $200 million Long Day Care Professional Development Program. The program helps day care centres with the cost of upskilling and training educators to meet the requirements of the National Quality Framework. Our Long Day Care Professional Development Program will use the remaining funds from Labor's Early Years Quality Fund, which was shut down after an independent report found it was a vehicle for union recruitment. The minister's visit was a firsthand look at why we have to get the policy around child care in Australia right. Overall, the coalition is increasing childcare assistance to $28.5 billion over the next four years to assist around a million families each year through the childcare benefit and childcare rebate.

As well as increasing support to child care, we are also committed to a genuine paid parental leave scheme for families. This is a commitment we have taken to the last two elections. It is also something that I know is of great importance to people in my electorate of Robertson. Our paid parental leave scheme pays a real wage plus compulsory superannuation. This not only values women's current work, but also makes sure there is future recognition in the form of proper superannuation. It reflects the true value of a woman's lifetime of work and it is about delivering appropriate workplace entitlements for women who choose to work and have a family. This is important as it is often at the crucial point of time in their career cycle that they will have their family.

I firmly believe that paid parental leave should not to be treated as a welfare entitlement. It is a workplace entitlement. The opposition wants to frame the coalition's paid parental leave scheme as a $50,000 gift to rich people, but I know from talking to people on the Central Coast every day that this is a genuine hand-up for families—not the millionaire families that Labor talk about, but for women who are nurses, who are teachers, who are shop assistants, who are factory workers, who are clerical workers, who are casual workers and who are small business owners. For these people, our genuine paid parental leave scheme—especially in those early months of juggling the demands of a family—could be a real help with their family budget.

I want to say in relation to paid parental leave and the current debate in this House that I believe this is about a real cultural change in Australia. It is about moving the paid parental scheme and debate from a welfare entitlement to a workplace entitlement. This cultural change is important for Australia; it is important for productivity in our nation and it is important for our future generations in Australia. In time I believe we will look back in the annals of history at this argument and wonder what all the fuss was about, because why should people be paid at their real wage when they go on holidays, when they take long service leave and when they take sick leave and then effectively be paid a welfare wage when they go on parental leave? It just does not add up.

The coalition government has an Economic Action Strategy that will fix Labor's debt and deficit disaster. We have delivered a budget that ensures we will get back to living within our means, just as households must. We are taking responsibility and fixing up Labor's mess through strong and fair action. I commend this bill to the House, as a parent, as a member of parliament and as a resident on the Central Coast who knows we need to make responsible decisions to get Australia back on track to a secure future.


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