House debates

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


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

8:14 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Measures) Bill 2014. I take great pleasure in following the member for Robertson and I will certainly make sure that everybody in Robertson on the Central Coast—an area that I also come from—is aware of her unconditional support for paid parental leave. I will make sure that all those pensioners, who are receiving a very low income and whose income is going to be affected by the change in indexation, know that she is out there spruiking the $50,000 a year for high-income workers is much more important than ensuring that child care is properly indexed. Just for the record, in Robertson electorate there are 7,130 families that are using approved child care. Of those 6,340 are receiving childcare rebates.

Those families are going to be disadvantaged by this legislation. The member for Robertson is not telling the families on the Central Coast just what this legislation means. This legislation is bad legislation and it shows that this government has its priorities all wrong. It looks after people who are on high incomes whilst at the other end of the spectrum they are making it harder for families who are not on high incomes to enter the workforce or maintain employment. One of the key indicators as to whether a person can afford to utilise child care, research has shown, is that the relationship between childcare affordability and women's workforce participation is strong. A one per cent increase in gross childcare prices results in a decrease to the mother's employment rate of 0.7 per cent. This is what the member for Robertson is advocating—that the people she represents get less money and that child care is made less affordable. She supports that, whilst at the same time she supports women receiving a $50,000 bonus for having a baby. As the Prime Minister said, he wants the right kind of women to have babies. I think the right kind of people to have babies are the people who are hard-working and go out there every day and look to government for support.

One would think that the government would get support from business, but, unfortunately, even business is slow to give support to the government on these measures. Business knows that the one thing that is imperative when it comes to child care and women utilising child care is its affordability. What this government is doing is making it less affordable for those people who need it most. I would like to refer to an article in the Australian, which points out that the Australian Industry Group has called for the Prime Minister

…to abandon his paid parental leave scheme and redirect the money to maintaining childcare benefits.

The Australian Industry Group knows that fairness is in maintaining the childcare rebate. It is not fair to give those women who are on high incomes a bonus or a gift of $50,000. The Australian Industry Group, in this article, says that:

…the Coalition's proposed "gold-plated" PPL scheme "should be abandoned" and the less generous scheme introduced by Labor retained.

Can I say that the members on the other side of this House are so out of touch that they do not know what is being said in their electorates. I give the member for Dawson credit for speaking out on behalf of his electorate by saying that this is the wrong way to go, but, unfortunately, many members on the other side of this parliament do not take time to communicate with their constituents and do not listen to what they are saying, rather they just tell them. This article goes on to say that

…the more generous PPL scheme should then be used to reverse the continued freezing of the Child Care Rebate at $7500 a year and the non-indexation of Child Care Benefit thresholds for three years announced in the May budget.

This is to allow extra funding to be devoted to childcare measures.

The one thing we know about this government is that, when it comes to fairness and equity and to seeing that a struggling family gets a fair go, they are always missing in action. This bill will whip $230 million from the means-tested Family Assistance Child Care Benefits from 889,000 families. Those 889,000 families rely on this benefit; it makes child care affordable for them. It enables them to go to work and, if it comes to the situation where they receive no childcare benefit or it is reduced to such a low level that they can no longer afford child care, their children will be taken out of child care. When children are taken out of child care, they will be no longer able to work.

This is arrogant and it just shows how little this government is able to communicate or understand the needs of families in Australia. When I look back to the last election, it is very interesting that the minister was floating around the country saying that she was going to make child care more affordable and to reform child care so every child could attend child care. She even came to my electorate with my Liberal Party opponent and argued for more affordable child care and access to child care for everyone. I look back to the community support program that was going to provide grants for family day care services and that has been cut. Family day care is one of the most affordable forms of child care.

The round of grants to local government was also cut. Local government is one of the leaders in providing not-for-profit child care. Grants were put out there for local governments to apply for. The one thing that this government has done is cut that grants program. Everywhere you look, this government is attacking families. It is attacking the family tax benefit. It is putting the GP tax in place. There is its action in relation to the Child Care Rebate and the Child Care Benefit. The Child Care Rebate, as everyone knows, is not means tested and is up to $7,500 for every child. Childcare support is absolutely essential to provide financial incentives for parents to re-enter the workforce and, as I have already stated, particularly women.

A woman needs to know that her child is cared for in a quality childcare centre that is accredited, with well-trained carers. When she knows that, she can confidently go to work and engage productively. But, unfortunately, 74,000 families will reach the Child Care Rebate cut-off in 2014 and 150,000 families will reach the childcare cap in 2016-17. They are significant numbers, and this measure will have a very significant impact on some people—but the government are not telling the Australian people this. They are making it sound like they are doing wonderful things in the childcare space when, in actual fact, they are making child care less affordable. They are looking to provide taxpayer funding for nannies and au pairs, which is a very expensive form of child care. Their every action is designed to benefit those people who least need help from government. I am appalled at what the government are doing in this area.

I thought a good way to look at how effective the government has been in relation to child care—and to be quite fair about it—was to make a comparison between what Labor did when it was first elected, following the 2007 election, and what this government has done. It is quite interesting when you look at the figures. One of the first actions of the new Labor government, following the 2007 election, was to increase the Child Care Rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent for out-of-pocket expenses and to increase the cap from $4,354 to $7,500 per child. The Howard government had no appetite to make child care more affordable, and those on the other side under the leadership of Tony Abbott are in the same position. They are making child care less affordable. They will make it harder for families to actually access childcare. They stand condemned for that. Labor also gave families the option of claiming their childcare rebates fortnightly, halving up-front costs at the time that they were billed.

The government does not understand just how hard it is for families to make ends meet. Many families go from week to week just trying to balance the budget. As one of my constituents told me recently—a constituent who has been extremely disadvantaged by this government; a constituent who has really done it hard—at the end of the month he just throws the bills in the air, and the ones that land on the table first are the ones that he is able to pay. It is really interesting when you compare a government, as in the Rudd and Gillard governments, which understood how much families rely on assistance such as the Child Care Rebate and the Child Care Benefit, with a government which is freezing assistance and making child care less affordable. Childcare fees went up by more than twice the rate under the Howard government compared with Labor. I hate to think what the rate will be under the Abbott government because of their lack of commitment to keeping childcare fees low and making child care affordable. Modelling shows that, under Labor, out-of-pocket costs for families earning $75,000 a year were reduced by 13 per cent of their disposable income. Under Labor the number of children in child care grew; under this government, we are set to see a reduction simply because it is making it unaffordable.

I would like to put on the record that I cannot understand why this legislation has been introduced with only five days of consultation and with very little research evidence from the department and without waiting for the completion of the Productivity Commission inquiry and report, which is due in October this year. The government is not waiting for that report.

This government stands condemned for their action in the area of child care. It stands condemned for not researching what impact this legislation will have on families. This government stands condemned because it does not really care about low-income families. This government stands condemned because it has its priorities all wrong. It is prepared, on the one hand, to give a $50,000 gift to highly paid women or families and, on the other hand, to cut money from those people who look to government most for assistance.


No comments