House debates

Tuesday, 17 June 2014


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

8:44 pm

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to speak to this bill that amends 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 1 July 2014 and maintain the childcare benefit income thresholds at the amounts applicable as at 30 June 2014 for three income years, starting from July 2014.

As a result of these amendments, to quote from the explanatory memorandum:

      So the suggestion of the member for Lalor, who should have known better but I guess she was just using 'polispeak', that this is a withdrawal of childcare support from the nation's families is just not the case.

      But it was even more stunning when the member for Lalor dismissed out of hand, for example, that we are seriously looking at the needs of all types of child care. This is because child care has to be flexible. It has to suit the needs of country and farming women, women in business, families in a metropolitan area, families with babies, families with toddlers and families with after-school care needs. It has to be a flexible, affordable and accessible program of child care across the country.

      I was stunned to hear the member for Lalor, who has an educational background, I am told, say, 'In-home care, for example, is just what rich people want to use and is highly unaffordable.' In fact, in-home care is often the care of choice for families with newborns and very young children who they know should be kept away from perhaps an infectious environment with lots of other children in their earliest years, especially their first 12 months of life. Also women who are shift workers who cannot get child care because they are nursing at night or policewomen working at night might need in-home care support. Why shouldn't we examine that as one of the alternatives available? We need to look at its regulation and the qualifications of men or women who might choose to offer that in-home care, but to condemn it on a philosophical basis as something for the rich—and I think they want to evoke the concept of a nanny on an umbrella or something—is just outrageous and shows you how out of touch the opposition is.

      I am becoming increasingly disappointed with the opposition's women who lay into paid parental leave, particularly what is being offered by our coalition, given that their scheme refused to allow superannuation for women. How outrageous that women should be expected to leave the workforce for the period that they nurture their newborns and not receive superannuation payments. That is extraordinary. That is breathtaking because it condemns a lot of those women in older age to being dependent on welfare when if they had had continuous superannuation through paid parental leave they could have been independent, even if they divorced or were, sadly, widowed. This is what we are getting from the opposition's women. It is quite extraordinary.

      Then in this area of child care and paid parental leave we are being condemned because we are having an inquiry that looks at the needs of Australians in child care and morphing into early childhood education which can happen in centres that have children from the age of newborns through to the year before they start school. Of course we should have an inquiry, because we inherited from Labor a one-size-fits-all approach.

      We were all aghast, particularly in Victoria, when Labor came up with this nonsensical idea without any academic research, journal articles or overseas international comparison behind it that every child should have 15 hours of early childhood education in every childcare centre across the country or perhaps not be eligible for support. The problem with saying that you have to have 15 hours is that in all our of rural and regional childcare centres you could not continue to have one qualified early childhood educator managing one centre. It was two shifts of children—two lots of children doing 10 hours each. That was 20 hours all up, plus preparation time. That worked in rural and regional communities in Victoria—two 10-hour early childhood education programs for two lots of children. But Labor's model, brought in without consultation with rural and regional Australia in particular, said you had to have 15 hours. As I say, there was no research behind that decision. It meant that right across my part of Victoria in particular we had a sacking of early childhood educators because they were required to have an additional person employed. You could not have one woman—it is usually a woman in early childhood education—doing 30 hours, plus preparation, in one centre with two lots of children. So they destroyed the framework for early childhood education in Victoria with the stroke of a pen. They called it a 'national quality framework'.

      I used to work in the Institute of Early Childhood as a lecturer in early childhood education for about seven years, so I am familiar with what other countries offer and what they have found to be efficacious when it comes to early childhood education. Nowhere has anyone said nine hours, 10 hours, 12 hours or 15 hours is the magic number. It depends very much on the circumstances in each part of the world and on how accessible the place is to parents when it is 15 hours versus, say, 10 hours. But we had this decree across the country that one size fits all. I am over this one-size-fits-all philosophy that came out of Labor during their six years which forgot that there are communities beyond tram tracks and beyond where buses stop. We do not have public sector transport in my electorate, and so if a family cannot drive a child to a session of early childhood education or child care then quite often that mother cannot get salaried employment off her property or farm or out of her house. I do not think it is right or fair to ignore the special needs of rural and regional families.

      I will never forget going to a wheat belt small town quite a distance from Kalgoorlie, but that was the nearest town centre. They had been hit by Labor's latest pronouncement that occasional child care had to go and that they could not possibly accept occasional child care any longer across Australia because, after all, wasn't occasional child care sort of part-time child care and how could they possibly continue to fund that? Apparently it was not as sustainable economically and financially as full-time, full-blown metropolitan child care. The point about this little wheat belt town in the back-of-beyond, near Kalgoorlie, was that they were farm families who needed part-time, occasional care in the midst of harvest, when the women and men were out from dawn till dusk. The alternative for them was to put their toddlers in grain bins to keep them safe They could not access occasional child care because the federal government had said they would not fund it any longer. In that small community I had the then member, Wilson Tuckey, with me. The women explained that they did not have enough children to have a full-time, 100 per cent functioning, five-days-a-week childcare centre. But their need for child care were overwhelming. Their children's lives were in danger if they were left out on the wheat properties during their peak harvest period, or perhaps when they had to go to an appointment with a doctor or take an elderly relative to an appointment with a specialist. They needed occasional child care, but Labor abolished it. They said you can keep going, but we are not going to fund you. But those families could not afford the funding without the government rebate.

      We are completely above that sort of one-stop-shop thinking. We know about rural and regional Australia because the members from the Liberal and National parties represent rural and regional Australia. We know that in-home care is as important for some families, and as affordable for some families, as paying $110 or $120 per day for a child in a professional centre away from the home. We know about that.

      We also know that it is not a luxury and that women who seek child care are not wicked people who choose to leave their house and play golf. We get that insinuation when we have the member for Lalor saying, 'How dare we pay millionaire women paid parental leave of $50,000.' How dare the member for Lalor pretend that there are millionaire women out there who are somehow going to rip off the system. She should know that our paid parental leave scheme is going to give a replacement salary to a women earning up to $100,000—not a million dollars, thank you member for Lalor. She has every right to be paid at her full salary, just as men have the same right if they are taking workplace related leave. I find it extraordinary that we have statements like that made in a debate like this that deliberately imply we have such a thing as a millionaire woman taking paid parental leave, who would then probably have the cheek to want in-home care for her child. That is the insinuation. This is class based rubbish that you would have thought would have been relegated to the history books. But, no, it is trotted out by the opposition again and again in this place. I find that very disappointing and appalling.

      I wish our Labor women members of parliament would tune in to their families and visit some of the women who have newborns and toddlers and would like very much to have the New Zealand option, where they even have a special visa category for women who come in as holidaymakers, but who pass through special regulations and checks, and become au pair type in-home carers. What a brilliant scheme. We are going to keep our minds open about all of those prospects and opportunities, because we understand that for some families in-home care is the answer, while occasional or part-time care is required for families who do not have a full-time need or are lucky enough to have a mother or mother-in-law nearby who can take up some of the child caring for them, but they still need some child care beyond the family.

      We have to understand that Australians are a very mixed brood with all sorts of different needs. We certainly do understand that quality child care is the key to all of this. You do not get quality by dictating to the workforce that if they do not get qualifications immediately, with a small fund—and they will only have access to that fund if they join a union—they will not be able to be child care managers. That is what we had under the previous government. We had a relationship identified where you had to be part of the union to access part of the Labor government's funding, which in turn could be used to qualify your child carers to teach the new magic 15 hours of child education a week.

      This is an extraordinary time in our Australian history. We have attacks on women and families coming from Labor, and particularly from Labor women. I think early generations of Labor women would be quite amazed about these attacks. We have attacks on paid parental leave, at their replacement salary, being a right for women. We have attacks on paid parental leave, because it is not being offered for a miserable three months but for six months, which the World Health Organization understands is the minimum time for breast feeding to be established and maintained. That is what our paid parental leave scheme gives women access to—six months on a replacement wage, or the minimum wage, whichever is the greater.

      How can someone across the aisle in the opposition rant and rave and say that is about millionaires. I find that breathtaking. I say, shame on you. We know, tragically, that fewer than two per cent of women in Australia earn over $100,000. You over there are suggesting that a woman can be paid a replacement salary and superannuation—as she is if she is currently in the public service, or if she works for the ABC as a journo, or the police force, or the defence force, or for a bank, or in the insurance industry—but, no, we are not supposed to allow that for other women in the workforce. The blue-collar workers, the contractors, the women who work on farms and the women who are casual or seasonal workers are not meant to be treated as eligible for superannuation and they are not regarded as needing six months to recover from child birth, to nurture their newborn and to establish breast feeding. All of that is not meant to be for them because those opposite think there is a political point to be scored. Child care is beyond politics.

      The bill before us is brilliant because it establishes appropriate support and funding for families who need it. I commend the bill to the House and I say to the opposition, particularly the women: shame on you for letting our side down—our side being women who need our special understanding in law making in this place.

      Debate adjourned.


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