Thursday, 3 December 2015
I rise today to talk about childcare reform at a time when we can see just how much of a missed opportunity and, indeed, an anticlimax the government's childcare reform process is turning out to be. After two years, a Productivity Commission review and three ministers, yesterday we finally saw the government's childcare legislation. I am going to talk about that a little bit more in a moment, but I want to first talk about what we have not see in this reform process.
We were told that this would be the biggest and the most comprehensive review that we have seen in decades in this country. We were told that it would look at addressing all of the issues in early childhood education. But what we now know is that this package includes absolutely nothing to address the issue of waiting lists, which are reaching a critical point in many areas across Australia. We also know that there are no bold, visionary reforms that many of us hoped to see through participating and going through this lengthy process. Other countries around the world are clearly heading in a certain direction when it comes to early childhood education. The evidence is compelling, and we can see around the world that leading nations are all moving towards universal access to early education. Many nations are looking at a number of free hours being provided for four-year-olds, moving down to three-year-olds as the reforms are further entrenched.
But, this government is not taking us in that direction. In fact, we are heading in precisely the opposite way. This is a missed opportunity for bold reform. It is a missed opportunity for us to really look at how we can make Australia's childcare system meet the needs of the future. When people suggest that we might want to look more at our school system, how parents find places in local schools and pay for them for their children, this is entrenching a bureaucratic, confusing and complicated system.
We have now seen the legislation and we still have more questions than answers. We do not know how many families will be worse off. We do know that the government have come up with an extraordinary way to spend over $3 billion making tens of thousands of Australian families pay more for their child care. We do not know how many children will have their access to early education cut in half. We do not know how many children will be kicked out of the system altogether. Key details are simply missing. They have been pushed off to the future. Definitions are missing. Details about eligibility are missing. Most troubling of all, information about the so-called safety net is completely absent. The government are saying: 'Just trust us—we'll deal with that later. We'll come up with solutions for vulnerable children at a later date.' When it comes to the most vulnerable children in this country, and the government are simply saying 'trust us', we know that we need better than that. We need solid information to be put forward. We need to not just specify a limit on how much support those children and families will get. It is just not good enough.
I stand here proud of a record of reform in early childhood education. I am proud that in government we managed to negotiate with every state and territory government of every different political persuasion to put in place the National Quality Framework and ensure that we further progressed the transformation of the sector from a babysitting service to professional early childhood educators. I am proud that we increased the childcare rebate from 30 to 50 per cent and that we moved from annual payments to not just quarterly payments but, indeed, fortnightly payments. I note that those opposite often get given talking points to parrot across the chamber about childcare fee increases. What they do not talk about is out-of-pocket costs and the fact that under the previous Labor government out-of-pocket costs for parents went down. Under this government they have soared, to the point where the government has stopped releasing data about it. We know that many families will be more out of pocket as a result of these reforms.
There are too many questions which have not been answered, but I can assure the families of Australian children and early childhood educators and providers that Labor does not intend to give the government a blank cheque when it comes to these childcare reforms. We have referred them to a Senate committee. We will make sure that the government stump up the basic information for this important debate. That means, at a minimum, that the government, who have done all the modelling, who know exactly how many people will be worse off and by how much, need to come forward and be honest with Australia about answers to these questions.