Monday, 27 February 2017
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017; Second Reading
What an absolute disgrace it is that this piece of legislation is before the federal parliament. Let us be very clear. What we have before us is a slap in the face to every mother, every father and every family who has cried out and said, 'We need greater assistance when it comes to the Australian childcare system,' because what the Turnbull government is saying to every one of those families is: 'You are just not a priority for us. We cannot possibly deliver anything unless you agree, at the same time, to cuts to the assistance that is given to some of the most vulnerable Australians in our community.' That is the choice that the Turnbull government is putting forward here—that, unless you are prepared to let pensioners have it, to let new mums have it, to let low-income Australian families have it, to let young unemployed Australians have it, there can absolutely not be any childcare reform for you. Every one of those members opposite is saying that to every family in their electorate.
It is not just families that have been waiting for many, many years to see some reform in this area. This government has also made history. They actually went an entire term of parliament in which they did absolutely nothing to assist the Australian childcare system. Sorry, I should correct that—they did one thing. They introduced their absolute dud of a nanny pilot program. That is the only thing they managed to achieve when it comes to trying to help Australian families with the cost, accessibility and quality of Australian child care.
I want to say up-front that Labor absolutely wants to see more investment in early childhood education and care. Labor absolutely was to see improvements and reforms to improve the system both for Australian parents and, importantly, for Australian children. For years, we have said that we would try and work with the government to come up with a package that this parliament could support and see through, and it is a great pity that the government have not taken us up on that offer.
This is the third time now that we have seen these proposed changes to childcare reform. Even though Labor and many stakeholders have been pointing out the problems with these childcare reforms for more than 18 months, the government still just do not get it or they still just do not care, because what they are proposing, putting aside all the cuts and just looking at the childcare changes, will leave one in three families worse off. It takes the special kind of genius that the Turnbull government seems to possess to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make Australian families worse off! But we should be very clear that that is exactly what the bill before the House would do.
We should also consider that this government which says it is so urgent that this bill be passed by the House because Australian families are relying on these childcare changes is the very same government that has pushed back the implementation of these changes. They will not come into effect this financial year, and they will not come into effect next financial year.
What the government have done is refused to fix the problems in their proposal, and now they are holding any childcare reform to ransom for an extended shopping list of cruel cuts—cuts to pensioners, cuts to new mums, cuts to jobseekers, cuts to lower-income families, cuts to the very Australians who can least afford to bear the burden of more cruel targeting from Malcolm Turnbull and this out-of-touch government. And isn't that a story we are hearing far too often from this government?
Let me say now what the Prime Minister will not: 1½ million families will be worse off as a result of this government's cuts to family tax benefits. There are around one million families accessing the early education system right now in Australia. This bill before the House seeks to rob Peter to pay Paul. Families on the FTB A supplement will be worse off by $200 per child per year. Around 300,000 families losing the supplement will not receive the increase to the fortnightly rate, because they are on the base rate FTB A. They may already be struggling to make ends meet, but, according to Prime Minister Turnbull, they are the ones who must be forced to pay. They are the only ones that this government can find to target. A single-parent family on $60,000 with a 17-year-old child in high school will be around $3,300 a year worse off. If that is help for families, I think families would prefer the Turnbull government to just leave them alone.
On top of the family tax benefit cuts, this bill has even more cuts. It will slash paid parental leave, hurting around 70,000 new mums trying to raise their young families. We all know that the overwhelming evidence about the importance to mums but to their babies of having time in the newborn phase to spend together, to bond and to breastfeed. Other cuts include: ripping away energy supplements to pensioners, to Newstart recipients, to people with disabilities and to carers; pushing young people onto lower bands of Youth Allowance; scrapping the Pensioner Education Supplement and the Education Entry Payment; and stopping the pension to migrant pensioners who spend more than six weeks overseas. These are the proposals that the government speakers are not going to stand up and talk about, but these are the very real impacts that this legislation would have.
Linking their proposed childcare changes to these cuts is not only unfair—they are not even needed. Arthur Sinodinos, Malcolm Turnbull's right-hand man, said it best and most honestly when he admitted that the link between these cuts and the childcare reforms was for purely political purposes. At least he was up-front about it—more than any of the government speakers in this House are going to be. It is also important to remember that Labor has already supported over $6 billion in saving measures, which we saw as fair. We do not pretend that early childhood education comes free of charge; we just think that the government is charging the wrong people here. Just today in the media we have seen the government announce that it will finally be acting on rorting in Family Day Care and expecting to save another $250 million, which could be redirected back into the childcare system. That could mean that $250 million is not required in cuts to vulnerable Australians, but they have not amended the bill to do that. This is on top of close to $1 billion in savings that they have already made through changes to Family Day Care rules, changes which were supported by this side of the chamber.
Let's call it out for the rubbish that it is—that these cuts to vulnerable Australians are needed in order to deliver reform to child care is simply not the case. It is government spin and it is purely for political purposes. Of course, government is about priorities, but this government is saying that families are not a priority of theirs and that early childhood education and care is not priority of theirs. Yet, funnily enough, they have a priority to spend $50 billion on corporate tax cuts for multinational companies. You do not see them coming in here and talking about the need for cuts to fund that, because it is a priority of theirs and they can find the money for that, but child care is not.
We know that the government thinks that the only way they can pay for child care is by making lower- and middle-income Australians pay for it, but that does not stack up. Labor will stand up and call out that lie; and we will fight for the families that we represent. The government has also admitted to a significant reduction in the cost of their own policy. When they reintroduced their childcare changes in September last year, their election material and their campaign newsletters talked about their $3 billion childcare reform package. They repeated this claim in the media and in all of their backbenchers' newsletters, but the documents now before this parliament are showing that they are only investing half of what they initially promised into their childcare changes. Investment has dropped to just $1.6 billion. But does this mean that they have abandoned the cuts to pensioners, the cuts to the unemployed, the cuts to families, the cuts to new mums? No, of course not. It is just another example of this government being cruel and tricky.
Let's be very clear: this is not a plan to help families, and the government knows it. The only plan is to rip money from household budgets across Australia whilst giving tax breaks to big multinationals and, of course, to the banks. Labor cannot and will not support this bill, not just because of its farcical links to family tax benefit cuts. It is not just because parents would not see any relief when it comes to the childcare system until mid-2018, but it is also because there are details in these changes that have long caused us great concern. As I have made clear, we want to see improvements to the childcare system. We will support government measures to streamline, to improve and to simplify the system, but these proposals also include measures like threats to Indigenous and remote child care services and like the unfair activity test which would have a detrimental effect on some of the children who most need this parliament to stand up and fight for them.
There is nothing new about these problems. They have been exposed by two Senate inquiries; they have repeatedly been pointed out by Labor; they have been raised by early childhood experts and the sector. Proposing a package with such serious flaws once could possibly be considered as a mistake, but to introduce a bill three times in a row shows that the Liberals simply do not care about the most vulnerable children in Australia. It is shameful that each one of the government speakers will come in here and not once will they try to justify why they will threaten the viability of Indigenous services—why it is that they will see some of the remote regional services shutdown as a result of these proposals and why it is that they will cut the access of disadvantaged Australian children to early childhood education as a result of these measures.
We know that the government's proposed childcare changes will negatively impact Indigenous children—children who already have lower early education enrolment rates than the average in every state and territory. We are also worried about the impact on mobile services that serve families and children in Australia's rural, remote and regional communities. These are services that families rely upon and that are the only way those children have access to early childhood education. The government's package will scrap the budget-based funded program that provides subsidies to services. They have not been able to explain how pushing 300 Indigenous and mobile providers into so-called mainstream funding arrangements will work and they have not been able to guarantee that these services will not be forced to close. There is a very good reason they will not give that guarantee. We know that the services provide education to around 20,000 children, many of whom come from the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in our society. For Indigenous children Labor will stand up and fight. We will stand up and say that we cannot support a package which would see more money going towards the childcare system and less money going towards the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children in Australia. It is immoral to turn our focus away from the children who need this parliament to stand up and fight for them the most. We know the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care has warned that:
These changes will diminish our kids potential to make a smooth transition to school compounding the likelihood of intergenerational disempowerment and unemployment. Children will fall behind before they have even started school and they will suffer greater risk of removal into out-of-home care.
That is what we will be voting on in this parliament.
The second major concern that Labor has is with the government's proposed activity test for subsidised care. The introduction of the new complicated test would remove the current entitlement of all children in Australia to have access to two days of early education. We know that this test—