Thursday, 8 October 2020
Matters of Public Importance
As a father of three adult children who all went in their early years to child care, I realise the full importance and the formative nature of early childhood education and care. In a lot of these debates in MPIs the other side always takes some supposed moral high ground, but two of the speakers said we haven't got anything in the budget for child care or for families, so I am flabbergasted. They must have earmuffs on. They must have closed their eyes and not listened to all the help that we put into the childcare sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. My goodness! There was a $1.9 billion rescue package to get the childcare system up and running again, let alone to get it to survive and stay viable during that. There's been a transition payment of hundreds of millions of dollars as well after the immediate shock and the free childcare period ended. I think there's exactly $708 million in that transition package.
The ABS has looked at the direct family cost for child care, and since the reforms in 2018, when the payments went directly to the childcare service, there was a 3.2 per cent reduction in direct cost for families. The reforms in 2018 were targeted. The whole aim of the exercise is to support those who need the most support. So low-income earners who were working, studying or retraining got more support. Seventy per cent of people are paying less than $5 an hour as a result of those reforms; 25 per cent of people are paying less than $2 per hour. There is more childcare subsidy for some special categories of people. People who are transitioning back into work can get up to a 95 per cent subsidy for the child care that their children receive. People who are in extreme financial difficulty basically get it for free; it's a 120 per cent subsidy. And special categories of people needing extra assistance—grandparents et cetera—are all catered for in this system.
The proof of the pudding is always in the eating, and figures show that in August 2019 workforce participation was at an all-time high of 66.29 per cent. In January 2020, as the COVID steamroller came through, female participation—those earlier figures I gave were for both male and female—was at its highest, at 61½ per cent, compared with 58.7 per cent back in 2013, when the coalition government became responsible for child care once again. If you look at the amount of activity in study, training or work, 56 per cent were reaching 48 hours of activity, whereas now it is 63 per cent. That's almost a seven per cent increase. As I said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Child care is really important. All of us on this side realise how important it is. And to have record funding going into child care—it's staggering, the amount we are putting into it now: $10.7 billion will be reached in the coming years. This current year, it's $9.2 billion. If you look at the figures back in 2013, it wasn't anywhere near that—billions of dollars less—and childcare subsidies were all chewed up in the first couple of months, and people were paying more directly above their equivalent subsidy rate. So, we have plenty of good runs on the record.
As I said, some of the people on the other side choose to ignore the facts. We all accept criticism where criticism is due, but surely we have a childcare system that, while it's not perfect—hey, we're not Scandinavia, we're not Germany; we're Australia—is better than the systems of many other nations in the world. It's better than it was in 2013. We've kept it afloat, kept it viable and kept the doors open during the pandemic with the restrictions in place. We have kept the centres viable. Yet the general tax measures in the budget will also help them. (Time expired)