House debates

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Child Care

3:27 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | Hansard source

Bob Carr said it was a brain explosion which could not be explained. And it's true, because they wanted nothing to do with it and then the shadow minister for employment wanted nothing to do with it. It was one of those policies that dropped, and everyone went, 'Ugh!' It was a bit like something that appears in a bath when you're bathing young children—everyone just goes, 'Ah!' It was an extraordinary piece of policy, and I look forward to hearing from the Leader of the Opposition tonight when he gets up and admits this by saying: 'The policy we as the Labor party took to the last election was an unmitigated disaster, it was rushed and it wasn't thought through. We had no plan. We admit we got it wrong.' That would be a good start of the Leader of the Opposition's speech tonight.

On this side, we're implementing our plan. It was a plan that went through this parliament just over two years ago, and it was a plan which was designed to make sure that we were supporting those on the lowest incomes to get their children cared for. It was a good, sensible policy. Our childcare plan is targeted so that those who earn the least receive the highest level of subsidy—those who work, train or study the most receive more hours of support. It is good, sensible policy.

CPI data shows that our changes on average across the country have delivered real savings to families, and this is something that those opposite find very difficult. Our policies have reduced out-of-pocket costs by 3.2 per cent from July 2018 to March 2020. It was a plan which was designed to support those who earnt the least and it was a plan designed to have out-of-pocket expenses for families reduced, and it's worked.

One of the key things that the Morrison government has done throughout this pandemic is make sure that our childcare sector has been sustained and has remained viable during this pandemic, because we understood from the very start that, if we were to get out of this pandemic and this health induced crisis, it would be incredibly important for the childcare sector to be there and to be viable to make sure that working families were able to get their children looked after as they went back to work. It has been successful, and I can say that because that's what the sector itself says. I take this opportunity to thank the sector for what they've done throughout the pandemic, and I thank them for working with the government to make sure that the policies we put in place were right and sustained the sector.

Outside of Victoria, we now see demand in our childcare sector at greater levels than what they were when we went into the pandemic. That's how successful we've been at carrying the sector through this pandemic. You only have to look at what's happened in the UK, in the US and everywhere else across the world to sit back and be able to say, 'Here in Australia, this is one of the policy settings that we got right.' I thank the sector, because it was their hard work, their advice and their engagement with the government which enabled us to do that.

This is what Elizabeth Death from the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia has had to say:

'We applaud the Government's commitment to ensuring that early learning and care services could survive the COVID-19 pandemic,' … 'The Government's financial support for sector viability was absolutely critical and valued.'

The Australian Childcare Alliance president, Paul Mondo, had this to say:

"We commend the government for recognising the unique circumstances facing Victorian early learning services and for continuing the extensive support offered to our vital sector since the beginning of the pandemic."

…   …   …

"This Recovery Payment, coupled with the extension of the Activity Test exemption, ensures financial viability for Victorian service providers during a period of economic uncertainty," … "It allows all Australian families up to 100 hours of subsidised care each fortnight, regardless of any recent changes to their income or work activities in the COVID-19 climate."

There you have it from the sector itself: our measures—$900 million all up, still ongoing in Victoria to support them and still ongoing with regard to the activity test changes we made for the whole nation—are supporting the sector as we grow out of this pandemic.

I say to Australians: be very careful about what those opposite say about child care. Don't listen to what they say; have a look at what they have done. Because, the last time they were in office, as we heard, we saw fee hikes as high as 50 per cent. On this side, it's 3.2 per cent below; for those opposite, it's fee hikes over 50 per cent. So don't listen to what they say; listen to what happens. Look at their policies. Look at what their policies have led to. Look at the policy that they took to the last election, which they couldn't wait to walk away from. That is the type of approach that you get from those opposite. I haven't even started yet on why the unions and how the unions drive the policies of those opposite, but I'll leave that for another day.

Another thing that our package has done, which those opposite seem very reluctant to acknowledge, is that it has increased workforce participation. As a matter of fact, overall workforce participation was the highest on record in August 2019 for men and women, at 66.2 per cent, as a result of putting in place a plan and a policy which incentivised workforce participation and which incentivised people, if they weren't working, to be training, reskilling, educating or volunteering, to make sure that, when there were opportunities for them to join the workforce, they were able to do so.

So what we've seen is a plan. It's a plan which has been put in place and implemented over the last two years. It's a plan which has seen out-of-pocket expenses reduced by 3.2 per cent. It's a plan which has seen over 70 per cent of families have out-of-pocket costs of less than $5 an hour per child and, for nearly a quarter, pay less than $2 per hour per child for centre based child care. So it is a plan that has worked. It's kept fees down. It has increased workforce participation, and it has enabled us to carry the sector throughout this pandemic so 99 per cent of providers are viable and offering services to make sure that Australians can get back to work.

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