House debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Child Care

3:31 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | Hansard source

I don't know why I have to shout. Really! I've listened carefully to everything the member for Kingston has said. I actually quite like the member for Kingston—she and I have been in this place awhile—so none of this is personal, but I still don't like having to shout. I want to give people who may be listening to the broadcast a sense of the contrast between Labor's policy and ours.

I want to talk about ours now. One of the reasons our childcare system is working well is that our once-in-a generation set of reforms—we introduced them in 2018—saw out-of-pocket costs for parents fall. Even two years later, thanks to our reforms, out-of-pocket costs for families remain 3.2 per cent lower than under the previous childcare package, as reported by the ABS. The critical thing about any childcare system is that it has to be targeted. It has to have at its core the principle that those who earn the least receive the highest level of subsidy—in our case, 85 per cent. I come back to those childcare centres that provide early education and care for some of the most vulnerable children, many for whom home is not a safe place to be. Family units are dysfunctional. There is no blame apportioned to this; there's just a recognition that those little children need to be in a safe, secure, supported environment. If it means that people whose annual income is $1 million have to perhaps not get the same level of subsidy in order that we support those vulnerable families, then I think that makes a lot of sense. And that's what I mean when I say our system is targeted.

In our system, over 70 per cent of families have out-of-pocket costs of less than $5 an hour. Nearly a quarter are paying less than $2 an hour for centre based child care, because we don't want to turn those families away. We want them to know that these opportunities are there for them. Demand for child care is now higher than pre COVID, and that's a good sign for the economy recovering, which the member for Kingston is keen to see, as are we. Nationally, attendance levels at day care centres were 112 per cent of pre COVID levels by early November, and women's workforce participation has also increased under our package. These are all good indicators that the package is pitched right for the economy. It has the flexibility in it to move. Remember, under Labor, fees increased by 53 per cent and sharp practices were rife. Since coming to government, we've actually saved $3.2 billion by addressing non-compliant behaviour. You've got to be tough to do that, but we did it. It was behaviour that Labor did nothing about.

Our childcare package has always supported families who need extra support, and I am focusing on these families because they are some of the most important families in this debate. As a family's income decreases, the amount the government provides increases. That means we support those who need it most. Even more support is available for those who need it. So 95 per cent subsidies are already available for families who are transitioning to work—that's a very challenging time of life—and, effectively, free child care, up to 120 per cent subsidy, is already available for families experiencing financial hardship.

There is no magic pudding where a policy can be all things to all people, and it is quite appropriate that families earning $1 million do not have a level of subsidy that is six times, for example, that of a single parent on $50,000 a year. It is completely—

Ms Rishworth interjecting

And that's the problem, Member for Kingston. It's the same. It needs to be flexible and recognise and provide more support to those on lower incomes. On budget night I was expecting from the Leader of the Opposition something a little bit more than another investigation by the Productivity Commission. But an investigation that looks at a 90 per cent subsidy rate? I don't know how members of the Labor Party who heard this in policy development let that through. Families who have experienced a decrease in hours due to COVID—and I want to recognise them in this debate—can still access the maximum hours of subsidy because the activity test has been relaxed. Our budget focus is on jobs. It's on getting people into work and it's on training, and those are the flow-on benefits that we'll see in the sector. Parents and carers are taking up work and training opportunities—that's a good thing. Demand for care will increase and the system will recognise that. Our childcare system is working very well indeed, and it's supporting families with what families are able to access. And remember that the economy, more broadly, is supported by the measures that we introduced in the last budget.

This MPI is on child care. I think it's an opportunity for members of the Labor Party to disavow that policy. It was probably a bit unwise to say on budget night that they were going to investigate moving to a 90-per-cent subsidy for child care for every Australian family. They should just remember that there would be very large payments for families on very large incomes. Families earning a million dollars with two children in centre based care currently receive nothing under our government's policy, and I'm proud to say that. But I really question the thinking of the Labor Party. What has happened to the modern Labor Party that they have produced something so strange, so unwieldy and so unfair?


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