House debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021


Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Early Childhood Education and Care Coronavirus Response and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading

6:47 pm

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | Hansard source

The Treasurer is an even bigger embarrassment, with his attempts to make a scapegoat of the pandemic rather than admit the ineptitude before and during COVID. He's running the economy into the ground, as I said earlier, having tripled the debt even before we were in the situation of a pandemic.

Whilst the government's free childcare policy was failing, the government's response, rather than listening to the experts and working on fixing the policy's oversight, was naturally to blame the providers. They sent strongly worded communiques to providers, threatening their funding if they didn't provide enough places and hours. They knew that the services weren't funded to do so. The services weren't able to do that. The government bullied small business operators—and I know, because I had phone calls with people who told me what had been said to them—and they expected more of overworked staff. This government will happily throw any Australian job and any business, or even industry, under the bus if it's in the best interests of the Prime Minister and the spin the government wants to put on it.

What I find most incredible in this whole mess was the government's decision to set up a new hotline to encourage families to dob in providers. What a complete debacle! As if families are going to dob in a service they've chosen to care for their children, especially when places are impossible to get and they're absolutely desperate! The government were looking for someone to blame for their failed policy. It wasn't the fault of the providers, who do an outstanding job and are under so much pressure. It was the lack of guidance and clear direction and support from a government that was clearly flailing.

I don't think it's right, in fact. We talk about the Prime Minister being the master of spin. Well, I'm not actually sure that he is, because, the longer his term goes, the more the spin is wearing thin and the shine's wearing off. Monday was a prime example, with the women of Australia calling out the PM for his blatant disregard for consequences. I think anyone who was looking for childcare places during the pandemic would also say that there was blatant disregard for consequences. It seems no minister was held to account for the bungling of the childcare rollout or, for that matter, of grants programs or half-baked childcare policies—or worse, it would seem. It's just a culture of no accountability; of a complete lack of capacity, it would seem, on the front bench and in the cabinet; and, frankly, of moral failure right around this government.

So now what is the government's response to the mess they made with their underfunded, poorly targeted, headline-grabbing policy? They've decided to revert to the confusing and expensive Prime Minister Morrison designed childcare subsidy system. Childcare fees are out of control and providers are being dragged through a long and convoluted process to understand anything the government is trying to achieve. Why would the government snap back to its ill-designed prior policy when they already know, after 2½ years, that the childcare system they designed and any proposed benefits have been entirely eroded for many Australian families? ABS data shows that for parents in Brisbane, Sydney and Darwin, child care is now more expensive than when the system was introduced in mid-2018. The benefit has almost been entirely eroded nationally, showing the system has really been a complete failure.

The Prime Minister himself dubbed the system a once-in-a-generation reform and promised it would make child care more affordable. In fact, it has done the reverse. It has made it more expensive and harder to get. The coalition has never delivered generational reform. They don't know how to deliver generational reform. We have had a generation of entitled politicians who have delivered no reform at all. That's actually not generational reform. Superannuation, Medicare, the NBN and the NDIS are all life-changing reforms. They are the sorts of things we need. After eight years, one would think we would see some glimmer of an idea from a government of making reform. We know we need to get women back to work. We know that we need increased capacity in our workforce to grow our economy, especially after this pandemic has riven many families and made it so difficult. But it seems as though this government is absolutely determined not to deliver.

Last year the federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and I attended my old preschool, the Kurri Kurri & District Preschool, which I went to from 1973. We spoke to the team there. They're a terrific group of people. Some of them have been doing this since the 1970s and beyond. They shared some of the challenges the industry is facing. They talked about the fantastic program they offer local Kurri kids. They do a magnificent job. I would love for the Prime Minister to go back to the community and, rather than offer some off-in-the-distance gas program that will never happen, talk to some of these childcare workers. Prime Minister, go and pick their brains for really good insight. They are professionals who know what they are talking about and can point you in the right direction of how to set up a decent childcare system that is fair and equitable for Australians, rather than the wasteful, convoluted system we have been landed with. Across my electorate of Paterson I have just over 10,000 children who are under four, and all their parents vote. I hope they really think about what this government has delivered for them and know that Labor will deliver.


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