Thursday, 5 August 2021
Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Subsidy) Bill 2021; Consideration in Detail
[by video link] Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I am very pleased to speak to these amendments, because these amendments have one purpose—that is, to give families relief from childcare fees during COVID-19 lockdowns, when parents are asked to stay at home and not using child care but legally required to pay the full fees. I note that this is the second time that opposition has tried to move these amendments. It is disappointing to hear that, despite lockdowns across this country today, the government has signalled it will vote against these amendments again.
It is a feature of the current childcare subsidy system that, under normal circumstances, providers are legally required to enforce payment of their hourly session fees. Section 201B of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 states this. In practical terms this means that families are slugged with gap fees during the pandemic lockdown, unless the government grants the centres an exemption. The minister already had the power to grant exemptions for centres from charging gap fees under section 54A of the Child Care Subsidy Minister's Rules 2017. When the government passed the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020, it added a subsection to the family assistance administration act. This subsection created the ability for the minister to grant exemptions from the requirements to charge gap fees in particular events and circumstances. Section 54A of the minister's rules outlines the COVID related circumstances in which the minister is able to waiver the requirements of section 201B. So the government has the power to give families relief from gap fees during lockdown, but the government has chosen to use this selectively, only when it seems to suit it. It chose to use this power during the national lockdown last year and during the second lockdown in Victoria last year, and now finally it has been dragged kicking and screaming to use it in the current Sydney lockdown. Unfortunately, it has not used this power in the more recent lockdowns in Adelaide and Melbourne and isn't using it in the current lockdown in South-East Queensland.
Under the public health lockdowns in these cities, families are urged to stay at home with their children to protect the community, and childcare centres stay open to serve essential workers. But, in the circumstance where the government fails to provide the ability to do a waiver, then those centres are still legally required to charge all families gap fees. Even in Sydney, the Prime Minister waited two weeks before granting families this fee relief. One can only assume the government's hesitancy is because it doesn't want to then assume pressure for actually providing a decent relief package for the early education and care sector as, while it has finally provided the waiver of gap fees in New South Wales, it hasn't implemented a Victorian-style support package for the early learning sector.
The country needs to have certainty. Families need certainty. They need to know that, when stay-at-home orders are issued, they will not be slapped with gap fees, especially at a time when they may have lost their jobs or are doing it tough. So I urge the government today to support our amendment, to give some certainty to the early learning sector, certainty to families in the event that we will continue to see rolling lockdowns, because the government has botched quarantine and the vaccine rollout. I urge the government to provide this certainty and at the same time seriously look at a support package for the early learning sector in New South Wales, one that gives certainty, because this sector is unique: it is keeping its doors open, despite enrolments being down, so that essential workers still get that support. Please, give families this certainty. I plead with the government: give them the relief and make sure it's consistent across the country. I commend `this amendment to the House.