House debates

Thursday, 25 August 2011


Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010; Consideration of Senate Message

1:27 pm

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the amendments from the Senate. This is about making sure that the most disadvantaged children in Australia also have access to our massively expanded childcare budget. I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

1:28 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning) Share this | | Hansard source

Today Australian families have been slugged with another cost impost, with the government and the Greens decreasing the childcare rebate. Senator Hanson-Young should hang her head in shame. In a media release the Greens issued recently, Senator Hanson-Young is quoted as saying:

We would be extremely concerned about any changes to the childcare rebate that would make it harder for families to access affordable Early Childhood Education and Care … services …

Guess what, Senator—you have just voted in legislation to do exactly that.

I have accepted that the Labor government has no concern for families, that the Labor government does not understand the pressures that ordinary working Australian mums and dads, carers and grandparents are under. But I really have to question just how concerned the Greens are for the welfare of Australian families. 21,000 Australian families will now be worse off thanks to this appalling decision by the government and the Greens. Families will be almost $700 a year worse off. This $700 a year hit to families reminds me of the 700 pages of draft regulations which childcare centres are desperately trying to get their heads around for the government's national agenda. As childcare centres grapple with these changes to their staff ratios and staff qualifications—changes they are hopelessly unprepared for—their fees are being pushed up and their minister is continuing to disparage the sector, citing bad quality as the reason for these changes. This is a fail, a 'not yet competent', by this government and this minister and a real double whammy for families—fee increases at the same time as the government is desperately clawing back money from parents.

I understand there was a considerable amount of misinformation flying around the Senate yesterday and on Tuesday when this bill was being considered. It appears that all ALP members and senators are willing to take on the minister's figures as fact, but it is absolutely not true that childcare fees will only rise by 57c a week. I have evidence of centres having to raise their fees by between $18 and $25 a day in order to meet these requirements. One of these centres is council run and, as such, runs on a cost-neutral basis. I have visited many centres around the country and I can assure the parliament that they are first-rate to begin with, and these cost imposts come as a result of the new regulatory framework.

Gwynn Bridge, who is president of the Childcare Alliance, has noted in today's Australian that childcare fees are 'set to rise by between $12 and $22 a day next January'. This is the sort of research we can trust and it is backed up by the evidence of the calls that are coming to me and to other members on this side of the House. I am sure they are also coming to members on the other side of the House; perhaps they are just choosing to ignore them. The research that was undertaken at the coalface, talking to the people who actually care for our children, yet the government persists in relying on outdated research and academic studies that fail to take into consideration the real cost ramifications of running a childcare centre in the real world. Both the government and the Greens are happy to ignore this reality. They have sold out Australian families—families who are already doing it tough.

I understand that the minister believes families are willing to pay more for child care. Minister, I would welcome you coming to my electorate to talk to the families that I have been talking to and to the electorates of all of the members on this side of the House, who are in touch with families who are struggling to meet the increased costs of child care. Even an extra $5 a week is a real stretch for them, and in many cases we are seeing cost increases of $5 a day. For two children that is $10 a day. The rebate is now capped, which means that in some cases $10 a day is an out-of-pocket expense for parents.

Research undertaken by the Australian Childcare Alliance, which represents 70 per cent of all long day care centres, further proves my case. It shows that, in 2010, one in four families had a lot of difficulty making payments, 38 per cent were willing to consider reducing the hours their child spent at child care and 37 per cent were willing to consider one parent giving up work. Reality dictates that, unfortunately, it will most likely be the mothers in these families forced to give up employment.

The minister for child care is also the Minister for the Status of Women and the minister for employment participation—she really should pay attention to those other key areas of her portfolio. Minister, this bill does nothing to boost the workforce participation of women in this country; in fact, it does exactly the opposite. This is a sad day for Australian families. I am so disappointed that this bill has come back to this House, having failed to pass the Senate.

Question put:

That the amendments be agreed to.

The House divided.   [13:38]

(The Speaker—Mr Harry Jenkins)

Question agreed to.