House debates

Monday, 14 July 2014

Grievance Debate


5:25 pm

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

There are now countless examples of the Abbott government saying one thing to the voters of Australia before the election and proceeding to do the exact opposite afterwards. Before the election it was crystal clear: we were promised no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions and no cuts to the ABC. Each and every one of these pledges has been shown to be an utter sham, inflicted upon the Australian public for trusting this Prime Minister would keep his word and lead the government he promised to.

There are devastating consequences of this, but arguably there is no area where the consequences are more devastating than in the area of education. Before the election the government was crystal clear: no cuts to education. But already, in these early days of the Abbott government, we have seen devastating cuts to the education sector ranging from early childhood, where over $1 billion in cuts has been announced; to our schools, with this budget containing the biggest cuts to school funding in this nation's history; and, of course, the over $5 billion in cuts to and attacks on our higher education sector, which will impact on university students past, present and future.

The Australian public has been betrayed and instead has been delivered huge cuts in just a matter of months. These cuts, like so many others made by the Prime Minister in this unfair budget, hit hardest those who can least afford it. When we look at early childhood education, for example, we know that all we have ever seen from this government is distraction, cuts, thought bubbles, backflips and more serious cuts to existing assistance. That is not helping a single family in Australia and it is having a devastating impact out there.

The Productivity Commission inquiry into child care and early childhood learning is due to hand down a report in the coming weeks, yet the government has not been able to resist making deep and devastating cuts to the sector even before the draft report has been released. Already we have seen over $1 billion of cuts to child care announced, ranging from out-of-school-hours care and family day care to the childcare rebate and the childcare benefit; and we have seen indication after indication that this government is not done when it comes to cutting childcare assistance.

I want to particularly focus on one of the areas which will be hardest hit as a result of this government's actions, and that is the family day care sector. Family day care provides services in rural and remote areas, in areas of disadvantage and in areas of childcare shortage. It provides a great option of care for parents who do not work the standard nine to five work day. For a government which told the Australian public it was looking at increasing flexibility in the system, it makes no sense to deliver such devastating blows to the family daycare sector—yet that is what they have done. This government has already announced $150 million of cuts to the family daycare sector and we are already beginning to see the serious impact that is having, with services already announcing closures around the country.

Here is a comment from a parent on the Family Day Care Australia Facebook page that sums up what families think of this government's blind cutting campaign. A parent wrote:

Ridiculous that changes would be made that jeopardise childcare places that are already inadequate to cover demand.

Services are making decisions to close right now based on advice from this government that they will no longer be eligible for funding. The Bayside Bulletin and The Redland Times have reported that the Brisbane and Bayside Family Day Care will lose more than $300,000 in funding. The Central Coast Express Advocate reports that Child and Family Services Wyong Shire face a potential drop of more than $100,000 in operational funding. The Weipa Family Day Care Scheme has confirmed that it will close its doors in December this year, based on the devastating impact of the Abbott government's cuts to these sectors, following false statements before the last election that there would be no cuts.

This is another area where I think people would be shocked to hear of the National Party's silence on this issue. It is families in regional Australia and families in remote Australia—families who work outside the normal nine-to-five hours—who absolutely rely on family day care services when there are not any others available, yet we hear nothing from those opposite, who just sit back and let their Minister for Education and Assistant Minister for Education cut, cut and cut some more when it comes to child care.

It is absurd that those opposite would go through the process of getting the Productivity Commission to look at ways that we can have more flexible childcare services when we know that the existing scheme allows family day carers, if they pass their regulations, to care for children in those children's own homes in order to meet the shifts that parents are working. The government are shutting down flexibility. Of course, we should not be surprised that they are shutting down flexibility, because they are also attacking accessibility by cutting the $3 million program which was solely designed to create more childcare places in area of need. This government just quietly cut it; they just added it to the chopping block amongst the billion dollars in cuts to the early childhood sector. They are, instead, pitting parents against each other as a means to soften the ground for more cuts.

We saw the Assistant Minister for Education talking on the weekend about cutting childcare assistance to families who have a stay-at-home parent and trying to pretend that this was being done to ensure that working parents had access to a childcare place. Well, perhaps the assistant minister is incompetent and does not know the system which she is now in charge of, because there are already guidelines for priority access which ensure that childcare services must offer places to working parents ahead of those that stay at home. We also know that whilst the assistant minister could just enforce these guidelines, this is nothing more than yet another excuse for yet another cut.

We know that before the election the Prime Minister wrote to all childcare centres across the country warning of the impact of freezing the childcare rebate cap, yet after the election he did just that. The latest cut to child care, though, and the bill which will be debated in the House of Representatives this week, is extraordinary. The bill before the House of Representatives does absolutely nothing but cut childcare assistance to low- and middle-income Australian families. It cuts childcare assistance to the families who need it the most, to families on a family income as little as $42,000 per year. This is a program that is means tested, it is a program that is modest and it is a program that is targeted. The government can try to use all of the semantics that they like to call it one thing and say it is not a cut, but their own department admitted in the Senate inquiry that 500,000 Australian families will be worse off as a result of the legislation if it is to pass the parliament.

I hope that some of those opposite might take a moment to consider whether it is a good idea to blindly follow their education ministers and cut the existing assistance that families rely upon at the same time that their government is pursuing their over-$20-billion Paid Parental Leave scheme, which will hand out cheques of $50,000 to the wealthiest families, who do not need it at all. I hope that some of those opposite might take a moment to ask a few questions in the party room, to stand up for the families that they are meant to be representing, to stand up for the families on low and middle incomes who qualify for this means tested payment, which will be cut by $230 million if the government has its way.

Let me be quite clear: this is an unprecedented attack. No previous government has ever moved to cut or freeze the childcare benefit. Of course, we know that this is just another example of the twisted priorities—the devaluing of education and seeing it as a cost and not an investment—that we see repeatedly from this government. But this is a hit to the children who need this assistance the most. This is a hit to vulnerable children who we know have the most to gain from quality early childhood education. These are children who did not even have the opportunity to be fooled by Tony Abbott's promises that there would be no cuts to education but who will be the ones who pay the price.

Opposition Member:

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of Kate EllisKate Ellis (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, a very good point; thank you. They will be the ones who pay the price for this. And I note that there are thousands of particularly vulnerable children in the Northern Territory. I had the opportunity to go up there last week and talk to them about the fact that they deserve to have members in this place who stand up and fight for them, not sit silently and allow— (Time expired)