Thursday, 24 October 2019
Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Building on the Child Care Package) Bill 2019; Second Reading
It's always a pleasure to rise in this place and speak about the importance of our childcare system and the support that we are providing to it. I'm pleased to rise and speak in support of the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Building on the Child Care Package) Bill 2019, which will make it easier for families and childcare providers accessing early childhood education. I have the great privilege of representing the electorate of Forde. In that electorate, I have many young families who very much take advantage of the education facilities in early childhood that are available across the electorate. I have the pleasure, as part of my job, of regularly going and visiting our childcare centres to see the great job that they are doing across the electorate of Forde. It's the thousands of young children attending those local childcare centres and kindergartens that this bill looks to support.
We've always been a great supporter of the educators and the staff—as well as the children—who do such a great job each and every day looking after the next generation of Australians. It's always a rewarding experience to visit these centres and hear from the teachers, the directors and the families to gain some valuable insight into how they're doing. During my visits I have the opportunity to present them with flags—they're always impressed with that—and the books that we provide. We take the opportunity to provide these books because it's a great way to seek to encourage children to develop the love of reading. I believe that this is one of the keys to a great start in life. At every opportunity I take part in story time and enjoy making reading as fun as possible, because when learning is fun kids are more likely to engage and grow. Our children are the future. As someone who is getting to the stage where I'm thinking that maybe at some point in the next few years my children will have children of their own, and I'll have grandchildren, it's more important than ever that we continue to support the childcare sector so they can continue to give our kids a great head start in life.
The Morrison government is committed to ensuring that families are supported, too. Our childcare package implemented in July last year has ensured more financial support is targeted to the families who work the most and earn the least. This package delivered approximately $8 billion in 2018-19 to support families and will grow to $8.6 billion in 2019-20, increasing to over $10 billion a year in the coming years. The Morrison government has paid subsidies to more than 1.1 million families to support the childcare needs of some 1.6 million children since July 2018. This is a worthwhile investment in our children's early childhood education, but also in the families and parents across Australia. It means parents may be able to return to work sooner, earn an income or more income, and support their families while their children are in care. More importantly, our once-in-a-generation reforms have delivered a 7.9 per cent reduction in out-of-pocket costs to parents since the package was introduced. The new childcare package is providing more access and more financial support for those who need it most. In fact, around one million Australian families who are balancing work and parental responsibilities are benefitting from the package and 75 per cent pay no more than $50 a day in daycare centres. Within that, 25 per cent may pay no more than $20 a day. The new childcare package represents the most significant reform to the early childhood education and care system in 40 years.
This bill will make life easier for families and providers accessing the childcare subsidy. It makes some important refinements to the operation of the government's childcare package that was implemented in July 2018. In particular, the bill will make it easier for families and childcare providers, particularly those who only attend care in the school holidays, by extending the time frame for ceasing enrolments due to non-attendance from eight to 14 weeks. This will greatly reduce the regulatory burden on both families and childcare providers by eliminating the need for children to be re-enrolled following most regular breaks in attendance, such as when a child attends care during school holidays but not during school terms. It will remove the 50 per cent limit on the number of children childcare providers can certify for the additional childcare subsidy, to allow providers to better meet the needs of children at risk of serious abuse and neglect.
The bill will create a rule for the minister's rule-making power to enable specified third-party payments to be used in combination with the childcare subsidy to reduce or eliminate gap fees for vulnerable and disadvantaged families. This includes a provision to prevent childcare providers charging higher fees because a third party is contributing to the cost of childcare. It will create a minister's rule-making power to allow a subsidy to be paid in limited circumstances where children do not attend care at the end or start of an enrolment to ensure parents are not unfairly disadvantaged—for example, where a child is absent at the start or end of their enrolment due to illness.
The bill will include provisions to support delivery of in-home care such as power to specify eligibility criteria for families to access an in-home care service. It will make another number of minor policy refinements, clarifications and corrections. There will also be an amendment to clarify that providers are required to ensure that individuals who are providing care on behalf of the provider hold current working-with-children checks. Currently, providers are required to ensure that employees hold a working-with-children card under state and territory law where the service is located. This provision has resulted in some ambiguities, as a requirement is unable to be applied consistently across different states and territories, as some states and territories issue physical working-with-children cards, while others electronically register individuals required to have those checks. This amendment will change that requirement to ensure that consistent standards are applied to individuals who provide care.
Since July last year, the government has continued to listen to the feedback from families and the childcare sector on what aspects of the childcare package have worked well, their concerns and what could be improved. The key measures contained in the bill reflect this feedback and the early findings from the formal evaluation processes. The changes in this bill will reduce the regulatory burden on families and care providers, providing vulnerable and disadvantaged families access to quality early learning and child care, and help families access the financial assistance to support their participation in the workforce. When it comes to reforming childcare, it is this government that has put the time and effort in to consult with parents, families and childcare providers. We've done the hard yards and are beginning to see the benefits of the government's childcare package, which is delivering significant and much-needed reform. The government's reforms will assist childcare centres across the electorate of Forde. As I said earlier, I get to visit many regularly, whether it's the Amaze childcare centre at Ormeau, the Waterford Early Learning Centre or the childcare centres at Boronia Heights, which do a fantastic job each and every day in supporting children who, sadly, live in some very difficult circumstances. The early learning centres in Eagleby equally support families, many of whom struggle each day just to make ends meet. That is why the changes in this bill to support these hardworking families are so critically important.
As we move forward, we will continue to see the opportunities that are created by a sound early education system and we hope that, as the children go through early education, into preschool and then into primary school, the skills that are built in our early learning systems provide them with the foundations necessary. As they build their lives and grow, we will see the results flow through from their education in primary and high school. The whole purpose of our education system, from early education right through to our tertiary education system, is to ensure that we provide the greatest opportunities for people in this country to be the best that they can be. That is why I'm so pleased.
With these measures and any number of other measures that this government is providing across the education sector, there is record investment in school funding, in primary schools and in high schools. We are doing work in vocational education and training and in tertiary education. I have discussions with the tertiary sector about seeking to work better with business. But the foundation of all of this is our early learning education sector. We see that this bill, by building on what we already did from 1 July last year, creates the opportunity for our children to be the best that they can be. In delivering for families across the electorate of Forde and across the country, they rely on the certainty and stability that we're providing through this package. This bill will continue to ensure that we can build momentum and build on those significant achievements.
I want to take these final few moments to thank some very, very valuable people in this sector in my electorate and across the country: the educators and the volunteers who work in these centres. Each and every day, they turn up to teach and educate our children. I want to thank them for their dedication and for their effort in their job, because it is the time, effort, love and care of our educators at our early childhood centres and across our education system, in our primary schools and also our high schools, and their desire to see the children achieve the best that they can be, that ensures that our kids have a wonderful foundation for the future.
I commend this bill to the House because these much needed reforms will benefit families across my electorate of Forde and will benefit families across Australia. Once again, I want to take the opportunity to thank all of those who work in our early childhood sector. They do an outstanding job each and every day. I commend this bill to the House.