House debates

Monday, 9 November 2020


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

4:47 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

This is the budget that saved Australia. Strengthening our economy, creating jobs, creating landmark infrastructure investments, guaranteeing essential services, building our capability as a nation—these are the hallmarks of this budget. This is a budget which creates educational opportunities so crucial to our economic prosperity. To this end, our government is continuing to support the delivery of quality early childhood education to Australian families and funding certainty for schools and universities, while delivering more higher education places and short courses. We believe, on this side of the aisle, that every Australian should have access to world-class education.

I'm pleased that we've secured a 36 per cent growth in funding for students in regional schools through to 2029. We are providing historic levels of funding, with an estimated $70.9 billion in total Commonwealth funding for schools in regional and remote Australia over the decade to 2029. Overall the government is investing a record $314.2 billion in recurrent funding to schools through to 2029.

We're focused on the implementation of the Gonski and Napthine reforms, supporting quality teaching in school leadership, insisting that literacy and numeracy remain essential elements of high-quality education and increasing transparency for parents and data for schools through NAPLAN. On top of near record and growing funding for schools, the government has committed an additional $146.3 million to deliver a range of projects to help support students, families and school communities impacted by COVID-19, with a focus on disadvantaged students.

The McCormack-Morrison government wants more Australians to undertake a degree, learn a trade, study a vocational qualification, upskill with a microcredential, start a business or get a job. This budget sees new investments in university places, research and key research infrastructure, including $1 billion to fund research at Australian universities to drive the discovery of new products, ideas and innovations to power our post-COVID-19 recovery; $550.3 million for additional university places and short courses; and, through the Job-ready Graduates Package, an additional $400 million for regional universities.

The McCormack-Morrison government is investing a record amount in child care and early learning in this budget—$9.4 billion, increasing to $10.3 billion in 2023-24. Our once-in-a-generation reforms have delivered a 3.2 per cent reduction in out-of-pocket expenses for families. Ninety per cent of families using approved child care receive a subsidy of between 50 and 85 per cent. Seventy-one per cent of families are paying no more than $5 per hour, and, within that number, almost one-quarter are paying no more than $2 per hour.

Australia is going to need more teachers, more nurses, more engineers, more agricultural scientists and more IT professionals. The best thing we can offer our young people impacted by COVID-19 is a pathway to a realistic job and the economic conditions where jobs are created. As a parent, I know that high-quality teachers are an essential part of a well-functioning education system. It's important that we continue to improve outcomes in education and attract the best possible people to the teaching profession and then provide the necessary supports for ongoing training and continuous improvement. There are measures in the budget to address these issues.

Our government has laid out its plan to close the educational gap between regional students and their city based cousins. We're creating more university places for Australian students, with more support for regional students and universities. We're focused on stronger relationships between higher education and industry and less expensive degrees in areas of expected job growth. That is the focus of the Education portfolio, and that is why I am a passionate supporter of this budget. We know how difficult this budget has been for parents, for students and for teachers. I want to take this opportunity—

Opposition Member:

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The member opposite doesn't care about the impact that COVID-19 has had on our education system or our teachers and our students and their parents.

An opposition member interjecting

You should just sit there in silence, sir, and listen to this.

An opposition member interjecting

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Both members, please.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to acknowledge the important work of our teachers through COVID-19 and I want to thank them, on behalf of our government, for everything that they have done. I want them to know that we value them and we support them. We understand how stressful it's been. This government has delivered a budget which supports schools and students, but particularly those schools and students in country areas. I want to make particular mention of those country schools, teachers and students, that have been doing it so tough through COVID. Once again we thank them, and I reiterate that this is the budget that saved Australia.

4:53 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Griffith University has a campus in my electorate. Sadly, it announced last week that it would be cutting almost 300 university jobs—300 households hit hard by a hard-hearted government's culture war. Griffith University is just the latest university forced to make staffing cuts. Universities Australia estimate that, by the end of this year, 21,000 university jobs will be lost. What a Christmas gift this will bring to the nation! Universities, like many other businesses and organisations, have been hit hard by coronavirus. International students were locked out by the Prime Minister—in fact, he told them to go home—resulting in a loss of revenue of around $4.8 billion for this year alone. Then the Morrison government deliberately locked the public universities out of JobKeeper, changing the rules three times to ensure they couldn't access the $130 billion wage subsidy program. Prime Minister Morrison could have stopped the job losses—academics, tutors, admin staff, library staff, catering staff, ground staff, cleaners, security—but he did not.

Regional universities, in National Party seats, will be hit hardest. Regional universities support 14,000 jobs in regions being hit by trade embargoes, but the Morrison government chose not to help a sector that is our fourth-largest export industry. To rub salt into the wound, the Job-Ready Graduates reforms have now been passed by the Senate, cutting $1 billion from universities already struggling—'reforms' that make it harder and more expensive for students to go to university. The stated aim of the Job-Ready Graduates reform is to get more students studying maths, science and engineering, but it won't achieve this noble aim. In fact, it will have the opposite effect. The reform will incentivise universities to offer more humanities courses and fewer maths and science courses, because they will receive more funding for the non-priority courses, including humanities, than they will for the priority courses, like maths and science.

Currently, universities receive $28,958 resourcing to teach a science course. Under the new reforms, they will receive $24,200 resourcing for that same course—a cut of $4,758. Many students will be worse off, and some will pay double for their degrees. It's unlikely that making courses cheaper will create an incentive for students to study maths, science or engineering. Students should not be making their future study choices based on the cost of the degree. Saddling students with a mountain of debt before they commence their career will potentially create a disincentive to study—this, when our nation needs our best and brightest to step up, now more than ever.

By 2025, Australia will require another 3.8 million university qualifications. We need our universities to be skilling up students for jobs for the future. Universities need government support, not constant cuts, and students need to be inspired to study the course of their choice without the burden of crippling debt. The government has promised to fund 39,000 new university places by 2023, but it is cost-shifting university education to students by ramping up student debt, with individual students paying an extra seven per cent of the total cost of these courses.

The class of 2020, those graduating next week, has had an exceptionally difficult year. They have not had the benefit of spending as much time with their peers, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Sport, cultural events, formals, schoolies et cetera have been cancelled or changed terribly. Many classes have been undertaken online, which is not always ideal. The usual stresses of year 12 have been exacerbated by anxiety about an invisible enemy that has so far caused more than a million deaths around the globe. Families have been separated by travel restrictions. Grandparents are isolated or dead. To top it off, the Morrison government is making it harder and more expensive for this graduating class of 2020 to go to university.

I ask the minister at the table: is it fair that, after the year 12 from hell, this government should saddle 40 per cent of university entrants from the class of 2020 with higher university fees? Is it fair that, after the year 12 from hell, the Morrison government should shift the cost burden of providing more university places to our students?

4:57 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a valuable opportunity to ask a couple of questions about education in regional Australia. I want to touch on health and medical research, as it pertains to education. I also want to talk about the budget allocated for early education, school education and university education and the impact of COVID on school attendance in regional Australia. Then, finally, I want to look at the permanent residency arrangements that exist for those that choose to study and work in regional Australia. They're all key questions that I think this government is finally attuned to.

First of all, in the area of early education, I'm really grateful the minister mentioned the significant changes that we're seeing as a result of surveys for out-of-pocket costs for those in early education. While many of us have our views formed by some of the more outlying costs of attending early education in the inner city, the reality is it's a very different picture in regional Australia, where in many cases there's a real occupancy challenge to remain viable. It was an interesting point the minister made that 71 per cent of Australians are paying less than $5 an hour for early education and about a quarter of that cohort are paying less than $2 an hour. That is an extraordinarily affordable investment for a large proportion of Australia to be able to attend the highest-quality early education that we do enjoy.

No-one on this side forgets that early education fees went up by 58 per cent under the previous government, at a time when we justified that based on improvements in quality in the Early Years Learning Framework. That's really important. We paid more, but we got more. So it's a bit cheap to be getting a lesson from the other side about affordability of early education when we effectively gave them somewhat of a leave pass to more than increase, by more than 50 per cent, early education fees on the pretext of quality. So, we have a quality sector and we never want to lose sight of that.

If we talk about affordability, we need to understand the variable impacts within that sector from urban out to regional. I speak as an outer metro MP where many of my childcare centres struggle with satisfactory occupancy to remain viable, and through COVID that's been an additional challenge that's been met by a range of measures, including JobKeeper.

In school funding the coalition's record is extremely strong. The minister touched on that as well. My question pertains specifically to regional school education and in particular the Choice and Affordability Fund where the coalition set aside, particularly for the Catholic and independent sector, additional funding to do what can't be done. And the reason that they are not eligible for the Choice and Affordability Fund is that, rather than increasing funding over the next decade by five per cent per annum for state education, we're doing it at 6.8 per cent. That difference is way more than the Choice and Affordability Fund, Member for Moreton. What we have is for the Catholic and independent sector in a tailored way to be able to alter their service provision models to allow for what is a new way of measuring parental socioeducational benefit, and that's obviously in the wings as well. That move to be able to say that some day in the future, not 2100 but in 2029, this nation, a decade from now, can say: the same student with the same need in the same sector will be given the same amount of government support. That is such a fundamentally fair proposition that's constantly been avoided. We've prevaricated on this topic until this government came along and took that hard conversation.

We want to make sure that those regional school systems in particular—the minister will be interested in Catholic, Lutheran, Uniting and Anglican schools that are working in the regions to provide an alternative to public education which is utterly legitimate, welcomed and recognised by the Australian population—are ready for that transition to 2029. That funding of $314 billion over the next decade may well be $22 billion this year in 2020 but rising to $24 and $26 million. These increases across the OECD when we look at it, Minister, are some of the greatest education funding increases that we are seeing across the OECD. It's very important.

I want to attach to the minister's areas of interest in regional Australia the fact that we know from welfare reform that just eight hours a week for the standard configured family at the current minimum wage in Australia is sufficient to be above the poverty line. That's the fewest number of hours you need to work of any OECD nation by a long shot, and it tells us that if the education can be tuned in regional Australia to connect to work we only need to obtain, remarkably, not 18, eight hours a week to take an average family above the poverty line. It's an extraordinary figure and it means that our system is unique in comparisons between the OECD. Across research, school education and early education—and I didn't get to university funding—these are areas we're most concerned about and particularly with a COVID overlay on those questions.

5:02 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

The recent budget included funding of $39.8 million to expand the Clontarf Foundation's academy program for Indigenous boys and young men. Unfortunately, there was no money in the budget for similar programs for Indigenous girls. I visited Clontarf academies in five school locations recently: Ambrose Treacy College in Brisbane in the electorate of Ryan; Thuringowa State High School and Heatley Secondary College in Townsville; and Yarrabah State School near Cairns and Trinity Bay State High School in Cairns—which is actually my wife's former school. They were all very impressive, Minister, and the principals of all those schools value the benefits that the Clontarf programs bring to their students—and I say that upfront.

Clontarf academies provide a safe space for Indigenous boys at those schools—a place that is their own. They encourage attendance at school and provide reward through activities. I'm particularly impressed with the transitional program that Clontarf provides for their students as they finish their time at school and move into employment or further study.

Clontarf boys are Clontarf boys for life even when they're men. Their alumni can, and do, come back to the academies years after finishing school for support, advice, assistance or just to say g'day and also to help out those students at school.

I visited some truly remarkable schools when I was in north Queensland last week, including the schools that are lucky to have the Clontarf academies. However, only two of the many schools I visited hosted the Stars academy program for Indigenous girls. This remarkable program is incredibly valuable for the girls who participate in it. I met some great young women at those schools. One senior Stars student who was about to finish this year from hell explained to me the valuable assistance she received from the Stars academy to help prepare her for her transition from high school. She told me that Stars had given her confidence, support and a close friendship group, and she knows that she will always have somebody to turn to if any problems arise after she leaves school. The Clontarf Foundation and Stars Foundation staff do amazing work. I give a big shout-out to the many who I met last week and in the few weeks before that. They do incredible work with these young Indigenous students.

Sadly, while the Clontarf Foundation has received this additional funding announced in the budget, the Stars Foundation has not. One school with the Stars Foundation told me that their numbers are capped, and, although they have many more Indigenous young girls who want to join the program, they can't. At another school, a principal told me he would dearly love to have a Stars Foundation at his school but he has not been granted one. His school has more than 250 Indigenous girls, with no program for them. But there is a Clontarf academy for the 300 Indigenous boys at that same school. It's grossly unfair that Indigenous girls are not being provided with the same advancement programs as Indigenous boys.

The Closing the Gap target that we talk about every year for school attendance is not on track. School attendance rates for Indigenous primary school students are about nine percentage points lower than for non-Indigenous students, and in secondary school that gap increases to around 17 percentage points. There is a gap in school attendance rates for both Indigenous boys and girls, yet, in analysis recently published by The Conversation, between July 2014 and July 2019 nine programs that aimed to improve school attendance for Indigenous students received a total of almost $124 million, but only four of the nine programs were for Indigenous girls, and those four programs received only $40 million, just one-third of the total funding. The four programs for Indigenous girls combined received just over half of the funds provided to the Clontarf Foundation for Indigenous boys—I'm not trying to say either/or; we obviously need to do more for the girls.

I ask the minister at the table: why are Indigenous girls not being provided the same advancement programs as Indigenous boys? Why is there unequal funding for advancement programs for Indigenous boys and Indigenous girls? The minister, like me, obviously values the program run by the Clontarf Foundation, or he would not have provided further funding in the recent budget. Why won't the minister provide the same funding for a similar program such as the Stars Foundation, the Johnathan Thurston Academy or the others—they're just the two that I know about—for Indigenous girls and young women?

5:07 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to have the chance to put some questions about early childhood education. As I go around my electorate, I'm constantly impressed and amazed with the quality and the hope filled, patient way that early childhood educators serve each and every child in their care. Millions of children and their families benefit each week from the high-quality child care provided in this country. In 2020, the work they quietly do every year has deservedly received more attention. We've been made more aware of the fact that we just can't do it without them.

During the early days of the pandemic the sector adapted at incredible speed. Centres introduced new hygiene practices to try to keep their children and staff safe. Many faced uncertainty about their staffing, with high numbers of temporary visa holders working in the sector returning to their home country. For most sectors there was also an instant loss of income, with families pulling their children out of care when they lost jobs or moved to working from home. Eighty per cent of the centre based day care and outside hours school care services experienced a significant decline in attendance, losing at least 20 per cent of their children in those initial weeks. Thirty-one per cent of services had a decrease of over 50 per cent of attendees. With that loss came a crippling loss in income too. I commend the early childhood educators in my electorate for the incredible way they rose to the challenge we're facing, particularly in that early phase when their own health and financial security was not clear.

UnitingCare Galston Early Learning Centre is one example of an outstanding service in my electorate whose response to COVID has been exemplary. With a board led by the Reverend Geoff Smith, from the Galston Uniting Church, the centre is managed by the outstanding and much loved Dani Balmer. I quickly learnt how well-loved Dani and her team are in our community. Families from all walks of life contacted me to let me know that the centre was in a challenging position and needed help. I was pleased to visit the centre a few months ago and see for myself why the UnitingCare Galston Early Learning Centre is so well loved. The welcoming smiles on the faces of the staff and the happiness of all the children didn't falter despite the enormous challenges they've been dealing with. As one parent said to me, 'I just don't know how they do it.'

Another successful private provider in my electorate is Kindalin Early Childhood Learning Centres, run by Mark and Alison Wharton. They're grateful for the support of the federal government for the seven centres they run in the Hills area. While they're grateful for the support of the federal government, they want the New South Wales government to listen more to their concerns, particularly around excess regulation, in a year that's already been such a struggle for so many in the sector.

These are just two examples of the hundreds of great providers operating in my electorate. At last count, there were 9,000 children in my electorate who attended child care and another 2,000 attending preschool. Across Australia, over 1.4 million children and their families benefit from child care and preschool. They are the reason the Morrison government's relief package was so important. The package allocated $1.9 billion to support childcare services, making the provision of child care effectively free to families during the COVID-19 pandemic from 6 April to 12 July. This, combined with JobKeeper, helped services retain their staff and helped them keep their doors open. That was so important to so many of those services.

The childcare system that we have took years to design and finesse, and yet the minister had the enormous task of building a new system, for a completely new environment, in a matter of days. I commend Minister Tehan for his outstanding work and for the actions he took to ensure that the sector could carry on. We'd be in a very different place as a country if it were not for that quick work.

Kelly and Patrick Tunny, constituents who operate a childcare service, expressed what a relief that support was for them. They said:

We have managed to keep our doors open through this crisis which has meant some of our families, including nurses, teachers and supermarket workers have been able to keep working.

The government should be applauded for their commitment to early childhood education and care and small businesses through this difficult time.

As the relief package was implemented, the Morrison government also listened and plugged gaps and made adjustments to help centres keep their lights on and their doors open to children. Supplementary payments were made for services that were in unusual circumstances, with extra high demand, and therefore needed more support. During April and May, supplementary payments were further extended to support childcare operators who were not able to support their staff through JobKeeper. These extra adjustments were key to Galston Early Learning Centre and many others like them. One couple wrote to me after those adjustments, saying:

We were all relieved when the centre was informed about the payments that would enable the centre to stay open and the staff to remain employed. The parents recently surprised the staff with a thank you of flowers, gifts and speeches to pay tribute to the sacrifices they made to keep the centre running.

We're now in another transition, as we look towards returning towards a more sustainable system as we move on from the early stages of the pandemic and the crisis it presented. My question to the minister is: can the minister explain how the government's record funding for child care will allow families to balance work and parental responsibilities going forward?

5:12 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a bit of a farce really. Where is the minister? He's not taking it seriously enough to turn up. But I will direct some questions to the minister at the table, and I hope he takes the next government opportunity to jump to answer them. Call me old-fashioned, but, when I came to this place, that's exactly what ministers did: they took consideration in detail seriously. There would be a couple of questions from both sides, and then the minister would jump to answer the questions. That's what accountability is. I hope that the minister will jump after my questions. I will be really brief, to give him the time to do just that.

Firstly, the government has been claiming that the out-of-pocket expenses are going down, but of course childcare fees increased 4.4 per cent between March 2019 and March 2020. Inflation went up by 1.8 per cent over the same period. The childcare subsidy is pegged to inflation, not fees. The question I have for the minister, firstly, is: did the value of the childcare subsidy decline over the year to March? It's a pretty simple maths question, and I hope the minister can answer it.

Secondly, the last ABS data before COVID showed out-of-pocket costs for child care increased by 6.2 per cent between the March 2019 quarter and the March 2020 quarter. They increased by 7.2 per cent over the December 2018 to December 2019 year. They increased by over seven per cent. Can you explain how the childcare system is working for families when out-of-pocket costs are growing? I invite the minister at the table to answer the question.

5:14 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government's record funding for child care and universities in this year's budget has been welcomed and widely commended by young people and families in my electorate of Higgins. I am delighted that the Morrison government has invested record amounts in child care, with another $9.2 billion in this year's financial year, which will grow to $10.7 billion in the coming years. We're supporting around one million families with access to affordable childcare services. On top of this, the government has invested $900 million to help this important sector ride the bumpy wave that has been COVID. Thanks to the reform this government has made, out-of-pocket costs for families have dropped by 3.2 per cent in the last two years since our new reforms were introduced.

This is in stark contrast to the record of those opposite, where massive increases in childcare costs were the norm. That was because the funding they provided went to increasing the cost of childcare services rather than to the hip pocket of taxpayers. Under Labor, the cost of out-of-pocket childcare expenses increased by more than 50 per cent. The policies of Labor drove costs in the wrong direction. This side of the House understands how to ensure that there continues to be downward pressure on costs to young families. Our government is providing support to those who earn the least and ensuring that the highest level of subsidy of 85 per cent goes to those who need it the most. In fact, 70 per cent of families have out-of-pocket expenses of less than $5 per hour per child, and nearly a quarter are paying less than $2 per hour per child for centre based child care.

I have been speaking to the parents of Higgins about this very matter. In fact, I've sent out a survey to all of those parents in my electorate and have asked them about child care. I've spoken to a number of them personally, including a local mum, Bridie, in South Yarra, who reiterated to me that she wants quality, accessible and safe childcare services for her two children. Bridie is a mum who, like me, knows that it can be hard to juggle parenting, working and ensuring her kids have access to the very best child care. She told me how grateful she is that we provided support for childcare services to remain open during COVID, knowing that they were businesses at risk of going out of business. She also noted that young parents are often dealing with financial pressures from many sources. In their early-30s, they are paying for a HECS debt and child care and shouldering new mortgages as they establish their families, so she's grateful that our government understands that out-of-pocket costs remain high, particularly in the inner city, and welcomes our efforts to keep downward pressure on these costs, which will be even more important in the post-COVID experience.

This year has been a year like no other. As a mother of four young adults, I am pleased that the Minister for Education has been proactive in ensuring that this year's budget includes new investments in additional university places, fortifying the educational sector for the future. We all know that when a recession hits, it hits the youngest hardest. We know that education is the key to getting a better job. If ever there's a time to invest in education as a country, particularly in higher degrees and VET training, now is the time. I am pleased that not only did the Minister for Education guarantee government funding through the COVID crisis, despite a significant downturn in international students; in this year's budget he's also committed new funding to universities. This is now at a record high, with over $18 billion in 2020 and $20 billion in 2024 under our Job-ready Graduates Package, which is also creating up to 30,000 new Commonwealth supported places next year and 100,000 new places by 2030. This investment, including $550 million for additional university places and short courses, will ensure that educational services are guaranteed and improved.

As a university professor, I'm also aware that the university sector does rely on international students to fund research funding. I'm very pleased to hear that the Minister for Education has committed a record amount of new funding to the university research sector—that is, $1 billion—which has been very welcomed by the sector. This will help our institutions discover new products, ideas and innovations, which will power the recovery efforts. Minister, with my background as a university professor, and with our wonderful research institutions doing such groundbreaking work, including supporting the fight against COVID-19, I would be very pleased if you could outline how the government is supporting our university research sector through the pandemic in this year's budget?

5:19 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll try again for some answers from the minister. He won't even answer the questions from his own side, let alone the questions that we are putting to him. I make a comment to the member for Higgins: it's a bit disingenuous to say that your families value quality and then criticise Labor's quality framework, which drove quality. Anyway, let's not let the facts get in the way of this. I'm also going to go to the mythical downward pressure on fees. My question, once again, is to the minister. In Senate estimates two weeks ago, the department of education said they expected fees to increase by 5.3 per cent this year. Do you think that the childcare system is working well when fees will be hiked up 5.3 per cent in the middle of a recession and inflation is going to be nowhere near that rate? This will mean that out-of-pocket expenses are going up. Isn't that true, Minister? That is one question. Also, Minister, once again in Senate estimates, the department of education confirmed that there will be a $165.9 million increase—we hear those on the other side bragging about this—but this increase in spending on the childcare subsidy is 100 per cent due to higher prices and fees. When will you admit that the childcare system is broken, locking too many families out of work? The out-of-pocket costs are rising. I really hope that the minister will give Australian families an answer to this and take the opportunity to do so.

5:21 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I was waiting for the minister to jump, but he's just composing his answer to the member for Berowra's probing question. I go to a recent survey conducted by antiviolence campaign group White Ribbon, which came to very disturbing findings about the attitudes of young men to domestic violence. Forty-two per cent of the 1,074 men surveyed aged between 18 and 34 did not recognise hitting, punching or restraining another person to be domestic violence. Non-consensual sexual activity, degrading and punishing a person or isolating them from their friends was also not considered by a similar proportion of those surveyed to be domestic violence. In Australia right now, one in two women have experienced being sexually harassed and women are almost three times more likely than men to have experienced violence inflicted by a partner since the age of 15. On average, one woman a week is killed in Australia by her intimate male partner. Women with additional disadvantages and inequalities experience even higher rates of violence.

In that context, I was very pleased to hear the Morrison government announce, in March 2019, funding of $2.8 million for a three-year antiviolence education campaign. However, the recent Morrison government budget that we're considering in detail now appeared to cut funding to this important campaign. We've since been reassured in Senate estimates that the full funding will be moved back into that fund and made available for the Respect Matters campaign, but we were also told in Senate estimates last week that Respect Matters does not yet exist and there is no time frame 'at this point' for these resources to be made available. It is now 20 months since the press release was made by the Morrison government minister and so far there's nothing to show for it. I don't know why I'm surprised. It's the same old pattern: big announcements and no follow-through; all photo op but no follow-up. Deputy Speaker, I'm sure you would agree that this issue is particularly important and it is urgent. The young men who were in year 11 when the announcement was made, when the press conference was held back in 2019, are about to leave their classrooms forever. The Respect Matters program will be lost to that cohort of young men as they go out into society and, sadly, young women will be the real losers from the minister's unnecessary delay in rolling out this important program.

In 2020, women right across the pandemic world have become more vulnerable to all forms of gender based violence due to the COVID-19 health pandemic. It even has a name. It's called 'the shadow pandemic'. Data released from the United Nations Population Fund predicts that, for every three months the lockdowns continue, an additional 15 million cases of domestic violence will occur worldwide. Not only has the frequency of domestic violence increased; so has the severity of the violence. For children who have been locked in their homes and have witnessed family violence without the security of their usual routines and safe places to go to, this year will have been more frightening and more lonely and will have left real scars—physical and mental.

There has never been a more important time to deliver a program about respect and how to recognise family violence. I therefore ask the minister: why is the Respect Matters program not available to schools now? When will the Respect Matters program be made available to schools? Is the minister developing any other policies to address the fallout from the shadow of the pandemic on students who have been homeschooled this year?

5:25 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I haven't gotten anywhere with getting answers about fees for families. I know that many families will be very, very disappointed that they haven't been able to get an answer about what this government's plan is to reduce those out-of-pocket costs. Of course, without the answers, we can only assume the information I've given to the Federation Chamber is correct and that out-of-pocket costs are going to continue to increase over time, with no plan from this government. What we do know is that there was a report in The West Australian newspaper saying that the reason the government haven't acted—and this was from an unknown source—is that they wanted to convince taxpayers of the benefit before they reformed the system, and they said they were going to embark on a six-month informal education campaign. What is the time frame for this informal education campaign? What will it look like? How much money will be allocated? Will there be TV advertising? Will there be some focus groups? Will there be letters out to all parents? What type of education campaign will this take?

Alternatively, will the government consider Labor's proposal to make childcare fees cheaper, to improve the taper rates, to get rid of the annual cap and to make it easier for 97 per cent of families in Australia to afford child care? Will the minister accept our plan, our constructive suggestion? We've done the work for him. He doesn't have to do the six-month informal education plan. We've done that work. We've consulted widely. This is a policy idea that's been welcome right across the spectrum—by businesses, by economists, by trade unions and by families. So we've done the work for the minister. Will he accept our homework? We will support him in the implementation of that. Will he outline this informal education campaign? Senator Simon Birmingham actually denied it existed, so we're unclear about that. Will the minister also answer my questions about the fee increases that have happened, the eroding nature of the subsidy and, therefore, the increasing out-of-pocket costs? Into the future, what will this mean for families and how is the government going to deal with that?

5:28 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the superb work that has been done and continues to be done by my colleagues in the coalition government in fostering an opportunity society through education supports, even during this pandemic. As a woman who immigrated to this country and raised two children—both of whom are diving headfirst into successful careers and family lives—largely by herself, I know how vital education is to the health of our society as well as to the future economic prosperity upon which a healthy society depends. How we educate our children says a lot about who we want to be as a society. It says a lot about our aspirations—not only how much money is spent but whether that money is spent in a targeted, precise and efficient manner that will set Australia up well for the future.

Representing a multicultural electorate in Chisholm, I know that educational supports are imperative to helping integrate new arrivals into the Australian way of life. Childcare supports help kids to get that early cultural education and socialisation that sets them up for an emotionally secure future, while allowing mum and dad to keep working hard to put food on the table as well as be the best parents that they can be.

There can be no doubt that this year has thrown up unprecedented challenges and this coalition government has responded with tailored, targeted, specific measures to face up to this challenge. Let me tell you how this coalition government is levelling up educational opportunities for all Australians. We are providing record funding for child care: $9.2 billion in 2020-21 and growing to over $10 billion over the coming years. Our new Child Care Package represents the most significant reforms to the early education and care system in 40 years. We are providing a record $314 billion investment in schools over 2018 to 2029, representing an increase of 60 per cent per student over the same period from a 2017 base. This means record funding for all Australian schools, including government schools, Catholic schools and independent schools.

In my electorate of Chisholm I'm happy to say that schools have benefited greatly under the coalition government. A school that is quite close to my electoral office, Essex Heights Primary School, has received a substantial boost close to close to 25 per cent in government funding from 2014 to 2018 and that funding is expected to climb to just under 50 per cent by 2021. The Morrison government continues to deliver for all schools across Chisholm and Australia.

We are now continuing to boost our universities with record funding of $18 billion in 2020, which will grow to over $20 billion by 2024. As part of this, our new job-ready graduates program will create 100,000 new university places by 2030. Our Job-ready Graduates Package will gear our economy towards the future by increasing the number of graduates in areas of projected employment growth and demand that include teaching, nursing, health, agriculture, and, of course, the high-tech areas of STEM and IT—where we must work to turn our knowledge society into a dynamic, forward-looking 21st century economy.

5:33 pm

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm still waiting for my answers—not just for me, but for the families of Australia. The families of Australia are struggling despite what those on the other side say. They say: 'They've never had it so good, that childcare costs are completely manageable and there isn't a workforce disincentive.' They should get out a little bit. They should get out and actually talk to families. They should get out and talk to families about their childcare costs that're going up and up. We know what the minister will do the next time that the details of fee increases are released, he will crow some great achievement. He will be talking about the period where parents didn't have that pay fees. Then very quickly he reintroduced those fees and then also allowed them to continue to go up. As we know from Senate estimates—which the minister refused to answer in question time today—it will go up by 5.3 per cent, well, well in excess of inflation.

As I said before, and this is a myth that keeps getting peddled by those on the other side, the subsidy is pegged to inflation, not the increase of childcare fees, so there's a gap there and parents are having to pay that gap. It's increasing quickly and making it harder and harder to afford. In addition, my question is: what is the government doing about the workforce disincentive rate that exists in the current childcare system? The previous speaker did say that this was a once-in-a-generation reform to childcare centres. That was the talking point from two years ago. You don't hear those on the opposite side usually use those talking points anymore, because parents are doing it tough.

But I haven't got any answer to the question on fees, so I'm going to move on. I'm waiting with bated breath, hoping the minister does answer those questions. But I would like to—

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you going to do it next?

A government member interjecting

Yes. Next! He's going to keep going! In my next question I'm going to move on to preschools. It was a really historic moment when Labor was in government and we were able to lift the attendance in preschools to four-year-olds by our universal access program. Unfortunately, for seven years, this government has refused to provide long-term funding for preschools. The excuse that the minister and previous ministers has given is that there were attendance problems. As an excuse, that could go on for only three years, because then it became a little boring. So then the minister said that they were waiting for a review of the national preschool program to be completed before they made a long-term commitment. That final report was released six months ago, and it was very, very clear that long-term funding—over a four-year-old period, for example—was critical to providing some stability and certainty for preschools, for states and territories, for enterprise bargaining and for everyone that was investing. The report was very critical of the Morrison government's short-term funding for preschools and called for the funding to be locked in for five years.

Unfortunately, during the COVID period the government slipped another announcement in that completely went against this report. So my question to the minister is: when will you adopt this report's recommendations and provide our children and teachers with the certainty they need and deserve? Has the government been having any discussion with states and territories about the long-term funding commitment? Why has the government ignored this report, with their most recent announcement being to extend it for only another 18 months? Why has the government ignored its own report, which COAG commissioned, to provide funding? When will our kindies, our preschools and our long-day centres, which deliver universal access, actually be given the long-term funding they need? When will families be assured that their children can get best prepared for school because the Commonwealth has coughed up its share of funding and has put it in the forward estimates and because we know it will be there over the next four years? Those are my questions to the minister. I hope that, if he can't answer the questions about child care and costs, he'll be able to answer the questions about preschool.

5:38 pm

Photo of Melissa McIntoshMelissa McIntosh (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my electorate it's all about jobs and about getting our children educated and trained in the jobs of the future, including starting in the younger years. I want young people in our community to work in Lindsay, just like the member for Macquarie would aspire to her community not having to do that long commute out of the local area for work. With the Morrison government's unprecedented level of investment in Western Sydney, we're supporting existing businesses to take the next step, to grow, to back emerging industries and to create these jobs of the future.

To make sure we get the best outcomes from this investment, we need to equip local students with the skills and training they need so that they're at the forefront of these opportunities. Our plan is to create more local jobs and to deliver the education, the skills, the apprenticeships and the training that will enable local people to take hold of these opportunities, get these jobs and help Western Sydney lead our economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. In these emerging industries, science, technology, engineering and maths will play a key role. It's so great to go to schools across Lindsay and see how local kids are being educated in STEM and have a real passion for STEM. This leads to the jobs of the future. They're already paving the way, and this is really great to see.

We know that early childhood education is the key to unlocking the potential of our children before they go to school, and then stemming into learning as adults. It's critical that their development and their love of learning is nurtured at this early age. In Lindsay there are many child-care centres—we have 90 across Lindsay—that look after our children and nurture this early love of learning. The Morrison government is providing $453 million in 2021 to support access for up to 15 hours a week for preschool children in the year before school. This will benefit over 350,000 kids each year and prepare them for lifelong learning.

During coronavirus we saw how critical child-care centres were in ensuring that families could still work and manage looking after their kids. The Morrison government's support to the early childhood education and care sector throughout COVID has kept this sector viable and ensured that care continued to be available for essential workers and families with vulnerable children. Our child-care package includes the most significant reforms to the early education and care system for over 40 years.

As a mum who has always balanced work for the last 16 years and has worked in the area of child care and playgroup, I've got a really good understanding of early childhood education and parental responsibilities. I know how important it is to get it right. All three of my children have benefited from child care It has nurtured and developed their growth and love of learning before school. During the pandemic, I hosted a number of meetings with early child-care providers, and I know that the work we were doing to keep them in business and keep kids going to child care was so important. It meant that they didn't have to charge families a fee, including out-of-pocket or gap fees, and they could prioritise care to essential workers. I spoke to many child-care centres. One of them in particular, Explore & Develop early childhood centre at Glenmore Park, told me that during the coronavirus pandemic 99 per cent of the enrolments came back after that because of our support. This was something that was said to me across many of the child-care providers I have spoken to—that the support provided during the pandemic was really essential not only for keeping available places open and keeping children in child care, but returning enrolments as things open up throughout our community. So I'm really pleased about the care we're providing kids in Western Sydney. It will be even better when we have more jobs close to home so parents don't have to do that long commute to work.

Child care is a really important thing for our community. Many parents, many families use it. As I said, we've got 90 child care centres across Lindsay. My question to the minister would be, could you update the chamber on the great support the Morrison government is giving our families through children's early learning opportunities through child care and preschool education?

5:43 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

It was Teachers Day a couple of weeks ago. We thank teachers, as we do every year, for educating the next generation. But this year thanking teachers had a bit of extra oomph. Teachers have been so much more than educators this year. They were the constant, steady voice calming the fears of students and parents when they were suddenly shaken from their school routines. They were the experts in online learning, even if it was something they had had done before. And they've been front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19 and the risks associated with it.

Teachers and other school staff have done a remarkable job in stitching together the 2020 school year while it frayed at the seams. I do acknowledge the minister at the table when he was speaking, before he was gagged by himself. He did actually refer to teachers, and I second his comments about teachers.

It's been a year like no other, and we don't yet know what the fallout will be for students and how long that legacy will linger. We do know that during the initial stages of the pandemic the Morrison government wilfully ignored health advice and all but tried to bribe schools for purely political purposes. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the Morrison government's $3 billion COVID relief for private schools that reopened to their students was actually rejected by the majority of schools. Only seven per cent of the Catholic system schools and 49 per cent of the independent sector took up the offer, even with the $10 million for soap and hand sanitiser for private schools contained in the special circumstances fund.

Only one-third of the $3 billion funding announced was actually spent. It's not surprising as schools were being asked to reopen to their students in the midst of a pandemic. Schools were required to have 50 per cent of students back in their classrooms by the end of June and were given only a matter of days to decide whether to accept the relief funding. For some schools, reopening to students was contrary to their state health advice—for example, that provided by experienced chief medical officers like the magnificent Dr Jeannette Young in Queensland. This was yet another Morrison government announcement that faltered when it came to the follow-up. The Morrison government is always there for the photo but not for the follow-up.

The recent budget included a $25 million student support package—$25 million over five years to establish a fund to enable the government to respond flexibly and quickly to emerging priorities and educational challenges presented by COVID-19. That's the only detail contained in the budget. In Senate estimate, we found out that this $25 million fund is for a grant program, but so far there are no funding guidelines at all. The government doesn't know how it will spend $25 million, and we have no idea what this money will be spent on, who will benefit, who will be eligible and how it will be targeted. Will it be another sports rorts but for education?

I'm particularly concerned that some students will find it very difficult to catch up after such a disruptive year. The department said in Senate estimates that they had commissioned some early research on potential implications for extended periods of home based learning, and they advised that the research clearly indicated that there were likely impacts that would be felt. As a former teacher and from my own family's experience of home schooling a primary school boy and a high school boy, I can easily see how the home-schooling experience would not have been ideal for all students—good for a few, I do stress, but with a sting in the tail for most. Students who are disadvantaged through their social, economic or health situation had an especially difficult time during home schooling, with many students now struggling to catch up with their classmates. We can't leave these children behind. The consequences may be devastating for these students.

So I ask the minister: when will the $25 million grant fund be expended, and who will be eligible? Will all schools be eligible for these grants or will only private schools be eligible? How will the government help students who have been left behind through COVID-19 home schooling? And how much of the $10 million special circumstances fund for soap, hand sanitiser and cleaning for private schools has been expended? Please provide a list of the schools that assessed this fund.

5:47 pm

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The 2020-21 budget is focused on delivering the essential services that Australians rely on, including record funding for childcare, preschool and our education and university sectors. This investment means more opportunities and better outcomes for students across my electorate of Robertson. The Morrison government is providing $9.2 billion in funding for childcare this financial year, and our new child-care package represents one of the most significant reforms to the early childhood education and care system in 40 years. Around one million Australian families are benefitting from this package, with over 70 per cent of parents to pay no more than $5 per hour in day care centres.

It's crucial that working parents across Australia have confidence that, if they choose to go back to work, their children will be supported with high-quality, affordable child care. This includes parents like Ross, a Central Coast resident with two children who have both been through child care. Ross said that the government's support for the sector was the difference between his wife returning to work or staying at home with the children. He said that it offered flexibility and enabled her to re-engage in the workforce.

The government also provided $1.9 billion to the early childhood education and care sector throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring providers were able to continue to operate and support essential workers and families with vulnerable children. Leah, from St John the Baptist Early Learning Centre in Woy Woy, said that the government's support for the sector was a lifeline, ensuring that her centre remained open and staff were able to continue to care for and support local families.

The government's commitment to deliver world-class education is not just limited to child care; it extends to record funding for schools and significant support for higher education. I note that the Morrison government is providing a total investment of $314.7 billion into schools between 2018 and 2029. This includes substantial needs based funding for government, Catholic and independent schools, designed to get the best results for students, parents and teachers.

Our university sector will also benefit from this budget with investment of over $18 billion in 2020, increasing to around $20 billion in 2024 under our Job-ready Graduates Package. This package will create up to 30,000 new Commonwealth supported places in 2021 and 100,000 by 2030, assisting graduates in areas such as teaching, nursing, health, agriculture, STEM and IT. Many people know this is an issue particularly important to my electorate on the Central Coast and very dear to my heart.

The government will also spend over $400 million over the next four years to increase opportunities for regional and remote students to attend university. Investment in world-class education through Commonwealth supported places, especially in regional areas, opens doors for students to allow them to pursue their dreams. In my electorate of Robertson the government committed $3.3 million in 2018 for additional funding for student places at the Central Coast Clinical School and Research Institute. This funding delivers around 150 Commonwealth subsidised places that will support allied health students, bringing the total number of student places to around 550. This means that students who are completing the HSC right now could study a medical degree in Gosford.

I've recently been contacted by a number of local parents who are thrilled about the opportunity for their child to be able to study medicine and other health degrees locally right where they live, meaning they no longer have to travel to university in Sydney or Newcastle. This not only means reduced travel times but more opportunities for students to pursue local study on the Central Coast, the very best region in the very best country in the world.

The government is also providing $252 million in 2021 for an additional 50,000 short course places and the largest single annual investment in higher education research, including an additional $1 billion to support research at local universities. This investment is important to ensuring Australia remains at the forefront of global research and development.

The Morrison government recognises the importance of education to our future generations, and that's why I believe that this budget provides record funding for our childcare, education, and university sectors, ensuring they continue to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic and grow into the future. I want to commend the Minister for Education on the work that he has done, and continues to do, in this sector. In closing, I would ask the minister to further outline to the Chamber the government's investment in Commonwealth supported places.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I give the call to the member for Moreton who I know will be brief because he's dying to hear from the minister!

5:52 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

We've been waiting! The government announced the establishment of a new Higher Education Integrity Unit within TEQSA. Have additional staff been employed by TEQSA to carry out the functions of the Higher Education Integrity Unit? How will the unit go about investigating claims of cheating; and what plans does it have to meet this aim in the future? My final question is about rural and remote students—I know he'll be interested in them: what additional help will the government be providing to rural and remote students who may have fallen behind in their studies due to limited or no internet access; and will the government be providing any additional mental health support for rural and remote students?

5:53 pm

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I will come to that shortly. I want to preface my comments with respect to a number of matters that members have raised, particularly with respect to child care. There have been a number of wild statements made by those opposite, which are very unfortunate, particularly the selective misquoting of Dr Baxter, who is the deputy secretary for early childhood and child care. And, of course, in the quote that those opposite use, they conveniently omit the end of her statement, which says: 'out of pocket costs in that period are still 3.2 per cent lower than they were prior to the introduction of the CCS in July 2018.' The point is that out-of-pockets cost are still 3.2 per cent lower since the childcare package began in July 2018.

I think we need to remember that it was this government that actually saved the childcare sector during the recent pandemic. And, we know, because as local members, we saw those lines outside Centrelink and those folks were calling our offices, asking: what can the government to do to help? We answered the call with $900 million of additional funding during the COVID-19 crisis. Obviously, that crisis is still here and we're still watching it, but $900 million was what it took to keep the childcare sector going. So we won't be lectured by those opposite on what's needed for child care.

The member opposite asked would we be adopting their policy? No, we won't. That's the answer to the question; no, we won't. We will not be adopting their policies. We were there when the Australian people needed us, and we enabled 99 per cent of 13,400 services to remain open and viable. Given the circumstances, that's an incredible achievement. And in country Australia, $391 million was provided to 3,334 services in regional and remote areas. And in this budget that has just been handed down, we have a record $9.2 billion in funding for child care. We have saved this sector. There's record funding in this budget, and we recently announced additional support for Victoria's regional childcare sector, with around 700 services sharing in estimated $55.8 million from the early childhood education and care recovery payment.

We know that the federal government wasn't responsible for what happened down in Victoria, the Victorian government was. It was very unfortunate, the whole hotel quarantine fiasco, but we were there when Victorians needed us, when the childcare sector needed us, and we are still there working in that sector. It's a very important point to make that when the childcare sector was on the brink of destruction, it was this government, with $900 million, that came to the rescue. We won't be lectured by those opposite on what our policies should be. We won't take any notice of their selective misquoting of Dr Baxter, which is very misleading.

My friends opposite also mentioned funding for the Clontarf Foundation. It's very important that we touch on that topic, because $39.8 million is going to the Clontarf Foundation to support an additional 2,000 places in their existing program by December 2022. That funding builds on the existing funding for Clontarf provided by the National Indigenous Australians Agency, the NIAA.

In respect of funding to support Indigenous girls in education, the NIAA provides more than $55 million in funding to 12 organisations via the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, or IAS. We will invest a total of $5.5 billion, through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school-funding loading, over 2018 to 2029. This funding is expected to benefit 234,000 students in 2020, so we are supporting this very important work and supporting education for Indigenous boys and girls. In my own electorate, we have a Girls Academy and a Clontarf academy. I see the wonderful work they're both doing and the differences that they're making to the lives of these young Australians. I'm very supportive of it.

This budget is a budget that has underpinned educational opportunities in Australia. And it's very important that we keep doing that, particularly, as those opposite know, although they were interjecting earlier when I was trying to make the point, as we've been through drought, we've been through bushfire and now we've been through COVID-19. I'm immensely proud of this budget. It's an excellent budget that delivers for Australians under the most trying and difficult circumstances. As I've just said, 2020 has been a year like no other. In my own electorate, we have seen bushfire— (Time expired)

5:59 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I will keep this brief. I did ask these questions earlier, and they're about the national integrity unit in terms of universities. My questions are very simple, and I will give the minister plenty of time to answer. How many additional staff have been employed by TEQSA to carry out the functions of the Higher Education Integrity Unit? How will the unit go about investigating claims of cheating? And what plans does it have to meet this aim in the future? You can give a short answer, Minister, in the very short amount of time left.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to take that question on notice and provide the member opposite with the answer in due course, but the point that I was making before—and as I said in my opening remarks, over the disrespectful comments of those opposite—was that it has been a very difficult year for teachers and their support staff and also students and parents, but this budget is the marker for the next phase of our economic recovery as a nation.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The honourable minister's time has expired in relation to this debate. The Federation Chamber will now consider the Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business segment of the Education, Skills and Employment portfolio, in accordance with the agreed order of consideration.

6:00 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party, Minister for Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to open the debate tonight on behalf of the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. It has been a very tough year for Australian businesses and for workers. Through no fault of their own, people have lost jobs, and many businesses have suffered loss of revenue from the COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. From the outset, our JobMaker plan put skills and training front and centre, and the 2020-21 budget includes extra measures to help Australians find work and help small businesses recover from the challenges presented by COVID-19. Some key measures include the $4 billion JobMaker hiring credit, which will be payable for up to 12 months for each new job employers create to hire eligible jobseekers aged 16 to 35. This is about creating new jobs and keeping our young people engaged in the workforce. We don't want to see a generation of lost workers due to COVID. We are also extending support for new apprenticeships, with the $1.2 billion Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy. This will fund an extra 100,000 new apprenticeships.

It would take much more time than I have today to outline the many ways we are supporting small businesses with this budget—not just the big-ticket items like the wage and apprenticeship subsidies I've mentioned or the instant asset write-off but a range of other support measures. For example, we're investing over $19 million to encourage and support small businesses to digitise; we're investing $7 million to help provide business and mental health support for small-business owners who are under increased financial and emotional pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic; and of course we're also funding a range of measures to help jobseekers as they search for employment. And we're making it easier for jobseekers to manage their job search requirements online. Our government has a track record of job creation and support for skills training and small business, and I look forward to outlining this further.

6:02 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, 2020 has been an amazing year, and we've been confronted by some huge challenges in our nation, starting with bushfires, followed by the COVID health crisis and the economic crisis that has followed from that. Therefore, creating jobs should be the Morrison government's biggest priority right now. They cannot leave people behind or let them go it alone. It's bad enough that their response to the pandemic has been too slow, too reactive and, admittedly, uncoordinated. But now they've delivered a budget that is racking up trillions of dollars worth of debt and doesn't help create the additional jobs that Australians need. Unemployment has been too high for too long. We've now got a situation where, in the budget that the government handed down only a few weeks ago, they are foreshadowing that an additional 160,000 Australians will be added to the jobless queues by Christmas. The jobless rate itself won't be going back to precrisis levels for more than four years. The Prime Minister has deliberately excluded 920,000 people aged over 35, and currently unemployed, from the government's hiring subsidy program.

Then, in Senate estimates only the other week, we found out that the Morrison government has also been found to be inflating the numbers of jobs that it will be creating under this budget. This JobMaker hiring credit not only excludes those over 35 but is actually expected to only make 45,000 jobs, or just 10 per cent of the 450,000 jobs that the government is claiming that the program will support. Treasury officials confirmed in Senate estimates that 90 per cent of the jobs that will be supported by the hiring credit will actually have occurred without taxpayer funded subsidies. The money will not even start flowing until February. While 450,000 people are eligible for the program, there will be only 45,000 new jobs that will actually be created under it. This revelation effectively means that this $4 billion program will cost nearly $90,000 per job, which is more than the average income of an Australian household. This is a further blow to businesses and jobseekers, who all need support during the hard economic times being confronted by the nation. Businesses need support to be able to bring on new jobs. People who are out of work need to see support in the economy for them to be able to get a job. This Morrison government love making announcements, but they seem to never deliver for the Australian people—450,000 out there in the headline, but 45,000 jobs down here in the real world.

Minister, given that your government's budget is all about jobs, why is it that your government's budget plan is for 160,000 more people to become unemployed by Christmas? What sort of confidence does a plan for more unemployment give Australians? The Treasurer delivered a budget where he said, 'This is a budget about jobs'—and he was right—but the government has admitted that the statistics, the measures in that budget, show that this 'budget about jobs' is about more unemployment, not less.

6:06 pm

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the minister for her detailed speech outlining how hard our government is working to deliver much-needed support to Australian small businesses and those looking to learn new skills, re-skill and enter the workforce. Feedback from last month's federal budget has been extremely positive from Bonner's business community, particularly around our strategy to grow the manufacturing sector in key areas, which will create local jobs and be part of Australia's economic recovery. Supporting our local businesses, from our local cafes to homewares and produce, has never been more important. Every time we consciously choose to buy and support local, we are supporting local jobs. In Bonner, I am actively supporting our government's Go Local First campaign to ensure that supporting our local small businesses is front of mind for people starting to plan for their Christmas shopping.

As we know, small business is the engine room of Australia's economy, creating thousands of jobs and supporting major sectors including defence, manufacturing, tourism and more. Whilst Australia's manufacturing sector has been put at the forefront of our economic recovery plan, we know that this strategy will have a tremendous flow-on effect for the small business community, with local supply chains benefitting greatly from a growing manufacturing industry. The Morrison government are committed to supporting businesses and industries. We have passed 10 small-business tax concessions, which will make a tremendous difference to Australia's family small businesses. We have also provided more than $26.2 million to enable small businesses to access the benefits of digital technology and to look after themselves and their business as they manage through the stress of the COVID-19 crisis. This includes $19.2 million to encourage and support small businesses to digitise and $7 million to help provide businesses and mental health support for small-business owners who are under increasing financial and emotional pressure.

2020 has been a tough year, but Australians know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. During the pandemic, I was contacted by Tony from Matters in Gray at Mount Gravatt. This is a third-generation, family-owned training college for hairdressers. Tony explained how JobKeeper had kept their business going and supported staff when they had to close down. I visited Tony and the team at Matters in Gray once restrictions eased and I'm very pleased to share that the story only gets better for this local, family-owned training business. With our government support measures for apprentices and trainees, Matters in Gray will not only recover from the global pandemic but thrive from all the young Australians starting their hair apprenticeships. Local salons now have the incentives available to take on more staff and apprentices, and training centres like Matters in Gray will benefit greatly. The flow-on effect from our support measures are in plain sight and proof that they work. In my electorate of Bonner, 577 apprentices and trainees have been supported under the Supporting Apprentices and Trainees wage subsidy. I can't wait to catch up with Tony again for another update.

Recently I was very pleased to be joined by Senator James McGrath to tour Loadpro, one of Australia's and Bonner's hardworking businesses. Loadpro develops off-road haulage trucks, and their latest design, the X60 truck, has secured contracts with Australia's mining and construction industries for its efficient design. Ron got in touch with me last month to share some exciting news of an update, that their business was about to ship their first two export trucks. Senator McGrath and I had the opportunity to see these trucks up close, and I can say: 'Wow! What an impressive product.'

From the start of this pandemic, our government's focus has been on getting through to the other side, and it was great to see businesses like Loadpro in Bonner not only surviving but thriving. My electorate has more than 500 manufacturing based businesses, and a $1.5 billion Bonner manufacturing strategy will help businesses like Loadpro to grow their business to create more local jobs and increase their opportunity to supply domestic and international markets. Since the release of the budget, I've been out in the community visiting local businesses and listening to their feedback, and I'm pleased to share that this budget has restored confidence in the small-business community and confidence in job security. Following our visit to Loadpro, Senator James McGrath and I visited The Manly Hotel to meet with some small-business owners to discuss the business measures and how they had fared during the local pandemic. I'm sure that the senator can attest to the fact that we heard some fantastic grassroots feedback.

6:11 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, wasn't this budget the most Morrison budget going around! In terms of the critically important skills sector, it was all headline and no follow-through. We saw the big, splashy headline 'JobMaker and JobTrainer saves the day', and photos of the Prime Minister in hard hat and hi-vis vest, but then the detail slowly drips out and it turns out the policy has far more bark than bite. Don't get me wrong, after spending seven years creating a tradie crisis in Australia we would welcome the Liberals cleaning up some of their mess. Since COVID-19 hit, the need for help has been more urgent than ever. Many apprentices lost work because of the Prime Minister's slow response to COVID-19, and the number of people starting apprenticeships and traineeships this year is down by 22 per cent. The Liberals promised an extra 300,000 apprentices and trainees, yet the reality is that more than 140,000 apprentices and trainees have been lost on their watch. Let's see if Scott Morrison actually delivers anything.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member will use the—

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry! It's in my notes! I apologise, Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister. Their budget commitments don't go close to making up for seven years of Liberal Party failure that has seen more than $3 billion cut from TAFE and training, more than 140,000 apprentices and trainees gone and widespread tradie shortages, including carpenters, plumbers and metalworkers.

As part of their budget, the government announced wage subsidies for 100,000 new apprentices, but have since said that employers will be able to collect the wage subsidies for existing employees. My question to those who sit opposite is: how many new jobs will actually be created? The gap between the wage subsidy schemes means businesses that hired apprentices or trainees between June and October are excluded from the support. Why don't those businesses that took a risk and created jobs for new apprentices and trainees in the middle of a pandemic get a helping hand? The program is meant to support 180,000 apprentices and trainees, but, almost halfway through, only 90,000 or so are receiving support. Is this government expecting there to be another 90,000 recipients? Undelivering is where the Prime Minister has form. We know from previous budgets that the Liberals have failed to spend over $1 billion of their own TAFE and training budget over the past five years. The Liberal government's $1 billion underspend included incentives for businesses to take on apprentices, support to help people finish their apprenticeships and a fund designed to train Australians in areas of need. It's no wonder the skills sector is crying out for funding and reform.

Onto a second point I'd like some answers on: the Liberal Party's much promoted industry training hubs. In the 2019-20 budget, the government announced funding for 10 industry training hubs supporting school based vocational education in regions where there is high youth unemployment. Unsurprisingly, they've only managed to get cracking on two hubs. My colleague the member for Burt would love to have an update as to where his hub is, I'm sure. So, I have some questions. What is the current status of the establishment of each of the 10 industry training hubs announced ahead of the last federal election? The 2019 federal budget announced $50.9 million for 10 training hubs. How much of this has been spent to date? Why have there been such significant delays in getting the hubs up and running? Now is the time for the federal government to invest in training and jobs in suburbs and areas which need extra investment to assist our kids to get jobs, but there's nothing in this year's budget for these hubs. Their only track record on the skills sector is less money, fewer apprenticeships and traineeships, and less money for TAFE. They love a good headline, but they don't seem to ever actually deliver on their promises.

There was not a cent in the budget for TAFE. They have spent seven years neglecting our TAFE and training system, ignoring the vital role TAFE plays in the growth of our young people and the vital role it plays in the growth of our economy. They have spent seven years cutting funding while also underspending the meagre amount of promise to the sector. Rebuilding our skills and training sector will be crucial to getting the economy going again. At a time when we as a nation are screaming out for skilled workers, it is a travesty that this government has neglected the VET sector and neglected our youth. If all that is delivered is a headline and we see billions in unspent funds, we will be here to hold this government to account.

6:16 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would also like to thank Minister Andrews for the opportunity to speak about small business and skills today in the Federation Chamber and congratulate her on the great work that she has done on the Modern Manufacturing Strategy for our country. It is to be commended. She knows as well as I do, being a local Gold Coast member, that Gold Coast business leaders need employees with the right skills. The good people of Moncrieff tell me they want the right skills to land the jobs they need. As the Treasurer has made clear, the government knows, through our experience of previous recessions, that it can take a very long time to reduce unemployment. That's why the government has delivered a budget to build the momentum required to get people back into work quickly.

We've already seen a significant boost in confidence due to the budget and the Morrison government's JobMaker plan to put skills at the centre of our economic recovery. The government is investing close to $7 billion in skills and training to ensure businesses can hire the employees they need and Australians can get back to work with the job that they need. This investment will maintain the current high standards of the Australian vocational education and training sector, whilst making it more responsive to employers' needs, and more flexible and more attractive to potential students from all walks of life. This is about building a pipeline of qualified people to support our economic recovery. It's about key measures like the $2.8 billion investment to retain apprentices in training through the pandemic and the $1.2 billion for 100,000 new apprenticeships or traineeships. That's a lot of jobs—100,000 new positions. The $1 billion JobTrainer fund will skill Australians for our economic recovery. Migrants will learn English thanks to $259 million allocated to assist Australians to learn foundational skills through the Adult Migrant English Program. Areas of skills shortage are being addressed by the $264 million committed to additional employer incentives for apprenticeships in areas of skills shortage.

Moncrieff families are concerned about youth unemployment, and rightly so, and welcome the $50 million investment in VET pathways in areas of high youth unemployment. TAFEs will be better off due to a $50 million investment. A new national careers support service will provide school leavers with help to navigate post-school pathways as the government puts $71 million into improving career advice and promoting VET options. This builds on the work of the National Careers Institute. A new apprenticeships data management system will be created through a $91 million investment so that quality data is harnessed to support employers and their apprentices. A new joint $80 million Infection Control Training Fund will be established with the states and territories, with $40 million from the Morrison government to accelerate the uptake of new national skillsets for infection control. Regulator providers will benefit from $22 million in waivers or refunds from the Australian Skills Quality Authority, known as AQSA. This cashflow relief will help providers to retain their employees, reshape education offerings and support domestic and international students. The VET sector will be further supported with a one-year delay of AQSA's move to full-cost recovery, a $12.6 million saving to the VET sector. There's quite a lot on this list. Around 21,000 VET students also benefit from an exemption from loan fees until 30 June 2021 to encourage full fee-paying students to continue their studies despite the pressure of the pandemic. The government is extending $11.9 million to the VET FEE-HELP Student Redress Measures to allow students to continue to have inappropriate debts, incurred through the failed VFH scheme, reaccredited.

Specific measures are being delivered for mature age workers, which is a great relief to many who will benefit from the $17.4 million skills checkpoint investment. The skills checkpoint fills a gap in the services currently available to older Australians. It supports older Australians, and we all have them in our family, to remain in the workforce longer by re-energising existing career paths and identifying opportunities for individuals to upskill or to reskill for other occupational outcomes.

Employers, employees and jobseekers can all have confidence in the delivery of the JobMaker Plan because the government has already delivered significant results. Over the last seven months our government has already supported 96,400 apprentices across 55,100 employers with $637 million in payments. These are staggering numbers. This is staggering support from the Morrison government. The National Skills Commission has been launched and will consolidate— (Time expired)

6:21 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

Just last week the Reserve Bank was forced to enact some of the most radical programs in its history in response to the Morrison government's premature cuts to vital economic supports like JobKeeper during the worst recession in many, many, many decades. Those cuts by this government really position it as the Christmas Grinch, because—after cutting the rate of JobKeeper only a few weeks ago—when we get to the end of this year they will be cutting the rate of JobKeeper yet again, and that's on top of the cuts that will be coming to JobSeeker at the end of the year as well. For those 160,000 Australians that the government anticipates will join the jobless queues between now and Christmas that rate of JobSeeker will go back to the original rate of $40 a day. That's how Grinch-like this government is. Australians that are relying on these supports from government in their desperate time of need, during this recession, need that support, not just the Australians receiving those welfare payments, but the businesses that rely on them spending those dollars.

This is the story that I have heard time and time again around my community and around Australia in my discussions with small business owners, that their concern is not just about the withdrawal of support in terms of reductions of JobKeeper for their own businesses, but also the way in which people will not be in a position to spend money in their business because of the cuts that this government is applying both to JobKeeper and to JobSeeker.

The government has missed a huge opportunity in its budget to deliver certainty for Australians that are reliant on JobSeeker, as well as the small businesses and the workers in those businesses that are reliant on JobKeeper. For the government to go around and say that it's okay to cut the rate of JobKeeper, because businesses are now facing better economic climate—firstly, tell that to the businesses of Victoria who have only just come out of lockdown. But more to the point, the condition for qualifying for JobKeeper is that you've had a 30 per cent reduction in turnover. If you've still got the reduction in your revenue then surely you still need the same rate of JobKeeper that was previously announced, and that's not even getting to those huge swathes of employees—casuals, local government, so many areas—that missed out on JobKeeper altogether under this government.

The thing about JobSeeker, where the government has failed to give any certainty to those who rely on it—and they don't rely on it because they want it; they rely on it because they've been unfortunate enough to lose a job during this recession. Those people are relying on such a small amount of money that even the BCA, Ai Group, COSBOA, ACOSS and ACTU all agree that the rate that was Newstart, that is now JobSeeker, needs to be increased, that it needs to be permanently increased, because they understand the economic effect of the current substandard low rate of JobSeeker that the government is proposing will be returned to for Australians who are still unemployed. We have more than 10 people looking for a job for every job that is available in this country, but the government feels it is okay to revert to the below-poverty standard for the JobSeeker rate. It makes no sense for the government to be withdrawing these levels of support, not just for individuals, but to our economy across the board. Economic support needs to be tailored to economic conditions. That may sound familiar to the government, but we don't know what things will look like in March next year. We certainly didn't know in March this year how the economy would be going. Yet the government has said it will give no commitment around maintaining that rate of JobSeeker going forward.

The Prime Minister said in the parliament only a few weeks ago that if you're good at your job you'll get a job—which implies that those who are out of work are not good at their job. Not only is that an insult to working Australians across this nation and those that are now out of work, but how can it possibly be true when the Prime Minister is still in his job?

6:25 pm

Photo of Karen AndrewsKaren Andrews (McPherson, Liberal Party, Minister for Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to comment on the contributions of both the member for Bonner and the member for Moncrieff in this debate. Both of those members have strongly demonstrated, particularly over this year, when their electorates have been affected, as has all of Australia and in fact the world, by the COVID pandemic, how committed they are to making sure that the people of their electorates have employment wherever possible, and that, if they don't, they are supported. They are both very much committed to making sure that we as a government work with them to support businesses in their electorates to employ more apprentices and to retain the apprentices that they need now. Specifically, the member for Moncrieff has done a fantastic job on the Gold Coast, I would have to say. Our electorates actually neighbour each other. She has done, quite frankly, an outstanding job working with the small businesses in her electorate on the central part of the Gold Coast, understanding that the Gold Coast, as a tourism destination, has been savaged by what has happened with COVID-19. So congratulations to the member for Moncrieff for her work, and also to the member for Bonner.

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to further discuss the Morrison Government's plan to create jobs by investing in skills training, supporting small and family businesses, and helping jobseekers so that they have the best chance of finding work. That's exactly what the 2020-21 budget is all about. It is all about jobs. The member for Bonner asked about specific support programs to help small businesses. Since the onset of COVID-19 the government has committed an unprecedented $507 billion in overall economic support. This includes the JobKeeper payment, the boosting cash flow measure, the SME guarantee scheme, the instant asset write-off, help for hiring apprentices and trainees, extended and accelerated income support, early release of superannuation, and tax support.

Throughout this debate our speakers shared stories of hope and recovery. In contrast, the Labor speakers tried to score cheap political points. They try to make mileage of the fact that our JobKeeper payments were always designed to be an interim lifeline to help businesses through the worst impacts of this pandemic. Businesses aren't interested in becoming permanently dependent on government. They are all about enterprise and having a go. We're backing that in so many ways with this budget, especially the more than $7 billion that we are investing to support skills training. I know that one of the speakers opposite spoke about training. But it was very selective commentary by the member, because she spoke specifically about TAFE. Firstly, funding TAFE is actually a state and territory government's responsibility; it's not the federal government's responsibility at all. But one of the biggest impacts on TAFE was a direct result of the national partnership agreement of 2012-17, which in fact was negotiated by the previous Labor government. That national partnership agreement made sure that contestability was introduced into the market. Because of that, TAFE's market share declined under the terms of that agreement.

Interestingly, that national partnership agreement was worth $1.75 billion over a five-year period. Of that, $1.15 billion or thereabouts went towards supporting the states so that they could harmonise a lot of the training that takes place—which has clearly not happened—but only $600 million or thereabouts went to direct training outcomes. Contrast that with what this government has done. We have directly supported apprentices. We have supported those that were engaged prior to COVID-19 so that they had support to continue, and we provided additional support so that more apprentices could be engaged.

This government has made sure that we are providing support as and when it is needed. We ae providing an opportunity for small businesses to remain afloat during the COVID-19 crisis and, importantly, to develop and prosper.

Expenditure agreed to.