Thursday, 15 November 2018
Select Committee on Red Tape; Government Response to Report
The document read as follows—
EFFECT OF RED TAPE ON OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING
In the submission provided to the Committee, the Department of Education and Training outlined the use of mutual recognition in Australia. Mutual recognition is a method through which the regulatory burden from occupational licensing can be reduced for individuals who are moving and operating between states in a licensed occupation.
While the Australian Government administers the legislation for mutual recognition (the Mutual Recognition Act 1992), its actual use and application sits with the states and territories. State and territory governments have responsibility for and administer their own occupational registrations.
The recommendations made by the Select Committee will need to be considered and responded to by the state and territory governments with the inclusion of the Council for the Australian Federation as appropriate. As a result, the Australian Government has no comment on the recommendations that have been made.
The committee recommends the Council for the Australian Federation, in close consultation with relevant stakeholders, renew its efforts toward occupational licensing reform, with a starting presumption against licensing.
The Australian Government notes that it has no role in the Council for the Australian Federation and that occupational licensing is a matter for state and territory governments.
Subject to its retention, the committee recommends that occupational licensing be based on specific, measurable outcomes and the identification of best practice models for occupations throughout Australia.
The Australian Government notes that occupational licensing is a matter for state and territory governments.
The committee recommends the expansion of automatic mutual recognition based on the objective of increasing labour force mobility.
The Australian Government notes that occupational licensing is a matter for state and territory governments.
The committee recommends the Council for the Australian Federation commission a study into the health and safety benefits of occupational licensing, to strengthen efforts toward reform.
The Australian Government notes that it has no role in the Council for the Australian Federation.
The document read as follows—
The Australian Government welcomes the interim report on the effect of red tape on child care by the Senate Select Committee on Red Tape (the Committee), which was tabled on 15 August 2018. The report makes seven recommendations. Additional comments were made by Coalition Senators and a dissenting report, without recommendation, was made by Labor Senators. This response addresses the recommendations of the Committee.
The Australian Government and state and territory governments have different roles and responsibilities in the early learning and child care sector. The primary role of the Australian Government within the sector is to provide families with financial assistance to help cover the cost of child care and to encourage workforce participation. The Australian Government is investing record sums to support Australian families to access quality child care and has recently introduced the most significant reforms to the early childhood and care system in 40 years.
State and territory regulatory authorities are responsible for the approval, monitoring and quality assessment of early learning and child care services in their jurisdiction. They are also responsible for making the necessary regulatory decisions to ensure families have confidence that their child is receiving quality education and care in a safe environment. They are supported in this role by regular review mechanisms built into the governance of the National Quality Framework (NQF) through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Education Council.
While predominantly the responsibility of state and territory regulatory authorities, the Australian Government recognises the need to reduce unnecessary red tape and administrative burden for child care services, so that educators can focus their efforts on providing quality early learning and child care for children. However, regulation of the early learning and child care sector is essential to ensuring the safety, health and well-being of children, and this is the absolute priority for families and the Australian Government.
The new child care package, which was fully implemented on 2 July 2018, seeks to reduce regulation where possible. The centrepiece of the new package, the Child Care Subsidy, replaces the previous Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate and is paid directly to service providers to pass on to families as a fee reduction, reducing complexity for both families and providers. It also allows services to offer flexible operating times that better suit their children and families, as well as their business needs.
Critically, the child care package is targeted to support those who work the most and earn the least and provides a generous safety net for children who may suffer disadvantage. This requires appropriate regulation to ensure financial assistance goes where it is needed to achieve better outcomes for Australian children and encourages parent workforce participation. The Australian Government must also ensure the integrity of child care fee assistance payments and takes non-compliance and fraud very seriously and is determined to track, detect and take strong action against dishonest individuals and organisations.
The committee recommends the Australian Government, through the Council of Australian Governments, expeditiously work toward reducing the regulatory burden in the Family Day Care sector, including by removing limits on the number of educators in each service.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government, through the Council of Australian Governments, promote and/or develop an evidence-base for staffing ratios and staffing qualifications in early childhood education and care, as a quality component of the National Quality Framework.
The committee recommends that, following establishment of the evidence-base for staffing ratios and staffing qualifications in early childhood education and care, the principles of the National Quality Framework be reviewed to ensure they appropriately reflect the evidence-base.
The committee recommends that, in reviewing the principles of the National Quality Framework, Australian, state and territory governments recognise that formal qualifications are not the only prerequisite for the provision of high quality child care, as this can also be provided by parents.
The Australian Government notes Recommendations 1 to 4.
The NQF is the result of an agreement between all Australian governments and provides a national approach to regulation, assessment and quality improvement for early childhood education and care services and outside school hours care services across Australia.
The objectives of the NQF include ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children and improving the educational and developmental outcomes for children attending education and care services, and promoting continuous improvement in the provision of quality education and care services.
Quality education and care provided by services is important to families and governments. This means families can go to work, study, and/or volunteer confident in the knowledge their children's care and development are in good hands. The NQF was introduced in 2012 and is now a mature regulatory system.
State and territory governments are responsible for making and administering the legislation that gives effect to the NQF for early childhood education and care.
Given any change to the NQF requires the consensus of all Australian governments, these matters are best considered through the COAG Education Council, including the Early Childhood Policy Group. The Australian Government, through the Education Council, will continue to work with state and territory governments and the ACECQA as appropriate to achieve better outcomes for children.
As a national body, ACECQA works with all governments to provide guidance, resources and services to support the sector to improve outcomes for children. ACECQA is an independent statutory body, with their functions, powers and governance arrangements regulated under the legislation underpinning the NQF.
All Australian governments and the ACECQA are committed to look for efficient ways to implement elements of the NQF. The Australian Government also notes the need to continuously gather evidence and collect data to inform policy setting and government decision making.
In 2014, the Australian Government initiated and led a review of the NQF, in collaboration with state and territory governments. The purpose of the review was to ensure the goal of improving quality was being met in the most efficient and effective way, to identify opportunities to streamline requirements and to reduce unnecessary administrative burden.
This review was finalised in January 2017, and on 1 October 2017, recommended changes, which streamline and reduce regulatory burden for services, were implemented (by 1 October 2018 in Western Australia). On 1 February 2018, a revised National Quality Standard was introduced in all states and territories. The revised NQS provides greater clarity, uses clearer language and removes conceptual overlap between elements and standards. The number of standards has been reduced from 18 to 15, and the elements from 58 to 40.
Another review of the NQF is expected to be undertaken in 2019. The details, scope and governance of this proposed review are yet to be established by the Education Council.
The committee recommends that the Department of Education and Training provide a detailed annual report to the Department of Jobs and Small Business, to provide greater transparency about red tape reductions in early childhood education and care.
The Australian Government does not consider there is a need for Department of Education and Training to provide a detailed annual report to Department of Jobs and Small Business.
The Government has committed to ongoing review and evaluation of the new child care package to ensure its implementation and impact are understood. External evaluators have been engaged by the Department of Education and Training to conduct an independent evaluation by June 2021, as well as provide advice on ongoing evaluation activities that may be required between 2021 and 2023.
The scope of this impact evaluation does not include evaluating the regulations imposed on child care providers and services under the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law). Reporting arrangements for red tape reduction in National Law is a consideration for the COAG Education Council, noting there are regular statutory reviews of the National Law.
The committee recommends that the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Jobs and Small Business report in greater detail on the regulatory effect of implementing the Child Care Subsidy, including in relation to Activity Test.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government review the objectives of fee assistance to ensure that it is actually targeting maternal workforce participation and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Australian Government notes Recommendations 6 and 7.
The independent evaluation of the child care package will consider the impact of the child care package on families, providers and services, including in relation to the Child Care Subsidy and the Activity Test.
That the Senate take note of the document.
If ever there was an area of policy lacking a purpose and coherent framework, it's child care. Let's start with a few basic questions. Why should taxpayers subsidise the cost of child care? Why should people who want children but can't have them subsidise it? Why should people who don't want children subsidise it? Why should gays and lesbians subsidise it? Why should it be subsidised by people who choose to stay at home to look after their kids full-time but whose spouse or partner works and pays tax? What is the public benefit in taking around $9 billion from some people and using it to help pay for the child care of other people's kids? What social evil or negative social outcome is being prevented by this massive transfer of money? How much better is our society now compared to 20 years ago when none of this funding occurred?
If you were looking for an answer in the government's response to the red tape report, you would be disappointed. In one place, it says that the primary role of child care is to encourage workforce participation. In another place, it says it is to improve the educational and development outcomes for children. To make an obvious point, they are not the same; indeed, they are somewhat in conflict with each other. Encouraging workforce participation means making child care affordable to the people who would not otherwise return to work after having children. To some extent, the recent changes are a move in that direction with its better targeting, but, really, the targeting is still farcical. What justification can there be for subsidising the child care of someone earning $349,000 a year? Anyone earning that amount of money is not going to decide to return to the workforce as a result of a subsidy of a few thousand dollars on their child care. Indeed, but for me, the subsidy would have been open-ended, and someone earning $1 million a year would have received a child care subsidy.
Clearly, substantially better targeting is needed. High-income earners should not be receiving a child-care subsidy to encourage them to return to work when the subsidy has no influence on whether or not they return to work. As you come down the income scale, you will eventually reach a point at which the subsidy is, indeed, critical to the decision to return to work. The problem is the government has no idea what that point is. It's locked in a political vice created by handing out other people's money and it's afraid to get out of it. Perhaps it might help if I point out that better targeting might actually allow an increase in the subsidy for those who genuinely need it. In any case, we are spending a vast amount of money to get people to return to work after having children. That's based on precious little information about how well it's working and whether it can be improved without throwing yet more billions of taxpayer dollars at it.
As to the second objective, improving educational and developmental outcomes for children, that of course is a worthy aspiration. The problem here is that the evidence to support the idea that early childhood education actually improves educational and developmental outcomes for all kids is not there. What the evidence shows is that early childhood education is only of benefit when the kids come from dysfunctional households—that is, where the parent is extremely poor and the parents are essentially deadbeats. In normal households, the outcomes are no better than those from staying home with mum. Even if they start school without certain skills—such as being unable to spell 'gender inequality'—they catch up very quickly. That is good, because otherwise the social engineers would be promoting Aldous Huxley's brave new world—children would be taken away and required to attend early childhood education because mothers are deemed incompetent to do the job. As we know, because we have thousands of years of evidence, mothers overwhelmingly do a great job.
The bottom line is this: we are spending $9 billion a year on a program that is barely targeted at the people who need it most—those who wouldn't otherwise return to work and kids in dysfunctional households. Rather, we have a massive feel-good program in which money is given to people who are not poor but who happen to have young children, with much of that money coming from people who earn less than those who receive it. Despite the helpful analysis in the Red Tape Committee's interim report and its very modest recommendations, the government is blind to its failures.
In the past, we didn't fund child care at all. Now we do. Why? The government's response should have sought to tell us. It doesn't.
Question agreed to.