Senate debates

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 10 of 2019-20; Consideration

6:33 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I want to speak briefly on the Auditor-General's report on the design and governance of the childcare package that was published on 30 September 2019. Early childhood education is an essential support for working parents, who rely on the dedication of educators around the nation to teach and nurture their children while they go to work. An integral component of learning for infants, toddlers and young children lies in the social and emotional foundation on which all future education is built. It is a multibillion dollar industry underpinned by a combination of parent fees and Commonwealth fee assistance. I note for the record that the Auditor-General has found that the Department of Education's design and governance of the government's childcare reforms was largely effective. The centrepiece of those reforms combined two previous fee system payments—the childcare rebate and the childcare benefit—into a single subsidy.

When it was announced back in May 2015, the coalition government praised themselves on designing a set of reforms that created a simple system and made early childhood education more affordable for parents. However, the minister at the time, Simon Birmingham, issued a media release claiming the reforms would put downward pressure on early education fees. Unfortunately, in my home state of Victoria—and, in particular, in country Victoria—the childcare reforms that commenced on 2 July last year are neither simple nor affordable. And the fees are well and truly up, despite the government's claims. The reality is that the government designed a system that has increased the compliance burden on families and early education and care providers. Rather than it being more affordable, parents are paying a national average of 4.9 per cent more today than they were at this time last year. This is clearly shown in the latest quarterly update of childcare data from the department of education released just a few weeks ago. The data also shows that families in rural Victoria have had to contend with fee increases well above the national average—up to 15 per cent in some regions. What the Auditor-General's report does not show is that, more than a year in, the government's new childcare system has completely failed at putting downward pressure on fees—and families in country Victoria are paying a very high price.

On this side of the chamber, Labor understands how much of an impost the rise in childcare fees poses to families. That's why we took an ambitious early childcare plan to the last election. That plan included real action to address fee increases imposed on families, like those that we are seeing right now in rural and regional Victoria. We built our plan because we know that parents are struggling with the cost of early childhood education. Fees have increased by 30 per cent since the Liberal-National government was first elected six years ago. Parents certainly cannot afford to pay any more, but nor can they afford to go without child care. That means families, particularly in rural and regional Victoria, are paying through the nose for early childhood education. Families in country Victoria need this government to act now to ensure early education and care is affordable, accessible and of the highest quality.

Question agreed to.

Senate adjourned at 18:37