Senate debates

Monday, 21 November 2022

Bills

Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill 2022; In Committee

11:20 am

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment on sheet 1738:

(1) Clause 1, page 1 (line 6), omit "(Cheaper Child Care)", substitute "(More Affordable Early Education and Care)".

This amendment is about changing the short title of the bill. The reason for that is that cheaper child care is a way of framing a sector which is not respectable. I did speak a bit about it in my second reading speech, but educators have really been disrespected and undervalued for a very long time . As I said earlier, language really does matter. My amendment changes the short title of the bill from 'Cheaper child care' to 'More affordable early education and care'. I understand that Senator Pocock has a similar amendment for the long title of the bill. These should really be taken in conjunction. There is no reason that both the titles should not be changed.

11:21 am

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Faruqi for her discussion on this, and we had a question in estimates about it two weeks ago. I can certainly say that this is a government that respects the role of early educators in the community. We value the role that they play in the community and I think we've demonstrated that by our actions in government, in supporting a pay rise, in our efforts to tackle the workforce shortage that we have underway.

As I said in estimates, there is obviously a collision here with messages that we took to the election, that we intend delivering on, so we will oppose this amendment from Senator Faruqi. But I can assure Senator Faruqi and the public in general that this is a government that respects the role of early educators. Every time I hear Minister Clare talk about this issue, he's very respectful of early educators. I think he has a cousin who's been very good at letting him know what the official job title is. So we're very much respectful of it, but we don't believe that a name change is the appropriate thing to do.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that Greens amendment (1) on sheet 1738 moved by Senator Faruqi be agreed to.

11:31 am

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 1731 together:

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 1), omit "3", substitute "4".

(2) Page 3 (after line 5), after clause 3, insert:

4 Review of this Act

(1) The Minister must cause an independent review to be conducted of the operation of the amendments made by this Act.

(2) Without limiting subsection (1), the review must consider the impact of the amendments made by this Act on:

(a) the cost of child care fees and the loss of subsidies to price increases and inflation; and

(b) the creation of new and additional child care places; and

(c) changes to service gaps across Australia, particularly in rural, regional and remote Australia; and

(d) changes to Indigenous children's attendance, specifically any increase in the number of Indigenous children attending child care; and

(e) the number of early childhood educators and any workforce gaps; and

(f) any increase to the workforce participation rate; and

(g) any increases in productivity.

(3) The persons who conduct the review must consider both quantitative and qualitative research in conducting the review.

(4) The review must commence no later than 1 July 2024.

(5) The persons who conduct the review must give the Minister a written report of the review within 3 months of the commencement of the review.

(6) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the report is given to the Minister.

In the contribution I made earlier, I outlined a range of reasons the coalition is moving these amendments to the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill 2022, and I know other colleagues have also spoken to this. It comes down to the need for information to understand whether this policy and the expenditure attached to it will hit the mark, whether this policy will do what has been said that it will do in terms of providing extra places and enabling more people to return to work.

To that end, there was a significant portion of debate that took place in the second reading stage around modelling—what had been modelled and what had not. We know that there was not a great deal of modelling undertaken. This has been made patently clear by the lack of response from the government throughout this entire debate, not just here or in the other place but publicly, and the lack of effort that has gone into understanding the impact this policy would have and, indeed, whether there would be benefits flowing. I was able to cite just one example of a small demographic that had a small amount of modelling undertaken relating to the impact on them but, at the same time, talked to a huge range of areas that had not even been considered.

The amendments that we're moving here, in terms of a review of the act, mean that the minister would need to cause an independent review around the operation of the amendments made by this act, and there are a list of items there which I think are central to understanding the success or otherwise of this legislation. Understanding the impact of this bill through what we're debating now, on issues like the cost of childcare fees and the loss of subsidies to price increases and inflation, is important to properly understand exactly what impact may be felt by the household, by the end user, by the working parent or by the client of the childcare service and the education service.

What impact will be felt there? Can there be guarantees made that will enable a negative outcome in this area not to be felt by households? We know, based on the information provided to us to date, that there hasn't been modelling undertaken on these issues. I would have thought that we're all in the business of problem solving, we're all in the business of making sure that Australia is a better place, so that those who seek to work can do so more freely and those who want to take advantage of this great service in the early childhood education and care sector are able to do so. But we don't know whether there will be a loss of subsidy due to price increases and inflation, and whether the cost of childcare fees will go up. It is important to understand what impact will be felt by the policy levers being pulled in this legislation, and that's one of the elements that this review would look into.

Importantly, we also need to understand, through this review, what additional childcare places would occur. We know that there is a huge amount of demand out there, and we've heard figures raised in various elements of this debate. Up to 20,000 places were cited as being the shortage in parts of Australia, so we need to understand what new childcare places will occur as a result of the amendments in this legislation. It has been said in the debate—and whether or not these amendments give effect to this is a different question—that in theory this will occur, but no one can tell us how many places, no one can tell us where, and that is a problem. That is why having a review to look at this as well is incredibly important.

The changes to service gaps across Australia, particularly in rural, regional and remote Australian communities—and I know that Senator McKenzie will probably have some remarks to make about this, perhaps with other colleagues as well—are important. We talked about childcare deserts where services are thin to non-existent on the ground and the demand outstrips supply by three to one—are we going to see these gaps filled? Are we going to see these holes plugged? Are we going to see the problems for these communities when its comes to access to this vital economic service solved as a result of this legislation? Again, because there was no modelling done, we don't know. We can only assume based on what we know to be the experience under our time in government, that a lot more needs to be done. But we need to understand what impact will be had, and we don't know what impact will be had as we go to spend in excess of $4 billion on this policy resulting from this legislation.

There is no modelling done on Indigenous children's attendance—specifically, on an increase in the number of Indigenous children attending child care. It's an important area of policy and an important consideration, in the deliberation of this legislation, for those communities out there in regional and particularly remote communities. How will these changes specifically impact on them, the needs they face and the improvement of life outcomes for them? Every senator who has spoken on this legislation has pointed to the importance of a solid early childhood education sector and the foundation it provides for young Australians, no matter where in the country they live. We know that there are improved outcomes for those who gain access to a good system that provides needs, but we don't know what changes there will be to Indigenous children's attendance—specifically, whether there will be any increase in the number of Indigenous children attending child care or early childhood education. It's something that I think is very important in relation to the passage of this legislation.

One thing that has been spoken about a lot—but that we again don't have any detail around—is the number of early childhood educators and any workforce gaps that exist. The review we're proposing here would take us through that. We'd understand exactly where the gaps are and what problems are faced. In gaining that information, we would then be able to support the government in creating solutions to any impediments to finding those childhood educators and where those workforce gaps exist. Understanding those issues, hurdles and impediments is central to ensuring that we can address the problem, but here we are today, passing legislation with no modelling and no understanding of these gaps, who we're looking for, how we're going to attract them, what additional pressure might be applied to the workforce and what increasing of the gap might occur as a result of these changes. It's important to have a review into this particular part of the legislation.

We also want to make sure that we look at any increases to the workforce participation rate and, in addition to that, any increases in productivity. There's been a lot of talk about the economic outcomes of this legislation and what it will mean for communities and for an economy that needs every bit of a boost it can get. I think understanding what impact this injection in excess of $4 billion of expenditure to support and augment this sector will have on the economy is an important part of what we should be considering here. As I've said already, we don't know because the modelling hasn't been done. There have been varying figures around even the cost of this bill. As we move forward, all of us want to be solution providers and problem solvers. Understanding how this policy will translate into increased workforce participation and increased productivity is, I think, exceptionally important. I don't think it's something that we should be forgetting as we go into this. In everything we do, particularly with the pressures that we face across the economy, across society and across every region of our country, we should understand what improvements would be made to economic outcomes in terms of workforce participation and productivity.

In calling for this review, we want to ensure that both quantitative and qualitative research is conducted. It's important to understand not just the numbers and stats but also the improved outcomes for people across the country—households and families that want to take advantage of this service. As I said right at the beginning, we all want to make sure that this sector is functioning as best it can to support the needs, wishes and dreams of Australians, with better outcomes for young Australians and a good foundation. It's an important amendment, and I hope colleagues will look to support it, because having data is central to a good outcome.

11:41 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

It's hard not to be cynical about whether this Labor government has any commitment whatsoever to those nine million of us who don't live in capital cities in this country. We have before us a piece of childcare legislation that doesn't add one single additional place to ease the overall burden in our country and, more significantly for those of us that live in communities where we are in a childcare desert, there's no creative thinking about how families and particularly women who live in rural and remote Australia are going to be able to access child care so that they can actually get back into the workforce.

Everyone in this place talks a big game about the workforce participation of women and how they're so keen to facilitate that. But do you know what? It just matters where you live with these guys. It absolutely matters where you live. If you are a woman who lives in one of these childcare deserts then you can't actually access the childcare places that you need. As Senator Duniam made clear, these are thin markets. They are not necessarily communities that can support the long and expensive daycare model. So it actually required a little bit of thinking other than just tapping into United Voice and saying: 'What do you need? We're in government. Let's make sure you have everything you need as one of our key stakeholders and constituencies and basically do nothing to assist rural and regional women, rural and regional families and children with their childcare needs.'

The government have announced $4.7 billion in the budget. It's quite incredible. That's a hell of a lot of money to spend in a policy area where they won't make a fundamental difference to the most marginalised and most vulnerable in these communities. They're more interested in helping out middle-class suburbs in capital cities—and we might ask why they're more interested in assisting those families—over people who cannot actually access this service at all.

I would seek the Greens' support for the opposition's amendments here. These are sensible amendments that seek to hold a timely review into this legislation to see if it actually does deliver the types of outcomes that we all want to see with our childcare system.

We want to see greater workforce participation by women but we also need to make sure that these services don't depend on geography, on where they're being delivered. Minister, could you please tell me how many extra childcare places are being delivered in your home state of Queensland as a result of this bill?

11:45 am

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I will respond to the points from Senator Duniam and Senator McKenzie as well. In terms of the substance of these amendments, we've been very clear about where we think the review should take place. We believe that there are challenges in this sector, which is why we have asked the ACCC, and why we've provided them with $10.8 million, to undertake a price inquiry into child care in 2023. This will consider the effectiveness of the existing price regulation mechanisms, the drivers of rising early education costs and the impact of these childcare subsidy changes on out-of-pocket fees. We've asked the ACCC to do that and we think it's complementary to the legislation that we hope to pass today. The government has also committed to tasking the Productivity Commission with conducting a comprehensive review of the sector. That review will commence in the first half of next year. Both of these reviews, we think, are comprehensive, and therefore additional reviews are not required at this time.

There's no doubt that there are challenges in the sector. It's obviously not for other politicians to lecture colleagues on self-reflection, but surely those opposite have to be a little bit self-reflective. They've just concluded 10 years in government, and we've inherited a mess that we are trying to fix. They make no mention of that in their contributions here. They say that they support this bill. I have not heard one positive comment out of any of them in their contributions to this bill, which is what we took to the election and are hoping to implement here today. We know that there are challenges in many communities around workforce, which is why we are actually delivering a workforce action plan.

We also, in the budget, committed almost half a billion dollars to the Community Child Care Fund, which obviously goes to supporting many childcare places in communities where they don't have the necessary support. That's something we are going to continue. This helps ensure families have access to early childhood education in areas where there are not a lot of services. I also note that some state governments have announced substantial reforms in the space, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, which will be around establishing new services in areas of need.

Through the provision of more subsidies to families, there will be an increase in demand, and obviously that will go towards the market responding and creating more spaces and services at the same time. And our workforce initiatives, which are comprehensive, including fee-free TAFE and additional higher education places, will increase the availability of educators to meet demand. So there's a combination of things happening in terms of the government's response. They go to the Community Child Care Fund but they also go to the increase in demand that will come from this legislation, meaning that the market will respond and create more places at the same time.

11:48 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

I note the minister refuses to accept the fact that this bill will not add any additional places in his home state of Queensland. Minister, you talked about the reviews that you're proposing: ACCC and Productivity Commission. For those of us who don't live in capital cities, it is our lived experience that unless you explicitly ask bodies to examine the impact of government policy on rural, regional and remote communities, on workforce participation of rural, regional and remote women, on the development and growth of country kids and on our future prosperity then it just doesn't happen. And, unfortunately, our experience under your government thus far shows that it doesn't happen. You've in fact cut the very funding mechanisms that have built childcare centres and facilities in country communities—the Building Better Regions Fund and others, that you want to typify as wasteful spending in our communities—which have led to families being able to access child care, often for the very first time. So excuse me if I'm not dancing in the streets over $4.7 billion to satisfy middle-class income earners in capital cities and your union mates from United Voice.

I particularly want to put on the record in the time that I have available to me, the hard work of Anne Webster, the National Party member for Mallee, who has championed this issue for so many of her country towns and regional centres. Seven towns in the Mallee right now are without child care: Birchip, Boort, Cohuna, Murtoa, Pyramid Hill, Rainbow and Wedderburn. In other larger centres there are long waiting lists. One centre in Mildura has a waiting list of 200 kids, and this is a regional capital that exports to the world. There is latent capacity, particularly of women in that community and, all bar for the access to child care, they cannot pursue their careers and their jobs to provide for their families as a result of this. You say that many state governments are stumping up. Well, cooee Daniel Andrews, you've got five days.

Labor has not only ignored the need for services in the Mallee but deliberately scrapped the funding provided for this, as I said, in the form of round 6 of the Building Better Regions Fund and the Community Development Grants Program. Anne Webster has people in Mallee who want to go back to work—professionals who offer their towns vital experience and skills but who can't, simply because there is no place to place their children safely to receive quality childcare education in a safe manner. Minister, how many additional places as a result of $4.7 billion of funding are going to be available in rural and regional Australia as a result of your government's legislation?

11:52 am

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

As I said, Senator McKenzie, we know that there are many challenges in many parts of the country around access to early childhood education, which is why we are confident that making it cheaper and more affordable will see more families take up that option. We also see that there will be a response from the market to increase these facilities, because they know there will be more demand. We've also got the commitment that we made to the Community Child Care Fund; that will obviously go some way towards tackling some of these challenges.

You mentioned some of our regional funding. Well, we do have a focus on that and a fund is being set up that will be available for regional communities to apply for. But, unlike your funds, ours will be transparent, ours will be accountable, they will open at regular times and there will be guidelines for people to follow. So communities know when they can apply, they know the rules that will apply, they know how they can apply and when they will be successful. That's rather than those ones that yourself and the former Deputy Prime Minister dreamed up, that suited you but didn't actually suit the majority of Australians. We take these issues seriously. We take integrity and accountability seriously, and that's why we're setting up appropriate funding mechanisms for regional Australia that can benefit from those funds.

11:53 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Chair: Minister, as a former minister who actually funded a round that was supposed to open in August this year to support these types of facilities being supported in communities—such as I've mentioned in the Mallee—I find it the height of hypocrisy that you have the hubris to stand in this place and call out, somehow, a lack of integrity around how our government administered childcare funding and grants programs across the board. You've failed. You've actually failed in your attempt to categorise spending in rural and regional Australia as wasteful, because it's not. It's not in your seats. It's not where people vote for you, because they do vote for the Liberals, the Nationals, the Country Liberal Party and other independents. They're never going to be voting Labor. Do you know why? Because every time you get into the Treasury seats, you show exactly the kind of disrespect you are with this legislation—and others—and you turn your backs on the very needs and critical investment required for the nine million of us that don't vote for you. We are still Australians and deserve equitable access to services.

11:55 am

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to make a few comments on the amendments that the coalition have put up—Senator Duniam's amendments. First up, I must say it's pretty rich for the Liberals and the Nationals to stand up here and suddenly start caring about early childhood education and learning when it was their government that took early childhood educators off JobKeeper. That was the first sector they took off JobKeeper, showing their disrespect for the sector and the people who work in it. Also, in the ten years they were in government, costs for early childhood education and care became the most expensive in the world. Affordability and accessibility did not improve one single bit. If you want to talk about hypocrisy, let's talk about that.

Having said that, the Greens will support the amendments before us. They are about accountability. As Senator David Pocock said earlier, we make these changes here and then we forget about them. These amendments are about making sure the changes that are made today and that come into effect in July next year are changes that actually have an impact. If not, then things will need to be changed. What's being proposed in these amendments is a targeted review on the impact of this bill, in particular. Given the concerns we have had about some of the provisions of the bill in terms of how it will meet what is needed to be met, such as more places and wage rises and making sure educators are available for those places, I think this review is pretty appropriate. There is no reason why a targeted review can't take place alongside the more expansive reviews the government is intending on doing anyway, like the ACCC and the Productivity Commission reviews. The Greens, on principle, will be supporting these amendments.

11:57 am

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I acknowledge the Greens' support for these amendments and thank them very much for it. It's absolutely critical that this review happens, and I'm pleased that, on the strength of their support, this review will happen. It's very disappointing that the government don't accept these amendments and won't be opening themselves up to scrutiny on the impact of this bill.

I want to speak very quickly about the importance of looking at Indigenous children's attendance in child care, noting that this bill does increase the number of hours that Aboriginal families are able to access child care from 24 to 36 hours across a fortnight without having to undergo the activity test. We asked questions in the committee stage which weren't able to be answered and still haven't been answered. They included: what is the average number of hours that Indigenous children are taking up already? They're already eligible for 24 hours, so what's the average number that is being taken up? Given this bill will open it up to 36 hours, if the current average is below 24 hours, then just increasing the number doesn't change anything. There needs to be a much greater emphasis put on activation and engagement in Indigenous communities, in helping people. And, of course, you need to have places for those people to go to in the first place. This review is really critical to ensure that the objectives of this bill are met. It's a lot of money—$4.7 billion—a lot of taxpayers' dollars, going into this program, and we have to make sure that it's targeted and meeting needs.

Right now, in Western Australia, we have an absolute crisis going on in Indigenous communities, not just in remote and regional parts but even in the capital city of Perth, where there are young people—young teenagers, in particular—who are committing crimes. They are out and about, particularly in the remote parts of the country, in places like Kununurra and even in Broome. You wouldn't consider Broome to be remote, but there are now barbed wire fences that have been put up around premises to stop young children from going in and breaking into those places at night. I'd hazard a guess that the issues that are occurring in these communities are a result of a failing in the early years of those children's development.

I'm not in any way saying that we need to institutionalise children by just sending them off to child care, but I think there is a real need to make sure that investment is made into the development of children, particularly in those early years. We know that children's brains grow by 300 per cent in the first three years of their lives. We know that, by the time they're five, their brains have already grown to 90 per cent of the size of an adult's brain, and, in those early years, the frontal lobe of the brain is developed. Development of reasoning and of emotions like empathy occurs in those early years. If children aren't given the very best chance at life by being provided with the right environment to enable them to grow and develop, we know that they will be impeded for life.

Right now Banksia Hill Detention Centre, the juvenile correction centre in Perth, is at a crisis point, and it's sadly filled with too many Indigenous kids. I used to go in there as a youth worker many, many years ago, and I would encounter children with no empathy and no sense of the impact of their crime and what they had done. A lot of that stems back to what happened when they were very young children and the environment they were exposed to. Sadly, for many, it's the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder that they were born with because of the consumption of alcohol in utero.

These are issues that need to be resolved. I think early learning and early childhood development play a critical role in helping families, particularly young families. We have situations where children are having children—young teenagers are now mothers and are struggling to raise their children. Having the services there in communities to help them is absolutely vital to ensuring that those children can go on to live productive lives. If the mothers themselves weren't provided that opportunity when they were infants and when they were very young children, then we've got to make sure we stem the flow and we break that cycle. It's really, really critical.

I'm hoping that the $4.7 billion that is being put in will go, as Senator McKenzie was saying, into regional and remote Australia. We can't be sure that it will, because no modelling has been done, but I'm pleased that this review is going to happen. We'll actually be able to check the progress to see whether or not it has an impact on the ground where it's necessary so that we're able to ensure that young families, and young children in particular, in disadvantaged communities are given the very best chance at life. It's important to have a review that will look into this and check whether or not there is access and that that access does actually lift from 24 to 36 hours for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. That is the number of hours that they can access services without going through the activity test. Seeing if this change actually does make that impact is a very good thing.

I urge the government to consider joining with their partners in government to support this amendment because I think it's going to be very important. It would be a good show of faith to the Australian people and, indeed, to regional and rural Australia that you are on their side.

12:04 pm

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Along with my colleagues I concur with the concerns Senator O'Sullivan is expressing with regard to ensuring that some of our most marginalised children in this country get the best start in life. It is a deep concern with regard to attendance rates, whether it's in child care for Indigenous children or it's in schooling for Indigenous children. The educational relationships between families and schools begin with early child care. In a former life I was very privileged to bring messages about education and health and a better way of living to early childhood audiences throughout the Northern Territory in remote communities, throughout Queensland in remote communities, throughout New South Wales and throughout South Australia. I understand how important it is for those relationships to begin. During my previous life on the road presenting to children in musical fashion, I engaged with those families to ensure that those families started their relationships while the parents were attending and the wonderful Yamba the honey ant was presented to those children. Often it kicked off the importance of those relationships between parents and schools and child care. That's where it all begins, so I concur with my colleague and his concern.

It also offers the opportunity to intervene early in a child's life. We know that Indigenous children experience some of the highest rates of domestic and family violence in their homes. They are experiencing the highest rates of child sexual abuse, which is why our leader of the coalition is calling for a royal commission into the sexual abuse of Indigenous children. It is much needed. These are all issues that Indigenous children are confronted with, particularly our most marginalised in regional Australia. It would be in this government's best interests to ensure that they are keeping these children front and centre with this particular bill and ensuring that they are getting what they need.

Another issue that concerns me is that this bill seeks to legislate a new definition of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child in the family assistance act. This appears to be the first use of such a definition in Commonwealth primary legislation. Some concerns have been raised regarding this new definition as it doesn't exist in the family assistance act currently and it is different to the definition within the Social Security Act. Currently, the Commonwealth programs define an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person as one who is: first, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent; second, identifies as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person; and, third, is accepted as such by the community in which they live or have lived. This definition has been used by the courts as the ordinary definition in many cases, including the Mabo versus Queensland case and the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. There seems to be little research or evidence as to why changing this definition to a person who identifies as a person of descent and is accepted by the community in which the person lives as being of that descent should come into effect.

The government haven't been able to demonstrate how they're going to increase the attendance numbers of Indigenous children, and I would hope that this isn't an activity to allow parents and caregivers to tick that box to claim Aboriginality. This is a huge issue of concern amongst Indigenous Australians. It's been brought up very recently. SBS ran an Insight program on it, and there are deeply concerned members of the Indigenous community who have seen an influx of individuals in this nation claiming Indigeneity. In fact, in the 2021 census 92,300 Australians ticked that box for the very first time in their lives.

So what does this mean when, in this new definition, a child doesn't necessarily have to be of descent but can be accepted by our community? There are huge questions around this and huge implications that I don't think this government has taken into account. We don't just give Indigeneity out of cornflakes boxes, do we? It's deeply insulting for Indigenous Australians with true identity. It certainly might be able to boost the numbers of what appear to be more Indigenous children attending child care, but it doesn't get to the heart of the point that some of our most marginalised, in regional Australia, are being forgotten about. That's because people in the cities can tick that box. Resources are drawn away from people in regional Australia. They are left high and dry—they're out of sight and out of mind. This idea of a voice is apparently about giving them a voice, but this is another push by the elites to continue to control circumstances for our most marginalised Indigenous Australians.

I would like to understand from the minister: can the government provide their justification for this new change, and can the minister clarify whether a non-biologically related child adopted by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family qualifies under this new definition?

12:11 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The definition of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child in the bill is based on the definition in the Australian Education Regulation 2013 that has been in place since 2014. It's a three-part test and it's consistent with the common law approach of descent, self-identification and community acceptance. We referred the cheaper child care bill to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee, and the report came back with no concerns raised over the definition in the draft legislation.

12:12 pm

Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

AMPIJINPA PRICE () (): What was the input from any Indigenous members of community? Was there any such input from significant Indigenous members of the community or organisations, or was it purely the education department?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

We did consult with First Nations advocacy representatives with whom the department were tasked with consulting.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I briefly wanted to comment on this bill. I didn't get the opportunity for a second reading speech. I do support the amendment being put forward by Senator Duniam but I don't support the bill as a whole, and I briefly wanted to outline the reasons for that. I do support more assistance for families needing to fund child care, especially those on low incomes. Of course, this bill does also provide significant assistance to families earning up to $530,000 a year, which is not a poor man's wage.

I am opposed to spending another $4½ billion on extra childcare assistance while we apparently cannot fix the issue of an underfunding and a grossly unfair tax system for families that look after their own children. We've spoken a lot today about the lack of child care in parts of our country. There's a whole workforce out there that could be used to look after children. They're called parents—they're called mothers and fathers—but they are penalised by our tax system every day if they are to make a choice to look after their own children.

Right now, if you're a single income family on $150,000 a year, you will pay $17,000 a year more tax than a family that splits that income—say 60 per cent or 30 per cent, or $100,000 and $50,000, across each parent. It's the same household income: $150,000 a year. It's the same number of kids. And the difference in tax is $17,000 a year. The decision to look after your own child should not be the most expensive financial decision you have to make in your life. We should be encouraging that, because all of the evidence shows that a child who can be looked after by their mother or father, especially in the young years of their life, does really well. It's really good for them to have that parental care, especially in their first year of life.

I just want to quote from some research done by some researchers, including Dr Baum, where he says:

This article identifies the effects of maternal marketplace work in the initial months of an infant's life on the child's cognitive development. Results suggest that such work in the first year of a child's life has detrimental effects. Where significant, the results also indicate negative effects of maternal employment in the child's first quarter of life.

They are the stats. We spend so much money on education, on schools and all these things, and the people we have out there who can do some of the best things for a child's community development—the mothers and fathers of those children—are discouraged from looking after their own children.

I want to read into the Hansard an excellent article written by Virginia Tapscott in the Australian a few months ago. Senator McKenzie obviously read the same article. Virginia is a stay-at-home mum, somewhat unexpectedly—I don't like using the term 'stay-at-home mum'; they're really 'work-at-home' mums. They were working at home before it was cool. It's much harder work than I do. Whenever I've had to look after my five kids and needed a break, I could come here to this place and get a break from them. My wife doesn't always get that. She works a lot harder than me. Virginia says:

I think it's a ridiculous notion that women need to position themselves in a workplace in order to be valued and earn respect. The unfinished business of feminism is demanding respect for women in all their roles. Before becoming a mother I championed individual success and completely envisioned myself as a working mum. I was socially conditioned to expect this by the "women can have it all" movement and it made my transition to motherhood awkward as hell. When my first son turned one I felt a sense of urgency and panic that I should be getting back to work, that if I didn't go back now I'd never be allowed back in.

We are perpetuating that psychology across our community, which ridiculously places work ahead of the home. The home is the most important thing in our nation. Every profession out there is actually there to defend the homemakers. They're the ones who bring up the next generation. It's the most important job in our community. Anyone thinking that staying back late, working for a big investment bank or a consulting firm, doing spreadsheets or PowerPoint slides, is somehow more rewarding in their life than changing nappies or making lunches has a warped sense of priorities.

This bill perpetuates that warped sense of priorities. We should be respecting motherhood, we should be respecting fatherhood and we should be funding it through our tax system.

The CHAIR (12:17): I put the question that the amendments moved by Senator Duniam, amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 1731, being moved together by leave of the committee, be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

12:18 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move Greens amendments (1) to (8) on sheet 1720.

(1) Schedule 2, item 6, page 12 (lines 7 to 9), omit the item, substitute:

6 Division 4 of Part 8A (heading)

Omit " relating to large centre-based day care", substitute "in relation to financial information etc".

(2) Schedule 2, item 10, page 12 (line 21), omit "large child care".

(3) Schedule 2, item 10, page 12 (lines 23 and 24), omit subsection 203BA(1), substitute:

(1) A provider that is an approved provider at any time in a financial year must give the Secretary a report in accordance with subsection (2).

(4) Schedule 2, item 10, page 13 (after line 2), after paragraph 203BA(2)(b), insert:

(ba) if the provider carries on a business for profit—include the financial information set out in subsection (2A) in relation to the period that applies under paragraph (b) of this subsection; and

(5) Schedule 2, item 10, page 13 (after line 7), after subsection 203BA(2), insert:

For-profit providers required to provide additional financial information

(2A) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(ba), the financial information is the following:

(a) the total amount of the provider's profits or losses;

(b) the total amount of any dividends paid by the provider;

(c) details of expenditure attributable to staffing costs, including:

(i) remuneration of executives; and

(ii) salaries of staff employed, contracted or otherwise engaged by the provider; and

(iii) any other compensation paid to staff; and

(iii) training and development of staff; and

(d) the amount of expenditure attributable to investment in quality and inclusion for child care services provided by the provider;

(e) the amount of expenditure attributable to rental costs for premises used by the provider to provide child care services;

(f) details of any increases to fees charged by the provider for child care services;

(g) any additional information of a kind prescribed by the Minister's rules for the purposes of this paragraph.

(2B) The Minister's rules may prescribe methods for the purposes of calculating amounts mentioned in subsection (2A).

(6) Schedule 2, item 10, page 13 (lines 13 to 17), omit "large child care" (wherever occurring).

(7) Schedule 2, item 14, page 14 (lines 26 and 27), omit "if the approved provider is a large child care provider covered by paragraph 4A(1)(a) or (b)—".

(8) Schedule 2, item 14, page 14 (after line 30), after subsection 162B(1), insert:

(1A) The Secretary must, under subsection (1), publish information mentioned in paragraph (1)(d) (together with any related information mentioned in paragraph (1)(e)), or information included in a report mentioned in paragraph (1)(f), as soon as practicable after the information or report is given to the Secretary, together with information mentioned in paragraphs (1)(a), (b) and (c).

These amendments are to ensure that early childhood education and care providers are subject to a strong transparency regime that families can have confidence in. We heard during the inquiry to this bill that stakeholders supported a need for greater transparency in the early childhood education and care sector. The bill makes a start on that, definitely, by introducing new reporting requirements for large early childhood education and care providers and allowing the secretary of the department to publish the information. But there is no reason that these requirements should be arbitrarily limited to large providers.

As the Centre for Policy Development argued in their submission, they should apply to all early childhood education and care providers. This amendment that I am moving will extend the reporting requirements to all early childhood education and care providers and will require the secretary to publish the information reported to them. It shouldn't be left up to their discretion whether they publish the information or not.

Though education—this is what the Greens believe—should never be for profit, the unfortunate reality is that there has been a proliferation of for-profit early childhood education and care providers in recent years. These providers receive substantial public money, and there is so little visibility and accountability as to how they spend that money. There is a compelling need for them to be subject to stricter disclosure requirements than those which apply to community and not-for-profit early childhood education and care providers.

We are therefore moving amendments which respond to recommendations from the Centre for Future Work and the United Workers Union to require for-profit early childhood education and care providers to report their full finances, including profits, dividend payments, other disbursements to shareholders, executive compensation, wages expenditure, rental costs and fee increases. I think this is absolutely necessary, when huge amounts of public money are now being used for profit. Again, the secretary will be required to publish this information to contribute to this greater public awareness of how for-profit providers are using public money.

12:20 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The government is committed to improving transparency in the sector. Large early childhood education providers will be required to report financial information, including profit and revenue, which will be published online. During the committee's inquiry, this approach was described by some stakeholders as essential and completely reasonable. Large providers account for over a third of the early childhood education and care sector, but the government is conscious of the need to balance increasing transparency with the regulatory burden, particularly that which is imposed on small businesses.

Separate to the bill, work is underway to further enhance the Starting Blocks website to ensure it is a reliable one-stop shop for families seeking information about their early childhood and education care options. We believe we have the appropriate transparency mechanisms in place and don't support the amendments put forward by Senator Faruqi and the Greens.

The CHAIR: The question before the committee is that amendments (1) to (8) on sheet 1720, moved by Senator Faruqi by leave of the committee, should be agreed to.

12:30 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the Greens request for amendment on sheet 1727:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendment:

(1) Schedule 3, page 16 (line 1) to page 18 (line 31), omit the Schedule, substitute:

Schedule 3 — Abolishing the activity test

A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999

1 Subsection 3(1) (definition of activity test result )

Repeal the definition.

2 Subsection 3(1) (definition of child wellbeing result )

Repeal the definition.

3 Subsection 3(1)

Insert:

circumstances test result has the meaning given by clause 11 of Schedule 2.

4 Subsection 3(1) (definition of deemed activity test result )

Repeal the definition.

5 Subsection 3(1)

Insert:

deemed circumstances test result has the meaning given by clause 16 of Schedule 2.

6 Subsection 3(1) (definition of extended child wellbeing period )

Repeal the definition.

7 Subsection 3(1) (definition of low income result )

Repeal the definition.

8 Subsection 3(1) (definition of paid work )

Omit "(other than in paragraph 12(2)(a) of Schedule 2)".

9 Subsection 3(1) (definition of recognised activity )

Repeal the definition.

10 Subsection 3(1) definition of recognised activity result )

Repeal the definition.

11 Subsection 3B(1)

Omit "(other than in paragraph 12(2)(a) of Schedule 2)".

12 Subsec tion 3B(1) (note)

Repeal the note.

13 Clause 1 of Schedule 2 (method statement, step 1)

Repeal the step.

14 Clause 1 of Schedule 2 (method statement, step 5, paragraph (a))

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

15 Clause 1 of Schedule 2 (method statement, step 5, paragraph (b))

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

16 Clause 1 of Schedule 2 (method statement, step 6)

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

17 Clause 1 of Schedule 2 (metho d statement, step 7)

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

18 Clause 4 of Schedule 2 (heading)

Omit "Activity-tested", substitute "Circumstances-tested".

19 Subclause 4(1) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity-tested amount", substitute "circumstances-tested amount".

20 Subparagraph 4(1)(a)(i) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

21 Subclause 4(2) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity test" (wherever occurring), substitute "circumstances test".

22 Clause 4A of Schedule 2 ( heading)

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

23 Paragraph 4A(1)(a) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

24 Subclause 4A(2) of Schedule 2

Omit "adjustedactivity-tested amount", substitute "adjustedcircumstances-tested amount".

25 Paragraphs 4A(2)(a) and (b) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

26 Clause 8 of Schedule 2 (method statement, step 1)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

27 Cl ause 8 of Schedule 2 (method statement, step 4)

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

28 Clause 8 of Schedule 2 (method statement, step 5)

Omit "activity-tested", substitute "circumstances-tested".

29 Clause 10 of Schedule 2 (heading)

Omit "Activity-tested", substitute "Circumstances-tested".

30 Subclause 10(1)

Omit "activity-tested amount", substitute "circumstances-tested amount".

31 Paragraph 10(1)(a) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

32 S ubclause 10(2) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity test" (wherever occurring), substitute "circumstances test".

33 Part 5 of Schedule 2 (heading)

Repeal the heading, substitute:

Part 5 — Circumstances test

34 Division 1 of Part 5 of Schedule 2 (heading)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

35 Clause 11 of Schedule 2 (heading)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

36 Subclause 11(1) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity test result", substitute "circumstances test result".

37 Subparagraph 11(1)(b)(ii) of Schedule 2

Repeal the subparagraph, substitute:

(ii) the result worked out in accordance with paragraph (a) for the individual's partner in relation to the child.

38 Subclause 11(1) of Schedule 2 (table heading)

Repeal the heading, substitute:

Individual's circumstances test result

39 Subclause 11(1) of Schedule 2 (table items 1 and 2)

Repeal the items, substitute:

40 Subclause 11(1) of Schedule 2 (table item 4)

Repeal the item.

41 Subclause 11(5) of Schedule 2

Omit "activity test" (wherever occurring), substitute "circumstances test".

42 Clauses 12, 13 and 15 of Schedule 2

Repeal the clauses.

43 Division 2 of Part 5 of Schedule 2 (heading)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

44 Clau se 16 of Schedule 2

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

45 Subclause 16(1) of Schedule 2

Omit "deemed activity test result", substitute "deemed circumstances test result".

A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999

46 Subparagraph 67CE(1)(b)(ii)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

47 Subparagraph 105D(2)(a)(ii)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

48 Subparagraph 105E(1)(c)(ii)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

49 Subparagraph 108(5)(b)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

50 Paragraph 111(2A)(b)

Omit "activity test", substitute "circumstances test".

51 Paragraph 157(2)(k)

Repeal the paragraph.

52 Application of amendments etc.

(1) The amendments of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 and A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 made by this Schedule apply in relation to sessions of care provided to a child in a CCS fortnight that starts in the income year in which this item commences or in a later income year.

(2) A reference to an individual's circumstances test result in the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999, as amended by this Schedule, is taken, in relation to any period occurring before the start of the first CCS fortnight in the income year in which this item commences, to include a reference to the individual's activity test result, within the meaning of that Act as in force immediately before that commencement.

Statement pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

Amendment (1)

Amendment (1) is framed as a request because it amends the bill to remove activity testing for the child care subsidy. The amendment would enable individuals to access up to the full 100 hours of subsidised child care per fortnight regardless of whether they have engaged in recognised activity such as paid work or study. This would result in increased payments of the child care subsidy.

The effect of the amendment would therefore increase the amount of expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 233 of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999.

Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

Amendment (1 )

If the effect of the amendment is to increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 233 of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 then it is in accordance with the precedents of the Senate that the amendment be moved as a request.

This amendment is about abolishing the activity test.

As I said during my second reading speech, the Greens support, obviously, the new baseline entitlement to 36 hours a fortnight of subsidised childhood education and care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, regardless of the activity levels of their parents. This change has been a long time coming. But, really, it also leaves so many other families and children out in the cold. It does not go far enough; the activity test needs to be completely scrapped—it is causing harm now. We heard from so many witnesses during the Senate inquiry on this bill who told us how the activity test was cruel and punitive, that it really was beyond repair and that it had to go. This is because it denies access for the most disadvantaged children and then punishes families who are in insecure or casual work.

Some 126,000 children from the poorest households in the country are missing out on early education because of the activity test. The activity test denies access, as I said, to the most disadvantaged children. Many witnesses to the inquiry completely supported the abolition of this test. So this is what this amendment does: it abolishes the activity test and takes us a long way towards delivering universal and fairer access to early childhood education and care. I do really ask my colleagues in the chamber to support this. If we do care about access for many families, and especially for disadvantaged children and families, then this activity test really has to go. We have the ability to do that today.

12:32 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The government believes that the activity test needs reviewing, but we think the most appropriate way for that to be done is through the Productivity Commission, which the government has tasked with looking at the sector and providing a comprehensive review of the sector. We think that the review should look at whether those activity test settings are appropriate, and that's what the government will do. That's what we think is the appropriate way to deal with the activity test.

12:33 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, will the government please explain to me the activity test now—as it stands at the moment?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Senator Hanson. The activity test that we're focused on here today is the one where the government have said we've tasked the Productivity Commission with conducting a comprehensive review of the sector, which will include whether the current activity test settings are appropriate.

We expect the review to commence in the first half of next year. However, we thought that there was an urgency to act in the current environment, particularly to support education outcomes for Indigenous children. In 2021, for the first time, the proportion of First Nations children on track developmentally in all five domains went backwards, so the gap is actually getting bigger and not smaller. We need to turn this around, and that's why this bill provides a minimum of 36 subsidised hours a fortnight for First Nations children, benefiting at least 6,600 families.

According to the Australian early development centres, in 2021 two in five Indigenous children were developmentally vulnerable in one or more domains when they started school. That's compared with one in five children who are from a non-Indigenous background. Last year the proportion of Indigenous children assessed as developmentally on track in all five domains was 34.3 per cent, which is a drop from 35.2 per cent in 2018. As the Prime Minister has said, we've tasked the Productivity Commission to investigate affordable—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Excuse me, Minister. Senator Hanson, a point of order?

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, on relevance. The minister is not answering my question. I asked: what is the activity test at the moment? He has not gone anywhere near explaining what the activity test is at the moment.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I draw you back to the question, Minister.

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The activity test is: for less than eight hours, the subsidised care each fortnight is zero hours if you earn above $72,466 and 24 hours if you earn $72,466 or below; for more than eight hours to 16 hours, the subsidised care each fortnight is 36 hours; for more than 16 hours to 48 hours, the subsidised care each fortnight is 72 hours; and, for more than 48 hours, the subsidised care each fortnight is 100 hours.

12:35 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can you explain this to the chamber: how much care is given to people who are not working, those people who are not employed? Do they have to do charity work or be studying? What are the requirements for them to get that child care?

12:36 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

There are a lot of other factors involved there, Senator Hanson. It would also depend on whether they're studying or doing some type of training. It's really hard to give a simple answer to that question because there are other factors at play.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask the question: is child care, paid by the taxpayer, given to families who are not working at all? And how much?

12:37 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

If they're not working then they don't get any subsidy.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: The question is not that the amendment be agreed to. Senator Faruqi's amendment needs to go back to the other chamber as a request because it deals with money clauses. The question is that request for an amendment (1) on sheet 1727 be agreed to.

12:45 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I note that this bill makes some useful updates to the administration of the federal government's childcare subsidy. One Nation largely supports those changes. One Nation, though, opposes many of the provisions in the bill.

Before moving my amendment, I'll put it in context and ask four questions of the minister, because this bill has not been thought through. This bill will add $4.5 billion over the forward estimates to the cost of child care to the federal government, taking the annual cost above $10 billion. Child care, or early learning, is an industry worth $14 billion a year, employing 133,000 Australians to care for 1.3 million children.

The government is promising that this bill will make child care more affordable, and the expectation is it will allow more families to put more children in child care. But it's difficult to see how. Remember that subsidies always make services and goods more expensive. A family earning Australia's median wage of $52,000 will see an increase in the government subsidy from 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the cost of child care—just a five percentage point increase. At an average cost of $80 a day for a preschool place, this saving will amount to $4 a day, and for long day care a saving of around $8 a day.

How fast will this benefit be eaten away through inflation? Well, it has already been eaten away. Childcare centres started to put their prices up straight after Labor's election victory, with the expectation of this increase in the government subsidy. As rising energy prices, wages, insurance and overheads impact cash flow, childcare centres will raise their prices further. According to a Mitchell Institute study, child care was unaffordable for 386,000 Australian families, and this was keeping 73,000 people out of the workforce. What's missing from the explanatory memorandum, the Bills Digest and the committee report is any proof that making child care $4 to $8 a day cheaper will have any effect on childcare uptake.

Did anyone ask why these everyday Australians could not afford child care? Had this question been asked, we would have found that everyday Australians not only find child care unaffordable but can no longer afford their electricity bills, their rent, their mortgage payments and weekly grocery bills. Did anyone, Minister, ask if these families could not afford child care because they can't afford a car to get there, or the petrol to go in that car?

My first question is: why has the government advanced this bill as a solution to childcare affordability without actually doing the work to prove this bill will make child care more affordable? What about tax reform to enable families to look after their children—the best form of care: respect for families and parents. What about the modelling? I'm pretty sure that this bill won't do a damn thing for everyday Australians.

Thanks to the economic policies of the previous Liberal-National government, which Labor supported from opposition, inflation is now running at eight per cent. I've spoken previously about the inflation that resulted from wasteful COVID spending, funded through increased debt and money creation using electronic journal entries. That's where the problem is: wages going backwards from runaway inflation due to government spending—government spending that's already out of control. What does this bill do? It adds another $4.5 billion to government spending. If everyday Australians are not benefiting from this bill to any useful degree, where's the $4 billion coming from?

Figure 1 in the Bills Digest is a handy chart that is most instructive. In this bill the biggest financial benefit to existing recipients goes to families who are earning $170,000 a year. The biggest winners overall are families earning between $360,000 and $530,000, who did not get the childcare subsidy before and now will. Does this sound like a measure to help working Australians? No, it does not. To One Nation it sounds like the government is spending billions to make themselves popular with urban professionals who voted Greens and Teals in the last election. What about rural and regional Australians? Urban professionals are the winners in this bill; workers and regional Australians get scraps. That is a cynical political decision from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

One Nation is compelled to raise a second issue arising from this legislation. Qualification for free, taxpayer funded child care is being based on race rather than need. While we fully support evidence-based measures to improve Aboriginal workforce participation, childcare support should be based on the needs of the individual, not the colour of the individual's skin. Aboriginals and all Australians are worthy of respect and fairness. I support Senator Nampijinpa Price's comments on the definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. This bill has not been thought through.

Thirdly, this bill includes a provision that will have the effect of prohibiting the million or so Australian families using child care from paying for their child care in cash. By cash, I mean cash or cheque. Australia's two million small businesses often deal in cash. Rural Australia still needs cash. Anyone in a flood, in a blackout or with a hacked bank account has to pay in cash. Family members help each other out in cash. Yet the globalist billionaires have told Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister Stephen Jones to ban cash, and now we have snuck into this bill a provision that all payments made to childcare centres must be made using electronic funds transfers—no cash allowed! This continues the Liberals' and Nationals' war against cash. The Reserve Bank of Australia admitted to me in estimates hearings that it is working on a CBDC, or Central Bank Digital Currency, for Australia, and working with other nations' central banks to develop a global digital currency. The predatory billionaires said, 'Jump,' and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said, 'How high?' Now, an entire industry, worth $14 billion a year, can no longer accept cash payments unless the minister writes a specific exemption—which they will not write, because the whole idea of banning cash payments is to ban cash. There is no reason for this new provision. The King's currency—our national currency—is by law legal tender across the nation and must be accepted. If this government wants to stop Australians using cash then it should have that conversation and bring on that legislation.

I understand some childcare centres are not collecting the gap fee and are instead relying on the 85 per cent—now 90 per cent—government payment as their full revenue. Taking payment for the gap in cash—or any other measure—and not declaring it is already illegal under the law. Not taking payment for the gap is already illegal under subsection 201B(1) of A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999. Criminal and civil penalties are provided—$12,000 per offence. Under subsection 201B(1A) of the same act, the minister can prescribe rules that could be used to ban a childcare centre from accepting cash if they are caught rorting the system. However, if they are caught rorting the system through use of cash, or any other method, they lose their license anyway for failing the 'fit and proper person' test to work in child care. Some welfare groups raised concerns with this provision in the committee inquiry. I suggest more would have if they had been more aware that the measure was hidden away in the bill. I note that the word 'cash' is not even used—that's sneaky.

The provision to ban cash payment in the entire childcare industry makes no sense if judged on the reasons the government states. It does make sense if the intention is to make another incremental removal of cash from common use as part of a wider agenda to force every Australian onto a Central Bank Digital Currency linked to a digital identity. Last week, the New South Wales government announced a digital identity for New South Wales that is not linked to government paperwork but to be used for liquor purchases—government and the private sector working together like one big corporate state!

One Nation was successful in fighting the cash ban bill in the previous parliament with help from the Citizens Party. The Senate rejected a cash ban in 2021 and I ask the Senate to reject a cash ban again today. Countries in Europe that have tried a cash ban are now winding measures back. What makes sense to inner-city elites makes no sense at all in the real world. I foreshadow that we need to remove this provision that will stop Australians paying for their childcare gap in cash. We have one flag above this building, we are one community, we are one nation, and the King's currency cannot be refused. Minister, in addition to the previous questions: why is Labor joining the Liberals and the Nationals in banning cash? Your dwindling grassroots members said resoundingly last year, 'No, keep cash.' Why are you banning cash?

I move, firstly, my amendment No. (2) on sheet 1735:

(2) Schedule 4, Part 2, page 21 (lines 1 to 24), to be opposed.

12:55 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Senator Roberts, for that contribution. The cost of early childhood education is a concern, and it's gone up 41 per cent over the last eight years. What this bill seeks to do is cut the cost for over one million families. That is what we are doing, that is part of our plan. We are tackling the cost of living and the challenge that we inherited on that front. The complementary measure that we have in place to ensure that we have fairness in pricing is the government has committed $10.8 million for an ACCC inquiry to commence next year as well. The inquiry will work in a complementary fashion with this legislation, if it passes. The ACCC will investigate the drivers of rising early education costs. It will examine the impact of these childcare subsidy changes on out-of-pocket fees and it will consider the effectiveness of the current mechanisms designed to put pressure on fee growth. That is our response, and we think it's the best response to tackling that challenge when it comes to the cost of living and ensuring that charges are responsible.

In terms of who will benefit from these changes, if you are a family on an income of $60,000, you will get a 90 per cent subsidy, which is worth $14,580 a year. That, for me, shows the substance of the package that we put forward before the election. What we're delivering on in government is that those people on a modest income of $60,000 will be the ones who get the most subsidy as a result of these changes, if we are to get them implemented.

In terms of the electronic payment of gap fees, this, from our point of view, is purely an integrity measure. The government is making a significant investment to cut the cost of child care, but we must protect this investment from fraud and ensure families receive the benefit and that taxpayer funds are used appropriately. The bill sets out a requirement for electronic payment of gap fees. This will allow the government to test whether gap fees have been paid, and it will present a significant obstacle for fraudulent services that try to claim childcare subsidy for care that isn't occurring. For anyone who's concerned about the use of taxpayer money and the fact that it should be used appropriately, this is an important measure that goes to tackling that problem to ensure that people can have trust in the system as well. Many key peaks and providers support this move, including Early Learning and Care Council of Australia and Outside School Hours Council of Australia as well. There are many forms of electronic payment that parents can choose from which do not incur costs, and that is what we think is an appropriate way to deal with any potential fraud.

12:58 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, could you tell me why you haven't done the analysis already? Why is this bill being pushed through without the analysis being done? You're saying we'll have the analysis next year. Why not do it now and understand the cost pressures of childcare centres? Why not do it now so that we can face up to the fact that your government is putting huge cost-of-living pressures on people through energy policies, taxation policies and other policies already? Give people a break.

12:59 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

As we've been very upfront about from the beginning, this is something we talked about in opposition for many years and we're committed to delivering on in government. For us, there obviously is the economic focus of these reforms that will enable more people to get back into the workforce. I've spent much time in rural and regional Australia, and I know workforce shortage is acute in the cities but it's also acute in regional areas.

For me, this policy is one that will benefit so many communities across the country because it will enable more people to get back into the workforce, which will help ease the labour shortage that we've got in so many communities around the country. It does reduce the fees for one million people, who'll be better off from a cost-of-living point of view, but the longer term economic benefits to so many communities will be widespread. That's why this government is committed to delivering on it. It was an election promise. It also helps restore integrity and trust with the Australian people after oppositions went to elections and just promised things—we'll be delivering on them in government. That's what we intend to do today.

1:00 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to ask the assistant minister a question in relation to his response to Senator Hanson earlier. In relation to Senator Hanson's question about whether you needed to be working to receive subsidy support, as I understand it the assistant minister said that that was not the case—you would not receive subsidy support if you were not working. But you'll see that the Services Australia website, apart from any other instructive piece of information that I'd point the assistant minister to, does talk about accessing, for example, up to 36 hours of subsidised child care per fortnight if your activity is volunteering or actively looking for work, for example. It talks about the receivers of the carer allowance. It says that when you have mutual obligation requirements you can access 36 hours of subsidised care per fortnight. It also says that is true if you are actively seeking work, if you are doing training to improve work skills or employment prospects, or if you are doing an approved course of educational study—all of which point to the matters that were being raised by Senator Hanson. I wondered if the assistant minister would like to correct the record.

1:01 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I was responding to Senator Hanson's question, which was what happened if people were doing nothing. I made the point that if people were training and doing other things, and met the activity test, then they would be eligible. It's entirely consistent with what I said.

1:02 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, your government can keep its pre-election promises and provide good governance simply by doing the analysis upfront. Do the homework and get the job done properly so that we have a proper bill before us. Why aren't you doing that?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

We have.

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to make some comments on Senator Roberts's amendment. The Greens will not be supporting this amendment because, as the minister said earlier, these changes to prevent gap fees and payment by cash are needed so that providers do correctly report, and to prevent any fraud caused by them not reporting correctly. We do acknowledge, though, that there needs to be exceptions for cash payments for disadvantaged, vulnerable families, which I understand will be in the regulations. If the minister could confirm that, I'd really appreciate it. We will work with the government to ensure that these exceptions are fair.

1:03 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, that is the case.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, isn't it true that not taking payment for the gap is already illegal under subsection 201B(1) of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999? Criminal and civil penalties are provided—$12,000 per offence. Under subsection 201B(1A) of the same act, the minister can prescribe rules that could be used to ban a childcare centre from accepting cash if they are caught rorting the system. You already have this power. Why do you need to ban cash from everyday Australians across this country when it is absolutely essential?

1:04 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Those measures are in place in an attempt to prevent fraud, which is why they're in the legislation you just described.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Exactly, Minister. These provisions to stop fraud are already in the bill. You can apply them. You don't need to ban cash to do that. Banning cash is being driven by another motive, which is the same motive that the Liberal-Nationals use: to get rid of choice and freedom for people. Why are you banning cash?

1:05 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

There are penalties for fraud in the system, but this is also focused on the prevention of fraud, which is what we've sought to do in this legislation.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, surely the purpose of having a law and enforcing that law is to prevent criminals from perpetrating the breaches. Surely that's the case. Why don't you just enforce the law instead of banning cash for all Australians?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

We think that there is fraud in the sector and we think that this is the best way to deal with it. That's to ensure that taxpayer funds are being used appropriately and for the measures that the government intends.

1:06 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Your government's responsibility is to enforce the law. If you've already got the law, enforce it. You don't need to tack on something else that's got nothing to do with it just to take cash away from Australians. Why won't you enforce the law? You've just admitted you won't.

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

That is complete nonsense, Senator Roberts. This is about the prevention of fraud. Surely the best way to deal with fraud is to prevent it from happening in the first place, which is what we intend to do with this legislation.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We already have these under section 201 of the act I just spoke about. You already have them. You're admitting that you won't enforce them.

Minister, you talked about the shortage of workers in regional and metropolitan areas around the country. We agree. Why don't you let those mandated without getting injections back to work? That's where a lot of people are trapped right now. They can't collect welfare, they can't get an income and they're a burden on society for simply not agreeing to put something in their bodies. This needs a comprehensive approach—taxation, energy, cost of living—not just fiddling with a few people. While you're at it, please answer the question: why are you supporting welfare for the top one per cent of income earners?

1:07 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

As I said earlier, if your family is on an income of $60,000, you'll get a 90 per cent subsidy, worth $14,580 a year. Those income earners are the biggest beneficiaries of the reforms that we are making. That will ensure that more people can get into affordable child care, which will be good for not only children but also the economy at the same time, throughout rural and regional Australia, as well as in the cities.

1:08 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The big winners overall from this bill—your government's bill—are families earning between $360,000 and $530,000 a year, who do not get the childcare subsidy until now. Why?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

That just isn't the case, Senator Roberts. As I've said, the biggest beneficiaries are those who are on lower and middle incomes. They'll get a 90 per cent subsidy, worth almost $15,000 a year. That is who we believe are the biggest beneficiaries of these changes.

1:09 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The fact is that families currently earning between $360,000 and $530,000 do not currently get the childcare subsidy. Yet, if this bill passes, they will get it. Why are you giving welfare to the top one per cent of earners?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the key point of difference here, Senator Roberts, is that we don't see this as welfare. We see it as an economic reform, and we've been upfront about that for many years now and particularly in the lead-up to the budget, when we announced our plan to implement these changes. If you can't understand the economic impact of this reform given what the country currently confronts, then I don't think you'll ever understand it. It is going to be so beneficial to so many people and their ability to get back into the workforce, and that will predominantly be women. But it also goes to those challenges that I've talked about now repeatedly with you, about the impact in many communities where there is a labour shortage. This bill will have a significant impact on ensuring more people are available to work in the industries that we need them to, and that is why it is an important economic reform.

1:10 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want the minister to clarify something for me. Did you or did you not say that people in excess of $360,000 a year won't get childcare subsidies whatsoever? Is that the case?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I never said that. I said the biggest beneficiaries are those on lower and middle incomes.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Alright. Then I'll ask the question. Will people on incomes in excess of $360,000 receive child support benefits under your legislation?

1:11 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely. Someone on that wage will, and that is why we are focused on this important economic reform—because it will enable more people to get back into the workforce. That's exactly how we've detailed and talked about this for years. We think that is important in any economic situation but particularly now, given the challenges the nation confronts.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Up to what income amount are you going to be giving child subsidies, in excess of $360,000?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Up to $529,999.

1:12 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Will you give me an explanation of the variance of the childcare subsidies that will be paid out to people on that income? As a matter of fact, just tell me and the people of Australia: for someone on over $500,000, what childcare subsidy will they get?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

There are obviously many components to that, but, if they have a single child, their subsidy would be six per cent or $970 annually.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to ask you another question. Were you actually saying that for fraud reasons cash won't be used again? Can you also clarify: is it everyone who uses childcare who will not be able to use cash at all? Is that for everyone, across the board?

1:13 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

SHOLM (—Assistant Minister for Education, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Deputy Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (): There will be provision for exceptions made in consultation with the sector.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

ON (—) (): Explain who.

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

There'd obviously be consultation with the department, but we envisage potentially there are remote Aboriginal centres or remote geographic locations where it would be necessary.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

So they can use cash, but other people throughout the country can't use cash. So, basically, we're going to say it's for Aboriginals. We have white families—not just Aboriginal families, but everyone else—who do live in remote areas as well who possibly may need to use cash. Are you going to make provisions for them as well?

1:14 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

It doesn't take long for Senator Hanson to try and play the race card. What we've done in a sensible way is say that there may need to be exemptions made in consultations with the sector. They would be dealt with by the department. For instance, it could be someone in a domestic violence situation where they don't want to make an electronic payment. So there would be a level of commonsense that is applied, in consultation with the sector, and I'm sure that is appropriate. But the fundamental aim of the change is to ensure that there is no fraud in the system. So that is what we are focused on in delivering this measure.

1:15 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Under section 51(xii) of the Australian Constitution, it talks about legal tender and coinage. Therefore it's for the government to allow that to be used by the people of this nation and for good governance. Did you receive legal advice before putting this into your bill—that people of Australia cannot use legal tender?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I am advised that we did, yes.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Could you please present to this chamber that legal advice that was given to you?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

As you know, Senator Hanson, the government does not provide its legal advice on issues such as this.

1:16 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You've got to be kidding me, surely! You put this in the bill—that people cannot use legal tender—and you are saying that should not be provided to this chamber, for the people of Australia to know where you got that legal advice? Or is this something that you've come up with on the hop, just to satisfy me or to put me off from asking this question? You are denying people the right to use legal tender in this country and you're going to make it be up to you or the department who you allow to use it or not. I'd like to see—and I think you have an obligation to this chamber and to the people of Australia to give—that legal advice. You stated there was legal advice. I'd like to know and see that legal advice. And we have a right to actually see that.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

S () (): Minister, the family is the best form of care for raising children. Mothers and fathers should have the option to work. Let's get away from the word 'welfare'. Can you please explain to me why families earning between $360,000 and $530,000 a year who do not currently get childcare subsidy will, if this bill is passed, receive a gift from the government of a childcare subsidy?

1:17 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Because it's an economic reform, Senator Roberts, as I have been over previously with you.

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Just on that point, of it being an economic reform—and I accept that; I think supporting families who seek to work to be able to do so is important—if I can just go back to the modelling around the economic outcomes of the bills we're looking to pass here, could you give me an indication of the increasing workforce participation as a result of these bills passing?

1:18 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What the Treasury analysis indicated is that there would be 37,000 additional full-time workers as a result of these changes. We think that is a significant boost to the economy. We think it's particularly acute now, given, as I have said repeatedly, the challenges that we face as a nation and the labour shortages that are holding many parts of the economy back. We do feel as though—we do believe—that this is an important economic reform. It's part of a suite of changes that we took through the budget process as well, that deliver partly on cost-of-living relief but do so in a responsible way, to ensure that we don't put additional pressure on inflation at the same time. That is what we set out to achieve. That's why we're proud to talk about these reforms and we're absolutely determined to deliver on them in government.

1:19 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Just further to that: have Treasury or the department of education modelled the impact of this policy change to GDP?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What I can say in regard to the modelling is that the analysis that was done by Treasury used similar modelling to that used by the previous government for the higher child care subsidy. That is what we've been relying on in terms of how we've been talking about the economic impact and the number of people who will be allowed back into the workforce as a result of these changes. That, for us, is the significant factor; that's what has been motivating us; and that's why we think it is good for the economy and the country as a whole.

1:20 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Just to confirm: you have conducted no new modelling for a very big new policy. I'm pleased the amendment about the review passed earlier. Has the Treasury or the Department of Education modelled the supply-and-demand impact of this policy?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

CHISHOLM (—Assistant Minister for Education, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Deputy Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (): As we went through in detail at Senate estimates, our focus has been on delivering the policy. We know the work that Treasury have done on some of their analyses. What we also know is that, when you make these changes around making child care more affordable, you will see more people wanting to take up these services. That is what we are confident of and that is what we are aiming to deliver on. That's why we're making some of those other changes, like having the ACCC or the Productivity Commission look at this policy and the impact.

The other focus we have is on tackling some of the workforce issues that we are confronting. They are large now, but they are going to be more challenging in the future. That is why we have substantial plans around providing fee-free TAFE places and an additional 20,000 Commonwealth supported places at university. Some of those will go to early childhood educators as well. We've got many prongs in terms of how we're tackling this challenge, and we intend to deliver while in government. We expect that there will be an uptake in accessing services, given that it will be more affordable for families to get their children into early childhood education.

1:21 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

So we have a major economic policy, but we don't have modelling on the change to GDP or the supply-and-demand impacts. Can the minister outline specifically whether the Treasury or the Department of Education has modelled—and you referenced changes to workforce requirements in your contribution just then—the additional workforce that will be required to meet the demand? Some numbers would be helpful.

1:22 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What we know is that, when it comes to early childhood educators, we inherited a significant mess and a lack of a plan from the previous government. The National Skills Commission repeatedly told the previous government that over 20,000 educators would be needed for the next few years, and the previous government took no action. What we're doing is delivering more university places, teacher bursaries and fee-free TAFE places for early childhood education. That will be a real focus for us in terms of rebuilding the TAFE sector.

We also supported the Fair Work Commission's minimum wage increase, which resulted in a 4.6 per cent pay rise for around 113,000 early childhood educators. I believe the current opposition opposed that wage increase. We are legislating to remove unnecessary limitations on access to multi-employer agreements, which has resulted in some of the highest paid early childhood educators in the country. In Victoria, 70 centres combined in pay negotiations and, as a result, are paid at least 16 per cent above the award. These centres still had to register the agreement 70 times, and this is the kind of thing that multi-employer bargaining reform will make easier. We're strengthening the ability of the Fair Work Commission to order pay increases for low-paid workers in female dominated industries.

Given the immediate challenge that we're confronting, migration has to be part of the mix as well. That is why we have increased the number of permanent migration visas available this financial year from 160,000 to 195,000. We're also looking at more substantial migration reform next year, with a comprehensive review due by the end of February. Additionally, National Cabinet has tasked the Minister for Education and the Minister for Early Childhood Education with identifying further opportunities for collaboration to address workforce shortages. That work is underway now to achieve the changes that we need to ensure that we have the workforce in the future.

1:24 pm

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, this bill is going to cost Australian taxpayers another $4.5 billion a year and it is going to then cost over $10 billion. Has the government done an audit on childcare centres to extrapolate out how much it actually does cost the centres for child care or are you just coming up with a figure and saying, 'We're going to pay you more money?' Has an audit been done of childcare centres of how much it actually costs for child care, and can you justify what is going to cost Australians $10 billion a year?

1:25 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What we know is that, if these changes are passed, there will be around 1.26 million families better off. We also know that part of the plan that we are delivering on is that every family and every child who have benefited from our election promise benefits from the cheaper childcare bill, and we are committed to delivering that promise in full.

In terms of the points you make around—

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on a point of order on relevance. The minister is talking about something I didn't ask. I asked him a direct question: was an audit done into the childcare centres on the relevance of this increase of $4.5 billion? You say that cost of living has gone up. That's understandable, and everyone knows that. But we are looking at $10 billion a year in taxpayer subsidies going to this. I believe some of this is a childcare industry that's going on out there, and we have known that people have actually ripped the system off.

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hanson, can you please clarify your point of order.

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is: has an audit been done on these childcare centres to justify an increase of $4.5 billion and a full cost of $10 billion to the Australian people?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

That's why I have spoken repeatedly around the $10.8 million that we have provided to the ACCC to undertake a price inquiry into child care which will consider the effectiveness of the existing price regulation mechanisms, such as the rate caps, and provide recommendations to the government. That is what we think is the appropriate way to deal with those issues you raise.

1:27 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, it seems we agree on something. You inherited a significant mess from the previous government with inflation, and you are continuing their policies. You have not thought this through. This is no part of a comprehensive plan for managing this economy, freeing people up, freeing the economy and supporting families. How many families currently earning $360,000 to $530,000 a year will be among those families better off?

1:28 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What we know is that 96 per cent of families will be better off as a result of the changes that we are making in this legislation. That is why we think it is of benefit to the economy, but it also goes to that important challenge that many families are facing at the moment around cost of living. I am sure that it has been done in a responsible way, without putting further inflationary pressures on the budget.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, you didn't answer my question. How many families currently earning $360,000 to $530,000 a year will be better off? And can you justify taxpayers on far lower incomes paying taxes to help these wealthy families that are in the top one per cent of Australian earners?

1:29 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

What I can confirm is that only around two per cent of families who'll benefit from the changes earn over $360,000.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

ERTS () (): Thank you, Minister. What about the other part of my question? Do you think it's fair that taxpayers earning far, far less than this amount are paying a gift to these families that are currently in the top one per cent of Australian income earners?

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

As I've detailed significantly, 96 per cent of families, or around million 1.26 million, will be better off as a result of these changes.

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 1.30 pm, we will move to two-minute statements.