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Education and Employment Legislation Committee
Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2014
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Education and Employment Legislation Committee
Lines, Sen Susan
Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah
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Education and Employment Legislation Committee
(Senate-Friday, 4 March 2016)
CHAIR (Senator McKenzie)
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Content WindowEducation and Employment Legislation Committee
Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2014
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BRISKEY, Ms Jo, Executive Director, The Parenthood
CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has your submission. I now invite you to make a short opening statement of no more than a few minutes and, at the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.
Ms Briskey : Thank you very much for affording The Parenthood the opportunity to come before you today to provide evidence to assist you in your review of the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Jobs for Families Child Care Package) Bill 2015.
With a national membership of over 40,000 parents, The Parenthood is Australia's leading parent advocacy and campaign organisation. We have tens of thousands of parents, who we know will be directly affected by the proposed changes as outlined in this bill, including me and Katie, who is a parent here with me today.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the federal government for making child care such a priority. Affordable and accessible early learning and care are significant issues for Australian families. It is excellent to see that the government has recognised this and is pursuing a significant reform agenda to address the cost and accessibility issues facing families. Right now, the cost of child care is becoming too excessive for too many families and it is impeding on our ability to be able to get back to work and work more. It is also impeding on our ability to give our children the opportunity to benefit from early learning.
The additional $3.2 billion that the government is intending to invest to make child care more affordable for families brings an incredible sigh of relief for many families and many of our Parenthood members. However, whilst there is much to welcome in this bill, not every family is breathing a sigh of relief; in fact many are anxious and concerned as to how some of the major changes will affect them and their kids.
The Parenthood has serious concerns about the new activity test eligibility and the changes in subsidy percentages. We fear that, for every three families who may benefit from these reforms, we know that at least one will miss out—some significantly so to the extent to which they will be forced to remove their children from early learning. With over $3 billion being delivered in extra investment, we do not think any family, especially any low-income or disadvantaged family, should be left worse off as a result of these reforms.
The Parenthood, together with much of the sector, believe that, whilst child care is a necessity for parents to be able to work, its significant long-term value and where the government gets more bang for its buck is in its ability to set our kids up to succeed in school and in life.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the incredible educators that my daughter has. She goes to child care three days a week, and I see the difference that they are making in my daughter's life. I acknowledge and value the incredible work that our educators do. As such, The Parenthood urges committee members to recommend to the government that they amend the legislation to allow subsidised access to early leaning for every child, irrespective of their parents' work circumstances.
As we have noted in our submission, we believe providing a minimum of two full days—that is, 24 hours, as is currently the case, to subsidised care a week—will provide the required amount of benefit for early learning for all kids and that all kids deserve. It will also provide certainty for parents in that, no matter what happens in their working or earning capacity, they will know that they can count on receiving the support they need to keep their children in at least two days of early learning a week.
I want to make a point about certainty for parents: the way in which the new three-tiered activity test eligibility system will work has resulted in much confusion and anxiety amongst many parents. As we highlighted in our submission, in our survey of over 1,400 Australian parents—or 24 per cent—just under a quarter reported feeling confused and unsure as to how much subsidy they would receive, if any, under the new changes. One in 10 parents reported that the new restrictions would mean that they would have to take their children out of early learning altogether. This is the first time that parents will be faced with the prospect of, if for whatever reason they fail to meet the activity test, receiving nothing—no support from the government to assist with their early learning costs. Childcare days are constant; working and earning capacity change at a moment's notice. This is a very real and pressing concern for Australian parents.
Under the proposed legislation, if a mum or dad has to suddenly stop work or significantly reduce their hours, this results in a reduction in subsidy, either by a number of hours or a cut-out of subsidy altogether. The reduction in subsidy applies in the childcare subsidy a fortnight after the change of care. This means, at best; parents have 13 days to work out how they can continue to meet their eligibility requirements; or, at worst, just a single day before their subsidy is cut. What else is worrying is that the changes can apply retrospectively.
Parents are rightly concerned that, if their circumstances change—and suddenly, as is so often and easily the case—they either start to incur a massive debt or are forced to pay the full cost of child care to keep the child care they need; or, at worst, they are forced to pull their child out of child care altogether and are likely lose their childcare spot. Government policy should be designed to avoid families getting into debt.
Families where both parents are in regular, predictable and stable jobs are likely to be unaffected by this test. However, not every family using child care has both parents in stable work. In fact, many parents—and it is usually mum—work in casual or unpredictable rosters or irregular seasonal work. I understand a survey of parents conducted by Goodstart found that a quarter of parents reported working a casual roster at some point from the birth of their kids.
The proposed application of the new activity test is not flexible enough to be practical for working families with young children, and this is creating uncertainty and apprehension among parents. We understand and appreciate that the government's intention is to drive workforce participation. The more you work the more subsidy you receive. However, the assumption is that it will be easy for parents to find approved activity, but, in reality, it will not be. Emily, one of our members, sent me this through last night. She has two children, one in school and one in child care, and she has been searching for the last 12 months to find secure work to fit their family's schedule. They need her child to be in child care two days a week so she can continue to seek employment opportunities. When she is in paid work, which is very sporadic for her, the changes would have an impact in terms of her ability or inability to agree to do any work if she does not have access to the subsidised care that she needs for her youngest child.
Committee members, we believe that it is very narrow-minded and short-sighted to place such inflexible restrictions on child-care subsidy. We urge you to recommend to the government to amend the legislation to allow full family access to guaranteed two days of subsidised care or, at the very least, ensure that there is a process in place that allows parents enough time to respond to the change in work or income circumstance so they can continue to receive the subsidy they depend on. As stated in our submission, we believe that about six to eight weeks need to be afforded to parents to prevent undue financial stress or disruption to their child's early learning. We think that a transitional arrangement is necessary to make the system fair and flexible.
I would like to highlight the fact that, even though 75 per cent of the parents that we surveyed reported that they would be unlikely to be affected or concerned by the new strict activity test—they are in stable and regular work—they rejected the government's stringent approach. This is a reflection of the fact that Australian families recognise that child care is not just for the benefit of parents; it is also for the benefit of all children. Therefore all families deserve access to support for their child-care needs.
Another concern is obviously the proposal to cut in half the amount of subsidised care available for low-income and disadvantaged families. They are about to see their time cut from 48 hours to 24 hours. In talking with the director at my child's centre, when I told her the hours would be dropped to 12 hours a week, she responded by saying, 'But that's only one day and we strongly discourage just one day a week because that is not enough time for the full benefits of early learning and what's best for the child in terms of relationships with educators and the routine that's developed.'
CHAIR: Ms Briskey, do you have much more in your opening statement?
Ms Briskey : I do have a little bit more.
CHAIR: If you have it typed out, it might be more useful for you to table it rather than read it and we can go straight to questions because we have limited time.
Ms Briskey : Sure. I appreciate that.
CHAIR: Joel will give that to us so we can ask questions. I assume you want to tell us that stuff, and you will get it back quick smart.
Ms Briskey : No worries at all.
CHAIR: Thank you very much for your flexibility. We will go to questions.
Senator LINES: Ms Briskey, who does the organisation represent? What is its key role?
Ms Briskey : We are an organisation that advocates and campaigns on behalf of parents. I provide parents the opportunity to have a voice on a range of issues that matter most of them. Our early learning care campaign has been perhaps one of our biggest. We have been involved ever since the government announced their intention to look into and reform the child-care sector, but we also run a variety of campaigns on childhood immunisation, family tax benefit payments, paid parental leave and helping Catherine Hughes with her quest to increase the number of women who get their third trimester whooping cough vaccine. So we do a variety of campaigning and advocacy for parents.
Senator LINES: How many members do you have?
Ms Briskey : We have now in excess of 40,000 across Australia, right across the board. Most of our membership is on the eastern seaboard, but it is right across all pockets of Australia.
Senator LINES: Are there many other organisations that represent parents directly?
Ms Briskey : My understanding is not to the extent that The Parenthood does in terms of having a variety of issues based organisations for parents. Obviously there are P&C groups and a range of other unique issues based parent groups, but there are no others that provide that overarching opportunity for parents to have a voice on whatever issue matters most to them and their families.
Senator LINES: Thinking about parents and the use of early childhood education and care, do parents primarily want that system for workforce participation or education—or both?
Ms Briskey : Essentially both. As you have probably seen from our submission, the survey that we conducted indicated that the majority of parents that engage with The Parenthood are using child care for work related purposes, but they also value the education it provides to their children.
Senator LINES: You undertook a recent survey which you talked a bit about. In your submission you mentioned the complexity of the activity test. What parts of the activity test are you particularly concerned with?
Ms Briskey : The level of understanding of exactly how this will work for families transitioning to a three-tiered system that changes your activity. Your earning capacity may change fortnight to fortnight. It is just a lack of understanding and knowledge about how much subsidy they will receive or be eligible for fortnight to fortnight. I think what parents want to know is: how much is it going to cost them at the end of the day? As I said, childcare days are constant. As soon as you get those childcare days, you keep them because they were pretty hard to get in the first place whereas work and other circumstances can change. There is definitely some apprehension out there. As I said, a quarter of our parents reported being very confused as to how this system will work.
Senator LINES: Do you think parents will find the new activity test more complex than the current one?
Ms Briskey : That is the advice and feedback that we are getting from parents at the moment.
Senator LINES: How will it work for a parent who might work part time in retail and needs to tell the boss they will be available for a certain number of days per week—perhaps three—but for whom there is no guarantee of a set level of work?
Ms Briskey : That is where there is some concern from parents and apprehension about how that will work. Obviously to be able to give the commitment to your boss that you can work those days you have to have child care for those days. But that does not mean, as you said, that you are guaranteed work on those days. So there could be a point where you might not get work for a week or two and therefore, we understand, you might not be eligible for the amount of subsidy that you require to keep the days of child care that you have.
Senator LINES: So you would have to front 100 per cent of the cost?
Ms Briskey : At this stage, it indicates that if you are not meeting the requirements and you have a household income over $65,000, yes, there is a risk that you will be left with no subsidy at all.
Senator LINES: So if you are a retail worker and you work part time or casually—I think you talked about this in your opening statement—you book three days because that is the most you can work but, from time to time, you may only get one or two days. You are suggesting that you will still have to pay for the third day of child care because it is booked.
Ms Briskey : Yes, that is right.
Senator LINES: So you might be up for 100 per cent of the cost?
Ms Briskey : Potentially. That is the concern that parents have. That is why we are urging for some changes to be made with regard to transitional arrangements and making sure that parents are not either accruing debt or being left with the full cost of child care because it is just not affordable.
Senator LINES: So even if you did not use that day you would still have to pay for it?
Ms Briskey : With the way the child care works at the moment, if you do not use a day that you have booked, yes, you do have to pay for it.
Senator LINES: You talked about the opposite being true, too. In that scenario that I just talked about, if you have booked three days and you only use two then you could potentially lose access to that third day.
Ms Briskey : If you cannot afford that third day and therefore confirm with your childcare centre that you cannot use those days then, yes, you do run the risk of losing that day. There are long waiting lists for a number of families who would be keen to take up that day, so you would end up losing it.
Senator LINES: Given that many women work in that situation where they might have regular work but they do not have regular hours, do you think that might discourage women from re-entering the workforce?
Ms Briskey : That is some of the feedback we are receiving from our parents about the complexity and the risk that they may run of having to pay full fees or accruing that level of debt and not having that certainty that they can cover the childcare days they have. Some are choosing not to re-enter the workforce and finding it easier to just not worry about it.
Senator LINES: So generally for average-earning families where money is tight, if a woman goes to work and earns, say, $20 an hour and picks up two days work, she will get a subsidy for two days but for the third day she has booked she would be paying—what?—$120?
Ms Briskey : There are a variety of centres and they can charge from as little as $60 or $70 a day—not that that is that little!—upwards to $150 to $160 a day. It depends what centre you are at.
Senator LINES: For an average family, that additional $70 to $120-plus would be a significant impost.
Ms Briskey : Yes, absolutely. The fact of the matter is at the moment that childcare costs for an average family are the second largest household bill after the mortgage. That is with subsidies. We have reports of families where both parents are working full time and so there is the requirement to have their child in child care five days a week that are currently paying upwards of $38,000 or $40,000 a year even after childcare subsidies.
Senator LINES: From your survey work, is it fair to say that one parent, usually the male, will work full time and the female parent will work part time? Is that a typical family?
Ms Briskey : Yes, that is usually what we see. Our membership is predominantly women and that is the report that we get back. The fact of the matter is that the decision on whether or not mum will go back to work usually depends on how much childcare fees are going to cost her. That is why we have some serious concerns in regards to the changes being made at the top end of the income spectrum and the change from what was originally proposed in keeping that base 50 per cent level to taking that down to 20 per cent. We have feedback from our parents that, even though it may seem that they can still afford the child care, it is a disincentive. If mums are working out that the cost of child care outstrips their personal income, they are saying, 'Why bother going back to work? I'll just wait until my child starts school.'
Senator LINES: That is the current situation—early childhood costs can outweigh what women earn.
Ms Briskey : Absolutely.
Senator LINES: If you then add the additional complexities of someone working flexible hours, the fact that they then might have to pay 100 per cent for one or two days may potentially tip them over the age.
Ms Briskey : Yes, absolutely. It is a significant concern for families because the daily fees for child care can be an incredible amount of money. It can be $150 a day.
Senator LINES: In the view of The Parenthood, does that new activity test make it easier or harder for parents to get work and keep it?
Ms Briskey : I think for some families it will make it harder not having that level of certainty that they can depend on. As I said, we want two days of subsidised care so that parents can have that certainty and know, irrespective of what they might be doing from a work point of view, they have that support to pay for at least two days of child care—both for their children to access early learning and for their ability to take on work.
Senator LINES: One of the consistent things the government has said in developing the childcare package and since it was announced is that one of the main objectives was to simplify the childcare system. Given the feedback you have had from families, is it a simplified system that the government is proposing or is it more complex?
Ms Briskey : What we tend to hear, through media reports or different announcements that the government has made over the course of time, is that does appear difficult. It seems difficult. What is of benefit for families is knowing that the subsidy will be combined and go straight to the centre. All parents want to know is what the out-of-pocket costs are for them. Having that as a constant, as all they need to worry about, is of benefit to parents. I think the complexity comes from the ongoing need to understand the hours worked—their income levels—and how that impacts on the amount of subsidy they receive with regard to the different levels. The fact is that, in some circumstances, they might end up with nothing.
Senator LINES: In thinking about the assistance cliff, is it possible that a family whose income increases from below $65K to over $65K per year could lose access to child care entirely?
Ms Briskey : That is the concern. For those families who understand that they do not need to meet the activity test because they are at that lower income level of $65,000 or under, but for some reason end up earning just a little bit more, then effectively they are not meeting the activity test and, therefore, are not eligible for any subsidies whatsoever. I think it was the early learning council that provided a submission in which they had worked out that, if low-income families have even have a small increase in their fortnightly pay packet, their subsidy would be slashed to zero, resulting in an 86 per cent, or $92, increase in their childcare fees, which these families obviously cannot afford.
Senator LINES: Is it The Parenthood's view that, in that situation, the second income earner, which could be the woman, gets a job that then tips the balance?
Ms Briskey : If the woman does get a job, hopefully they would end up meeting the first level of the activity test, and there would not be a problem. The real concern is when they do not—that is, for whatever reason, the other parent in the family is not working, and therefore they do not meet the activity test.
Senator LINES: Thank you.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I want to ask about this issue of the complexities of transitional arrangements, and the impact of working casually and how you manage that as a parent to guarantee your childcare place. You have talked a little bit about that. It strikes me, if a new mum needs to ease their way back into the workforce, that is potentially when that issue of casualisation is probably at the highest point. Unless you have some great, wonderful paid parental leave package and great arrangements with your employer, how do you go straight back into guaranteed three days or four days of work a week? Do you have a view from your members, from a mum's perspective, about the impact specifically on that first period of transitioning back to work?
Ms Briskey : There has been some feedback received from parents who are in that boat after having their second child. Usually, after the birth of their second child, they have the older child in child care, and they want to keep them in child care. They hope to then slowly transition back into the workplace as they come off maternity leave and try to secure a spot for their second child. Part of that process is that very slow accrual of work—just being able to do a couple of hours and knowing that, even if they do not get any work that week, they can do it if it comes up. I think that is what is of concern. It is creating some anxiousness among new mums in particular.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about the flexibility of having child care on the day that you need it? If you are asked to come into work on a particular day, how do you get the day of care you need?
Ms Briskey : You have to have organised previously, really. I understand there are some centres that can offer that level of flexibility in having positions available at short notice, but there are definitely nowhere near enough of them. I think most families are trying to work that out in the first instance, in terms of knowing that they want to get back into work. They think, 'Right—I want my child to have at least one or two days.' Actually, two days is really the main number of days that parents are looking for. Then they can take those two days and say to their employer, 'These are the two days I am definitely going to be available to work.'
In terms of flexibility, what is probably not utilised as well as possible is the family day care sector. I think family day care often offers families a bit more flexibility. But the other difficulty families are facing is the accessibility issue—securing child care on a day that you need it at a moment's notice or being able to find child care in the first instance. We have families who are on waiting lists for six months to two years. I am still on a waiting list for one of the centres I was really keen to get my daughter into. That is also a problem facing families.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have pre-empted my next tranche of questions, because I am fascinated that in all of this discussion around this package—an extra $3 billion—I have not heard anyone say this is going to provide more childcare places. Yet constituents say to me all the time: 'The waiting list that we have been on is six months or 12 months long. I had to go on a waiting list before my child was even born. Actually, the only place I can get is on the other side of the city, if I'm to get it on the day that I need it.' What are your members saying about the issue of vacancy rates and being able to find a place, before they have worked out whether they can even afford it?
Ms Briskey : As I said, it definitely has been an issue of concern, especially for families in high-demand areas like inner-city Sydney or Melbourne. In some places it is fine. In some places you can find a spot. In actual fact, in some places you can have some options to look at. But for some families there is simply no option, and that is where it becomes difficult, given the price that they have to pay or the level of quality that they potentially have to suck up, if that is the only spot that they have available and they need it to be able to get back to work. That is definitely an ongoing concern for a lot of our parents.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is it your belief that this current package does not deliver more childcare places?
Ms Briskey : In reality it does not seem to. I think this childcare package is more about restructuring the subsidy system and looking at the support the government provides to families for the cost of child care. That seems to be the big focus. That is absolutely an important focus because, as I said, the cost of child care is increasing beyond the point where families can afford it. So we are very happy and glad to see that focus, but an ongoing issue that needs to be looked at is the planning and development around opportunities for parents to get a place when they need it.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Do you have any data as to waiting list times and how many families currently cannot access a childcare place because the vacancy rates are too tight?
Ms Briskey : We have some. I would need to get back to you. Some time ago we ran a survey on waiting times, but I do not have those figures right in front of me at the moment.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If you could dig them out and give them to us on notice, that would be appreciated.
Ms Briskey : Yes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I have heard your comments in relation to the difficulties of the transition. What do you propose to deal with that? What is The Parenthood's view?
Ms Briskey : Ideally, the best way to deal with it is to provide guaranteed subsidised access of two days a week, to give that certainty.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When you say two days a week, what does that mean in terms of hours? We have heard the government argue two days a week is 12 hours.
Ms Briskey : Our concern with that argument about it being two six-hour sessions, which suggests it is similar to a school day, is that this is not a school day. If it is six hours, and you have to consider sleep times, feeding times and a whole range of things that happen with these young kids, you lose the opportunity for really effective learning and development opportunities. As I said, the director at my own daughter's childcare centre is really concerned about that drop to 12 hours, because it equates to one day and it is just not enough for the early learning benefits.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How can you have your child in for six hours a day if you are working 7½ hours that day as a worker—and, therefore, you fulfil the work test—plus travel time to and from the childcare centre? How on earth do you fit all that in in a six-hour session?
Ms Briskey : Well, on the face of it, you would not. But hopefully you would have more than that amount if you are meeting the level-of-activity test. We understand that when you reach the first level of the activity test there is a reduction in hours. But it should, hopefully, be at least enough to definitely cover you off for a full day. That equates to travel time and hours worked.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you can get one day of child care?
Ms Briskey : I think it is 18 hours for the first level of the activity test. So, yes, it becomes difficult. The other issue, also around session times or reducing the level of hours, is the inflexibility that provides. As we provide it on a daily basis, you can have parents called in earlier than they otherwise were planning to, or be called back later. At least you know that you can go in and drop your child off and know that that is fine. A perfect example of that was the case for me, only a couple of days ago, where I needed to get my daughter Genevieve into child care from about 7 am, due to work, and I was late to pick her up. I used almost the full extent of the subsidised amount of hours that I had. If you run on six hours, it just takes away some of that flexibility of what happens if you get called in early or have to stay back late.
CHAIR: We have been talking a lot about casual workers. What if I have a three-hour shift at Myers, or I am called in for a three-hour shift at McDonald's or wherever I happen to be working. Why should I have to pay for hours that I am not using?
Ms Briskey : Well, hopefully, your child continues to use those hours, given, as I said, this is also about early education and care. A lot of parents value the benefit that that brings to their child in terms of early education and care and the amount of time that is required to deliver that.
CHAIR: So you do not have a problem with that?
Ms Briskey : I do not think many parents do. I think there is some flexibility around paying for what you use, but I think there is also the concern—and this is what we are hearing from the sector—that that can create some problems with the cost, with centres having to recoup that cost in terms of staff requirements—
CHAIR: So this whole argument is less about flexibility for parents and children and more about financial viability models of centres?
Ms Briskey : I would argue that it is about the cost to families and the implication for families of how that would work. If it can work, and we can see that the cost for parents will not go up and that our children are continuing to receive the benefits of early learning that we want for them, then, as I said, by all means—if this can be worked out properly for parents and the sector. The parents want to know how much they are going to pay—and they want to see it reduced—but they also need it for what they need, workwise and for their child.
CHAIR: Do you mean for children from zero to five years, or one to three years? Are you saying two days a week for children from zero to one year?
Ms Briskey : I think it should be available for all children. I think for most families you will probably find it is for children from one upwards, depending on how soon they need it. But having it available for all families is certainty for parents—
CHAIR: It is the tension between certainty and flexibility.
Ms Briskey : That is right.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In relation to the need for guaranteed places: we heard from one of the earlier witnesses about the impact on children's development and being cared for on an ad-hoc basis—different carers, not the same day and, therefore, perhaps not with the same children at the centre, in terms of relationships that they build with their peers. From a mum's perspective, how do you feel about the idea of driving your daughter to child care, dropping her off and not knowing who is going to be looking after her that day?
Ms Briskey : That is an absolute concern. Thankfully, I do not have to worry about that at my daughter's centre. It is the same educator, who she has developed a relationship with, since she started there just before she turned one. It is the same class as well. With the number of peers and friends that she has there, you see absolute joy in her face when you take her into the centre. That is because of the consistency of the days that she is there, the friends that she has there and the educators that she has there. Katie has not had an option to speak about her child's experience. Do you have anything different to add there?
Ms Woodward : Just recently I was going to have to pull my daughter out of child care after being denied the JET assistance—Jobs, Education and Training assistance—because I am still doing a bachelor's degree and I have not moved on to do masters or something yet. Therefore I was not eligible for continued JET assistance, which meant I would have to drop my degree and everything. Under the current childcare benefit and childcare rebate I am still paying, without JET assistance, about $175 a week and living full time on a single parenting pension. After rent I have about $500 left a fortnight, so paying $350 in child care a fortnight is not a viable option. That means that on top of full-time uni I am going to have to look at part-time work, which also is not really an option. With how it currently works, it is absolutely not a viable option for single parents, and I believe that under the proposed—sorry, I am still a bit unsure. Is it being funded by cutting benefits from the family tax?
Ms Briskey : That is a concern of parents, as at the moment the government is proposing that the only way to increase the investment is by having savings from the cuts to family tax benefit payments and paid parental leave.
CHAIR: And there are some other things that assist in paying for this. It is not simply changes to that.
Ms Briskey : That is the major concern this year.
CHAIR: Let's be fulsome in our information, thanks, Ms Briskey.
Ms Briskey : No, absolutely.
Ms Woodward : Any cuts at all there would affect me. Although child care might be more affordable as a low-income earner, without paying any child care at all I am already losing out a lot.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you are saying that, if you have cuts to your family tax benefit, then overall you are going to be worse off—even if the childcare subsidy increases—because it is taking out of one part of—
Ms Woodward : It is just taking from something to go to another thing. For parents who are on low income and are not using child care, those cuts are going to affect them while they cannot afford child care either. So it is taking from the poor, really, to benefit people who are able to work and are able to earn that $65,000 or more, which is not necessarily possible for single parents.
CHAIR: I do not think that accurately describes the situation for those who are earning under $65,000. They still have access to fully subsidised child care—so if you are earning less than $65,000 the taxpayer is fully subsidising.
Ms Woodward : Yes. So it would go down, from my calculations, to around $15 a day in child care, which is still a lot of money if you are earning, after rent, about $500 a fortnight.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.
CHAIR: In terms of the question Senator Lines was asking about the organisation, how many of the 40,000 parents who are in The Parenthood participated in the survey?
Ms Briskey : Just over 1,400. The full results are in the back of my submission.
CHAIR: And how are you funded? Do people sign up and pay a sub?
Ms Briskey : No. At the moment we do not have membership fees. We are a not-for-profit organisation that seeks sponsorships and donations from a variety of other like-minded organisations.
CHAIR: Such as?
Ms Briskey : Such as from some of the not-for-profit sector, from the union movement, from other—
CHAIR: From United Voice?
Ms Briskey : Yes, United Voice has been one of our major partners.
CHAIR: You mentioned some campaigns that you have been really active in—apologies, my kids are long past child care, so I did not sign up to them. You mentioned the immunisation campaign. Were you supportive of No Jab, No Pay?
Ms Briskey : Yes, absolutely. We were really glad to see that and were happy to see the government do that.
CHAIR: How many of your 40,000 members are in casual work?
Ms Briskey : It is a smaller amount. At the back of the results section, you can see that we ask questions around the number of hours that they are working.
CHAIR: But the number of hours does not necessarily indicate casual or not, does it? It could be just permanent part-time?
Ms Briskey : Yes, that is true.
CHAIR: So when we are looking at that whole question about casuals and needing—
Ms Briskey : As I said before, the majority of our membership are in stable, regular employment, and 75 per cent indicate that they will not be affected by these changes.
CHAIR: What is your membership's view of removing the annual cap for those earning less than $185,000 and increasing it from $7,500 to $10,000 for those earning above?
Ms Briskey : We are very supportive of that. The $7,500—especially in relation to mums' and women's participation in the workforce—has kept women working only three days a week, because when you exceed three days a week you hit your cap and you are paying full fee. Having that scrapped altogether for those families under $185,000 and increased to $10,000 for those other families is very welcome.
CHAIR: Your survey found just over half, which I thought was quite low. But you are saying they are very supportive, so I wanted to flesh out the reasons—
Ms Briskey : You are right. They are supportive. I think it is within the broader context of the other changes and the restrictions on the activity test and the reduction in the level of subsidised hours that low-income families, especially, are receiving. I guess it is just within that context.
CHAIR: Going back to our families on more than $250,000 retaining the 50 per cent subsidy, are you supportive of that?
Ms Briskey : Yes, we were very happy to see the federal government announce in the last budget that they would keep the 50 per cent base level. As I said before, this is not a welfare measure. Government support for childcare costs is a productivity driver. Regarding the drop down to a 20 per cent rebate and the people and families who will be affected by that, we received 600 responses on how that will effect families. Mums are saying, 'There is no point in me going back to work.' Our concern with regard to that drop, as I said before, is that $40,000 a year for the cost of child care, even after subsidies, is still a significant amount of money even for those families who are on those high income levels.
CHAIR: Would you cap it if the family's income was half a million dollars?
Ms Briskey : I think the point is to recognise that it is a productivity driver, not a welfare measure, and for there to be a consistency about it. The other point that I would like to make with regard to this—
CHAIR: Ms Woodward, how do you feel about that—about The Parenthood actually supporting 50 per cent subsidies for families on $500,000 a year?
Ms Woodward : As someone who is earning under $30,000 a year, I think it removes the stigma that goes along with being poor and getting handouts, so I actually support it.
CHAIR: Okay, excellent. That is interesting. In one of your other recommendations you want to ensure effective restraints on childcare fees. What suggestions do you have for government about how to do that?
Ms Briskey : That is a very good question. I guess the difficulty is we are seeing a cap being placed on the amount that the government subsidises, but not the amount that centres can charge. Obviously, we need to make sure that centres are able to deliver early learning, and that does cost money, but we need to look at it in a way that limits the cost for families and the ever-increasing fees for those families. The point around this is—and this goes to your other point as well about subsidies and subsidising for high-income earners—that there is no eligibility requirement—
CHAIR: There is actually no justification, in my view, for giving people on half a million dollars public money which should be spent on supporting people like Ms Woodward on $30,000 a year.
Ms Briskey : That would be the case if this were not education. We do not require any eligibility or means test to access public education.
CHAIR: You did say in your earlier—now I am debating. My apologies.
Ms Briskey : That is all right. We do not require that for public school education. The government heavily subsidises private education. Our argument is: why should early education be any different?
CHAIR: Your original argument was around productivity.
Ms Briskey : It is a combination of both education and productivity.
Ms Woodward : I would like to add to that. If the money used by those high-income earners on day care went going toward low-income earners, perhaps it would be a different story. But the fact is that, to pay for these cuts, it comes from low-income earners anyway.
CHAIR: It is a redesign of the child-care system as a whole. Unfortunately, we have no more time for questions. Thank you very much for coming before us and submitting to our inquiry.
Ms Briskey : Absolutely. Thank you very much.