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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4542

Ms COLLINS (9:20 PM) —I am pleased to support the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2008, both as a representative of families in my electorate of Franklin and also as a parent of three who has used child care extensively. In fact, my family has used child care almost every working day for the past 14 years. The Rudd Labor government in this bill is delivering on its election commitment to increase not only the rate but the frequency of the childcare tax rebate to help working families meet the costs of child care. For parents with children in approved care, this increase in the childcare tax rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent will mean more money in their pockets and more money for the family budget. Increasing the childcare rebate will put an extra $1.2 billion back into the hands and pockets of families around Australia. This will mean an extra benefit ranging from $500 to $2,500 per year for the average family with one child.

All families currently in receipt of childcare cash rebate will be better off under this measure. Providing quality, affordable child care will also have the effect of improving productivity and allowing skilled and experienced workers to rejoin the workforce after having their families. We all know there is a skills crisis and a labour shortage, and this measure will boost workforce participation and productivity. It will allow parents who want to work to be able to work, and parents who want to train or study to be able to train or study, by making quality child care more affordable. Greater workforce participation is needed to help build capacity in the economy and help put downward pressure on inflation.

This bill will also increase the yearly limit of the cash rebate from $4,354 per annum per child to a limit of $7,500 per annum per child. It will also now be paid quarterly, with the Rudd Labor government’s first payment to families, in my electorate of Franklin and in other electorates around the country, beginning in October 2008.

Yesterday we heard from the opposition about the media speculation on childcare cost increases. So I too would like to take this opportunity to remind the House about what happened to childcare fees under the former government. Members would be interested to know that, under the former government, childcare costs increased—yes, in the 11 years they were in government, they almost doubled. In fact, for the last five years of the Howard government costs increased by on average more than 12 per cent per year. For many families paying these childcare fees it was like having a second mortgage. Families at my local childcare centre with two children were commonly paying between $25,000 and $30,000 per year in childcare fees. It was this pressure from the community that forced the former government to provide some form of childcare relief. But what did they do? We have heard from other members about the massive smoke-and-mirror trick that the former government introduced with their legislation that reimbursed childcare costs to families not one but two years after they were paid. That is right—the member for Higgins, the out-of-touch former Treasurer, forced families to wait two long years to get the childcare tax rebate when it was first introduced. And then what did we see? In a desperate bid in the last few months before the last election we saw those opposite change the payment to an annual payment at the end of the financial year. To demonstrate just how out of touch they were I want to quote the former member for Longman. When challenged on the spiralling costs of child care he said in April last year: ‘There is no crisis. I’ve been saying long and hard there are no crises.’ He was so out of touch that he received the ultimate judgement by the people of his electorate.

Not only have the Rudd Labor government delivered on our election commitment with this legislation but, just as importantly, we recognise that child care needs to be affordable and available. That is why the federal Labor government has already pledged up to 260 new early-learning centres around Australia on primary school and community grounds. These childcare measures are part of the Rudd Labor government’s $55 billion Working Families Support Package. It is a package that delivers for families. It is a package that recognises and rewards families’ efforts. And it is a package that provides essential relief against cost pressures for families in Australia. I hope to see those on the other side support this bill, and I commend it to the House.