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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5039

Ms REA (7:20 PM) —I rise to support the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. I acknowledge the comments made by the previous speaker, the member for Murray, in so far as I have never heard a half an hour of such breathtaking hypocrisy in my life. She was a member of a government that sat on the executive benches for 11 years and did absolutely nothing to support working women in this country. We heard a 15-minute diatribe about paid parental leave, which I should remind her was actually voted on yesterday. My understanding is that it was actually supported by the opposition; nonetheless, her disinterest in what is really happening in child care was such that she spent half of her speech attacking the government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme on the basis of some hypothetical policy that her leader dreamt up somewhere between other activities, and he used it as a sound bite. He had given it no thought; he had no understanding of the needs of working women, and he certainly had no understanding of a fair and equitable paid parental leave policy. So we had 15 minutes of her attacking something that we have achieved in just under three years and that they had 11 years to implement.

But let us get back to the substance of this legislation. If you listened to the bit of the speech of the member for Murray that referred to child care, you would think that this legislation is a piece of doom and gloom and that it is apparently a sad indictment of the government’s approach to child care. I offer a couple of fundamental facts that she did not actually acknowledge and some very important principles. The first fact is that we are looking at an implementation of the government’s election commitment. We went to the election with a policy of a 50 per cent rebate up to $7½ thousand. Under the previous government it was a 30 per cent rebate with a cap of $4,354. So it means that a significant number of families in this country are far better off under this government’s childcare policy. I accept that the measures contained within this legislation do introduce a cap and do put a stop on indexation for four years. It is a saving of $86.3 million. The overall budget that has been delivered by the Rudd government on child care is in excess of $16 billion. The family assistance that is direct support for child care is $14.4 billion. That is an increase of $8 billion over the last four years of the Howard government. So anyone who was a member of that government, who sat on the government benches, and who now gets up to say that this legislation is an indictment of the government—a government that has increased childcare funding by $10 billion on top of theirs—can be nothing more than a hypocrite.

What are also really important are the principles under which the Rudd government’s childcare policies and legislation have been developed. I believe that in fact the legacy of the first term of this Rudd government will be its commitment to the working families and, in particular, to the working women of this country. We see a $10 billion increase in childcare funding and we see paid parental leave for the first time in this country. No wonder, as the previous speaker said, the workforce participation rates of women of child-bearing age in Australia are abysmal. It is because we have never had a paid parental leave scheme before and we have never had real funding to support families in terms of child care. Eight hundred thousand families benefit from direct assistance through our childcare scheme, through the childcare rebate of 50 per cent with a $7½ thousand cap.

I acknowledge that there will be families who will have to pay a bit more on their childcare bills as a result of these measures. It is about three per cent of the families that receive childcare assistance. On average their bills will go up by something like $5 a week. But I would say that the families who are seeking childcare assistance will also understand the current economic context—the current financial situation that the globe is in, not just Australia—and there will be an acceptance that we are being responsible with our budgeting. I think that if we can find $86 million with a very small but responsible cut which actually honours our election commitment a lot of families will accept that, because they support this government not only halving peak debt but in fact committing to then pay off the debt three years earlier than was first expected. So I think there will be a level of understanding, because I give working families out there in the community much greater credence than the member for Murray does when it comes to understanding the balance between services and the need to be financially responsible.

What is also significant about this government’s approach to child care is that we do not just talk about child care as babysitting or child care as a support for working women. We have actually said that child care is a valuable and essential part of a child’s development in itself. It goes to the fact that early childhood is in the Education portfolio. That is the second prong of our approach to child care. I would say that the Rudd government’s approach has actually been visionary, because not only do we put significant dollars into affordability but we put significant dollars into quality. We have said that it is no longer a babysitting service, that it is a fundamental part of a child’s development and education and that, whilst we want to support working women and we want to make their contribution to the workforce properly valued and recognised, we also want funding to go to child care as a service that is important for the child itself. So we do seek support for national data collection, for an index which actually gives us the data we need to appreciate how important that service is for a child’s development and how it can be improved. We also support the reducing of the staff-to-children ratios. Whilst affordability is fundamentally important, every single working parent knows that if you have confidence in the quality of the centre that your child goes to it makes an enormous difference to you and to the wellbeing of your family. The pressure and concern as to the quality of the service is taken off your shoulders because you know that your child is enjoying, and learning from, the service that they go to and is not simply there to be babysat while you are working.

It is also fundamentally important that the Rudd government has put money into Indigenous early childhood development. We have put money into the home interaction program for disadvantaged children. We have put money into rolling out universal access to early learning, so that by 2013 all Australian children will have access to preschool or kindergarten. What this government is doing with child care is revolutionising it. It is showing that we will put our money where our mouth is when we talk about financial support and assistance for those families who need it. I remind you, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, that we are increasing funding by $10 billion over and above the last four years of the Howard government. On top of that we are acknowledging child care as a fundamental part of a child’s development and education. We are actually putting money into the quality of the service that is provided. We are acknowledging the needs of rural and regional Australia. We are acknowledging the needs of disadvantaged children.

Debate interrupted.