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Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Page: 1092


Mr GARRETT (Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (9:16 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Child Care and Other Measures) Bill 2011 makes a number of administrative amendments to family assistance law to strengthen debt recovery and improve compliance and the administration of the childcare benefit.

These amendments will make important changes to the family assistance administration act and other legislation to improve accountability in the childcare sector.

We know how important this is.

The overnight collapse of ABC Learning in 2008 was quite simply unprecedented.

The government’s quick and decisive action meant that 90 per cent of these centres continue to operate for Australian families today.

Had the government’s support not been provided, almost 100,000 families would have had to find alternative care arrangements with little or no notice.

Since 2008 the government has introduced a range of new measures to ensure the financial viability of childcare providers including strengthening approvals processes and requiring additional notification of closures of centres.

This bill will broaden the powers of the secretary to refuse the approval of a childcare service for the purposes of family assistance law, to ensure that operators are fit and proper persons.

This will give the Australian government greater scrutiny over operators and their past practices.

The bill will also enable the Australian government to offset and recover payments owed by one service from another services operated by the same operator.

This will ensure that operators that run up debts to the Commonwealth in one service can be held accountable for their actions.

For instance, this will stop an operator who accumulates debts, and then exits the market, from re-entering the market under a restructured company with similar but not identical directors.

Under current legislation, the government can only consider the exact operator and their history in the industry.

This will facilitate a broader consideration of the childcare operators, associated organisations and individuals in both the approvals and ongoing approvals processes.

The new approvals processes include financial checks for new childcare centre operators to make sure they are viable from the outset and well placed to meet quality standards.

The amendments in this bill represent a part of our commitment to improving accountability within the childcare market, and protecting the market from unscrupulous operators.

Importantly, the bill will also support the government’s $273.7 million investment in the national quality framework.

The changes to protected information will support the national quality framework by enabling the Commonwealth to share information on childcare services with state and territory regulatory bodies.

This will benefit services by not having to provide the same information to more than one body.

The framework, endorsed by COAG, will:

  • improve educator to child ratios so that each child gets more individual time and attention;
  • introduce educator qualification requirements so educators are better able to lead activities that inspire youngsters and help them learn and develop;
  • include a new ratings system so parents know the quality of care on offer and can make informed choices; and
  • reduce regulation burden so services only have to deal with one regulator.

We are doing this because we know from years of international research that the first five years of a child’s life shapes their future—their health, learning and social development—and we want to make sure that future is bright.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.