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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 5173

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (13:43): I was sparked by some of the comments that Senator Farrell made to ask an additional question of him about this mandate that he is claiming for this legislation, legislation that he said was approved by the Australian people at the election held just a touch over a year ago. I am wondering if Senator Farrell will be able to show the Senate how that approval was manifested. Where was the television ad about these changes to the childcare rebate? Where was the radio advertisement about these changes to the childcare rebate? Where was the mention of these changes to the childcare rebate in, say, the Prime Minister's campaign launch speech?

Where was the mention of these changes to the childcare rebate in the material from the Labor Party that cluttered the letterboxes of Australians? Did Ms Ellis herself take this issue up with her own constituency? Did any of her campaign material in the electorate of Adelaide highlight these changes?

The parliamentary secretary is claiming that there was clear, unequivocal approval given by the Australian people at last year's election for these changes. Obviously, if it was such clear and unequivocal approval there was very clear and unequivocal information provided to the Australian people. The people in the gallery and the school children in the gallery up there are obviously paying close attention to what is happening in the Senate today. As much as I would like to think that there are a few other people around the place, I do not kid myself, Senator Farrell, into believing that mums and dads who are busy at work, who have dropped their kids off at child care while they are at work, are necessarily paying intricate detail to legislation that is laid on the table and yet to be debated in this place or the other place. I do not think you can say, 'We had a proposal; we had a bill; we had a plan and it appeared on a government website somewhere,' and say that the Aust­ralian people were informed, and because they were informed and re-elected your government, you have this all-encompassing mandate to make a change such as this one.

Quite clearly, yes, you may have mused about doing this before. You may have put it on a government website and you may have even introduced legislation to get to the first stage of debating it. But what did you actually do? If you want to claim an electoral mandate, if you want to claim the stamp of approval and authority from the Australian people, what did you actually do to earn that? What did you do to proactively ensure that the families who will be most directly affected by this knew about it? What did you do to ensure that those families were fully informed? What did Ms Ellis do to ensure that before people in my home suburb, in her electorate, went down to the local ballot box and cast their votes that they knew that this is what she was planning to do as the childcare minister? How did they know that this is what your government was planning to do?

In claiming that there was widespread consultation, I note that in the submission to the inquiry into this legislation we have a situation where your now friends in the LHMU—the 'missos' union—made a submission that was quite critical of this and highlighted the longer term impacts of it. Their submission stated:

… it must be recognised that without alternative allocation of funding, the proportion of affected families will certainly increase over the subsequent years. We draw attention to the fact that childcare fees have risen by 34.9% since June 2005—more than 2.5 times the headline inflation rate over this period. With the capping of the [childcare rebate] and continuing fee inflation, the cost of future fee increases will be increasingly met by parents at all income levels, exacerbating the cost of childcare for many families.

Let us just dwell on those last few words.

With the capping of the [childcare rebate] … the cost of future fee increases will be increasingly met by parents at all income levels, exacerbating the cost of childcare for many families.

That is the 'missos' union. Senator Farrell, I know that you and Ms Ellis have not traditionally consulted the 'missos' union terribly much. Mr Butler, the member for Port Adelaide, has been the custodian of the representation of the 'missos' union in the federal parliamentary Labor Party delegation from South Australia and you have tended to take somewhat opposite approaches to things during that time. I note that recently there has been a bonding, a merging of sentiment, between the 'shoppies' union that you and Ms Ellis represent and the 'missos' union that made this submission, that Mr Butler and Mr Wetherill and others represent. I would have hoped that even if you had not historically listened to what they had to say, even if you had not listened to what they had to say back when this idea was conceived, or back when the 'missos' union gave their evidence, now you might give it a little more thought and encouragement. But, Minister, to return to the key question that your comments sparked, how is it that you claim this mandate, this sweeping approval from the Australian people? What did your government do proactively to inform voters before they put that little green piece of paper for the House of Representatives in the ballot box at the last election?