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Thursday, 14 May 2009
Page: 3859

Ms McKEW (Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Childcare) (9:40 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care) Bill 2009 I present today marks another step along this government’s path to accessible, affordable, high-quality child care for Australian children, their parents and carers.

This government has already made an enormous investment in early education and child care—$3.7 billion in new funding between now and 2013—and rightly so.

That is because this government understands how crucial the early years are in a child’s life and indeed right through education.

That is why parents now get a childcare tax rebate of 50 per cent of their out-of-pocket childcare costs rather than the previous 30 per cent.

That is why parents can now get the rebate paid to them quarterly, to ensure the assistance is there for them, closer to the time they incur their childcare expenses.

This government is on a mission to expand the accessibility of child care.

As a government we understand that families’ situations change, particularly in these uncertain days.

This is why we are making some technical changes in this bill which will improve the administration and accessibility of childcare entitlements.

One of these changes is to allow the final quarterly payment of the childcare tax rebate to be withheld until a parent’s taxable income is determined for that financial year.

This will help reduce the amount of under- and overpayments, and the need for subsequent payments or debt recovery.

Where there is overpayment these amendments will allow the debt to be recovered in a way that will minimise the impact on a particular family.

Sometimes families have to deal with the most difficult of circumstances, when a parent or carer who is entitled to that childcare tax rebate dies.

In these circumstances, changes in this bill will allow for the substitution of the entitlement to the person who then takes over the guardianship of the child.

In other cases parents and carers may receive a ‘zero rate’ for the childcare benefit.

Again, this government understands that people’s situations and income change.

Amendments in this bill will allow those assessed at a ‘zero rate’ of CCB to request a review of their entitlements within two years of the relevant year that they received the zero rating.

All of these changes focus on improving the administration of child care and squaring the ledger with parents in a timely way.

All of them build on changes such as the quarterly childcare tax rebate payment system that the government has already implemented.

I mentioned earlier the government’s considerable investment in child care, and we are committed to safeguarding this investment through the proper administration of childcare payments and services.

Given the events of last year with the collapse of ABC Learning, we are especially mindful that Australian families need to have the greatest possible certainty around continuity of care.

Last year the Rudd government extended civil penalties to a broad range of childcare service obligations.

In this bill we take compliance a step further by allowing the imposition of civil penalties through regulations.

We will tighten the requirements on operators around when and how they notify their intention to cease operations. A civil penalty will apply where a service fails to meet this requirement.

The bill will also clarify the link between a service and an operator by ensuring that its operators are held liable for the obligations imposed on the service they maintain.

We do of course acknowledge that the majority of childcare providers do the right thing when it comes to compliance.

But we want to ensure that those who are negligent are required to do what is expected of them.

Another consequential change is the renaming of the childcare tax rebate. It will now be called the childcare rebate, as it is paid through the Family Assistance Office, not through the Australian Taxation Office.

To sum it up in three words, this bill is about administration, accessibility and accountability—what I could call the AAA rating.

With the government’s landmark commitment this week to a paid parental leave scheme I am proud to say that from now we will be helping deliver for all children and their parents a service from cradle to creche and beyond.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Coulton) adjourned.