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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1652

Ms KATE ELLIS (Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth and Minister for Sport) (9:36 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Rudd government was elected with a strong vision for child care—for an affordable, accessible and high-quality sector, so that parents can participate confidently in the workforce and our children have positive, learning experiences.

We are delivering on this and on raising the quality of early childhood education and child care. In a historic agreement in December last year COAG announced that there will be one national quality framework.

This will include improved staff to child ratios so each child in care gets more individual time and attention; new qualification requirements so staff can better lead activities that help children learn and develop; and a new ratings system so parents will know the quality of care on offer and will be able to make the best decisions and informed choices for their families.

The new system will also mean that services only have to deal with one regulator, which will mean less paperwork and, importantly, more time to spend focusing on children.

Transparency and providing up-to-date information for parents and the sector has also been high on our agenda. We have established the Mychild website, which provides important information for parents and service providers through a searchable database of over 8,000 childcare services which includes information on fees, vacancies and services provided.

We are backing our commitment to child care with an investment of over $16 billion over four years. This is more than twice than was provided in the last four years of the Howard government, just to put it in context.

Through this bill we are continuing to make practical changes to support both childcare services and Australian families.

Throughout 2008 and 2009 all approved childcare services moved to a new system—the Child Care Management System—where services submit online reports before receiving childcare benefit payments.

In the instance where childcare services cannot submit their online report through circumstances outside their control, such as a natural disaster or emergency, the passage of this legislation will mean that we can continue to pay centres childcare benefit so that they continue to have cash flow in times of need.

We are also making improvements to the way in which services are required to provide families with statements that set out their fees and the childcare benefit that they have received. This will provide services with greater flexibility around how they issue statements, making it easier for services to meet their obligations and provide more accessible information to families on their childcare benefit.

This bill will also take further steps to protect families from disruption when operators decide to cease operating. Services that either transfer their operation or close will now be required to provide at least 42 days notice to the department, rather than the current requirement of at least 30 days. We know, of course, that this change will help families to make alternative arrangements in the unfortunate incidence where the childcare centre that their children attend ceases to operate.

We are also tidying up some areas of the legislation. In 2007 the previous government passed legislation to introduce the new Child Care Management System. As I touched on before, this system has been progressively introduced throughout 2008 and 2009.

Unfortunately, the legislation introduced in 2007 did not clarify legislative authority to recover overadvances of childcare benefit acquitted by some services before they transitioned from a three-monthly ‘payment in advance’ system to a new ‘payment in arrears’ system.

These amendments will confirm the original intent of the previous government’s legislation and provide for acquittals of advances and recovery of overadvance amounts.

The bill also makes it clear that where services are owed money from acquittals prior to transition that the Commonwealth now has the authority to pay this money to centres.

A further amendment will make discretionary the current mandatory suspension of a service’s childcare benefit approval when a service has been issued with 10 infringement notices in a 12-month period. This is in line with other suspension provisions for childcare benefit and takes into account the nature of some of the infringements and the impact on families of the withdrawal of their service’s childcare benefit approval.

These are all practical and welcome steps to help strengthen our childcare arrangements.

And they are yet another step by this government to improve the quality of child care and to better support Australian families.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.