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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2461

Mr PERRETT (6:30 PM) —I am pleased to speak in support of the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care) Bill 2010. The Rudd government is committed to building a high-quality, affordable and accessible early childhood education and childcare system. I must go on the record and declare a bit of an interest here in that my one-year-old son is going to child care next month but, leaving aside this potential conflict of interest, I am very proud that over the next four years our government will invest more than $16 billion to support families and childcare services.

Our support measures include: our election commitment increasing the childcare rebate from 30 per cent up to 50 per cent of parents’ out-of-pocket costs; increasing the cap on out-of-pocket expenses to $7,778; a national quality framework for early childhood education and care; as well as initiatives to increase the supply, and upgrade the skills and qualifications of, the early years workforce.

I get around to a lot of centres in my electorate and we all know how very important it is that we have high-quality staff in these places, whether it be at St Brendan’s at Moorooka, at Griffith University childcare centre, at Tarragindi childcare centre or at any of the ABC or C&K centres or the like. It is important that we get this balance right.

Some of the toughest decisions we have to make as parents are about negotiating child care, work and the work/life balance. Certainly, in my 44 years I did not worry about—

Mr Baldwin —Longer than that!

Mr PERRETT —Politics has been tough on me! In my 44 years I did not worry about this for the first 40 years. But in the last four years, with a four-year-old son, it was amazing just having to perform that balancing act. For a start we had to work out where we could get into. My partner and I quickly realised that we did not have any choice because the waiting lists were too long. I have an inner city electorate and it was basically impossible to get in anywhere. I have also heard from constituents and friends of a similar age who have delayed having children how difficult it can be to find a place. I am sure my partner, who is hopefully not listening to this because it is a crazy hour right now in Queensland for child care, would say how difficult that mix is—the frantic search and the heartache in trying to find a place that is right.

The Rudd government is proud to be partnering with parents by going halves on childcare costs to ensure parents can return to work in confidence that their children are receiving quality child care in terms of health, learning and social development. Any parent who has a child in care knows that moment of ‘gate guilt’—when you leave the childcare centre and you are at the gate—and would agree that we have to minimise that sense of guilt as much as possible by ensuring that the standards are high. Every time I walk away I wonder what is going on in the childcare centre. Is it tooth and claw or is it organised play? I am sure it is always organised play but every parent has that fear when they walk out the door.

This bill amends a number of acts to improve the administration of childcare services. The amendments relate to the new Child Care Management System and compliance with childcare services obligations. Firstly, the bill introduces business continuity payments to ensure that childcare services who, for reasons beyond their control such as floods, fires or personnel shortages, cannot submit their regular online report continue to receive payments. Under the Child Care Management System, services must submit an online report to receive CCB payments on behalf of families.

However, sometimes circumstances beyond the centre’s control—and it does not even have to be as extreme as a flood or a bushfire; it could be something as simple as a disruption to internet services—could prevent a childcare service from meeting their reporting obligations. The business continuity payment is a sensible amendment to ensure childcare services maintain cash flow during these times. As any business person knows, especially one in small business, cash flow is very important to making sure that a centre is viable.

Secondly, this bill introduces amendments to allow for the recovery of old advances to approved childcare services. In the transition to the new Child Care Management System no provision was made to recover overadvances from the service’s last quarterly payments. Under the old system, services used to be paid CCB fee reductions quarterly, instead of weekly or fortnightly as under the new system. This amendment effectively closes a loophole to allow the government to recover overadvance amounts as originally intended. This bill also ensures that childcare services that received less than their correct entitlement from their last quarterly payment under the old system can receive what they are owed by the Commonwealth.

I will now turn to the amendments in this bill concerning compliance with childcare services obligations. It can cause families a lot of stress and heartache when a childcare provider closes its doors. That is the case everywhere but it is especially the case in rural and regional areas where people might not be able to access alternatives. Changing routines and trying to find a suitable new childcare place is not easy for parents or for children, who obviously become attached to their carers. If my experience was anything to go by, it can also be hard to find a spot in many parts of Australia.

Last year, the Garden City C&K—which is not actually in my electorate but is only about a hundred metres from the border of my electorate—was forced to close after a dramatic rise in their commercial rents. Despite the efforts of dozens of families, as well as me and other people, they were forced to close at reasonably short notice. It caused a lot of heartache and angst in the community.

Operators are currently required to provide at least 30 days notice of their intention to cease operating a service. The bill before the House requires operators to provide at least 42 days notice that they are ceasing to operate. This will provide more time for families to make alternative arrangements.

This bill also amends the mandatory suspension provision. Under the current law, a service is suspended when it receives 10 infringement notices in 12 months. However, this bill will give the secretary of the department discretionary power to weigh up the nature of the infringement and the impact on families before suspending a service—remembering that some of these infringements can be particularly administrative, and if it is away from an urban area it would not be good policy to automatically close a centre. So we are bringing in that discretionary nature.

Finally, this bill will help overcome an unintended administrative burden on childcare services which currently requires services to provide child care benefit entitlements and fee statements to families every four weeks. Instead, under this bill, childcare services will be required to provide regular statements at least every quarter.

This bill delivers practical measures to further improve our vital childcare sector. I thank the Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth and the parliamentary secretary for introducing this bill and for their ongoing commitment to delivering practical changes to support Australian families. The families, children and childcare workers of Moreton are strongly appreciative of their endeavours. I commend the bill to the House.