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NATIONAL HEALTH AMENDMENT (PHARMACEUTICAL BENEFITS SCHEME) BILL 2010
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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Mr NEUMANN (5:01 PM) —I speak in support of the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. I was interested in the comments of the previous speaker, the member for Farrer, who said that she was able to go to university at 30 years of age because she had affordable child care. Yet, if memory serves me right, I think she actually voted against legislation in this chamber in the last 24 hours that would have made childcare facilities available, which were provided by student associations, at campuses in regional and rural areas across the country. If memory serves me right she was in this chamber. So the person who said that she is all in favour of affordable child care is the same person who in the last 24 hours voted against the provision of child care at university campuses and the like. That is the reality, so there is a degree of hyperbole and hypocrisy about the previous speech.
When you have a look at what we are doing here, you can see that we are setting the childcare rebate annual cap at $7,500 per child per year and pausing indexation of the maximum rate of the childcare rebate for four years. Let us look at the facts. We heard the fiction from the member for Farrer. I do not want to take the alliteration any further but we heard the fiction from the member for Farrer and you can hear the facts from me. Here are some facts. In referring to child care and to education in this country the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the member for Curtin, when she was the education minister, said:
It is unacceptable in country with Australia’s relatively small population to have a fractured and inconsistent system that can change dramatically between States.
She was referring there to early childhood education. In 2006, Australia had one of the worst rankings in public expenditure and early childhood education. We were 13th out of 14 in the OECD. What a farce. What a fiasco. What a failure under the Howard coalition government. Did they bring in paid parental leave? No. We had that ridiculous policy proposed by the now opposition. It has festered across there. They sit there with their idea on paid parental leave, which is a great big tax on people. If they ever get onto the Treasury benches that is what would happen. Let us look at what an independent report said in relation to early childhood education, and this report was tabled on 22 April this year. The Childcare Vacancies Quarterly Snapshot is a snapshot of the state of child care in Australia. This was not made up by us. It is a statistical analysis of the Australian childcare market over the previous five years. We had been in power for only 2½ years when this was looked at. The findings were very interesting; it said:
In 2004 families earning $55,000 a year—
I would think that the average Australian would probably think that is pretty middle class—
spent 13% of their disposable income on child care, this has fallen to 7% in 2009.
We were in power in 2009 and the coalition was in power in 2004. In 2004, 13 per cent of disposable income; seven per cent by 2009 under us. The report found that the Australian federal government, the Labor government, ‘funding for child care had more than doubled in the past four years, up from $1.7 billion in 2004-05 to $3.7 billion in 2008-09’. Facts, not fiction. This is the reality.
When we came to power, we had a look at what was happening with respect to assistance for families. We were the ones who made a difference. We fulfilled the commitment which we took to the 2007 election campaign, which was to deliver an increase in the childcare rebate from 30 per cent under the coalition government to 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs, from a maximum of $4,354 to a maximum of $7,500 per child per year. So it is a bit rich for coalition spokespersons to come into this place and give us lectures on what they think about regional and rural areas and about child care. The facts do not bear out any commitment from them to child care. We believe that the 800,000 Australian families who place their children in child care every week deserve to know that the childcare facilities in which they place their kids are safe, happy and stimulating and that they are learning environments. That is what the minister was talking about in her second reading speech on 22 September 2010, and for her to be criticised about that by the member for Farrer is appalling.
We are fair dinkum about making sure that we spend money and get the ratios right for child care. The quality of child care and early childhood education in this country is critical. When the coalition were in government they spent a fifth of the average of OECD countries—our competitors in the Western world—on early childhood education. They decided to spend a little bit on child care and a little bit on early childhood education. They put up flagpoles in the state primary and high schools and, when it came to tertiary education, they foisted Work Choices on that sector. That is the way they linked their funding. That was their commitment to education for young people. The coalition should not come in here and give us lectures about their commitment to childhood education when the reality is that it was a federal Labor government, this government, that made the commitment to good quality education for children of all ages. I strongly believe that it is a matter of social justice and social equity that we provide affordable and accessible quality early childhood education and child care. As I said, we have backed it up with far more money than the coalition. The commitment is backed by an investment of more than $18.2 billion over the next four years—almost $11 billion more than what was provided by the coalition government in its last four years of office.
The $86.3 million that we are going to save by this measure will be directly reinvested into the National Quality Framework, which will assist in better staff to child ratios. How can this be bad? This is a good thing. Each child will get more individual care and attention and there will be a boost in staff qualification requirements. We want staff in early childhood education to be focused on that. We have great childcare workers and some wonderful facilities in my electorate. When I think of great organisations and great facilities I think of Cribb Street Child Care Centre in Sadliers Crossing, Bush Kidz in Brassall and the wonderful work at the One Mile Community Child Care Centre in Leichhardt. We fulfilled an election commitment when we established the $1.6 million Early Learning and Care Centre at Yamanto, at the relocated Amberley District State School. They also received BER funding. I was pleased when the then Minister for Early Childhood Education, Child Care and Youth, the member for Adelaide, visited my electorate to open that centre with me. It is a wonderful facility. I am pleased that the staff are committed and that the kids are learning well. The kids make the transition from that centre to next door, to the Amberley district school. This is a fast-growing school. We have committed nearly $27 million to relocate the school. I commend C&K for the work they have done and the commitment of people, many of whom live in the Yamanto area, but also those military families whose children go to the Amberley district school. I am very pleased to see the progress there.
We are making big commitments to early childhood education and care. One of the things that I am pleased to see in my electorate, as I think it makes a big difference, is the Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters—HIPPY. It has been rolled out to 35 locations, of which 26 were established last year and into this year. My electorate is receiving one of these programs, and I warmly welcome it. I sent out a press release on 4 November this year about the fact that we were going to help children in Blair prepare for life and learning. I warmly welcome the expansion of this national home parenting and learning program to Ipswich and its surrounding areas, including rural areas. In 2011, HIPPY will be expanded to 15 communities across Australia, taking the number of communities involved nationally in this program to 50. It is an important initiative that gives young people the best chance in life as they start school. It will be a great asset to the Ipswich area as it will help many parents and children in our community.
The program empowers parents and carers to be a child’s first teacher. I think this is important for not only the childcare workers who work in our wonderful facilities in Blair but also the parents, who are the best and first teachers of young people. The program provides education resources and home tutors to help families prepare their children for a successful start in school. The government has committed $32.5 million over five years to roll out the program, which will help up to 3,000 families nationwide. It is not always easy for mums and dads to provide such assistance, but the program will provide them with a bit of a helping hand, and this will be great for families in Ipswich and the surrounding areas. The Australian Red Cross, in partnership with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, has been selected to deliver the program in Ipswich. The program should be up and running in Ipswich by mid-2011. The fact that the Australian Red Cross and the Brotherhood of St Laurence will be working together on this program will make a difference to the kids in Ipswich and the surrounding areas by giving them the best possible start in life.
This legislation is important. It is part of our overall agenda to make sure not only do we give good quality and affordable child care to young people but also that the bottom line is protected and we can make the system viable. We have raised the childcare rebate to 50 per cent of parents’ out-of-pocket expenses. We have made a difference there. We are looking to make further changes. The Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare has already foreshadowed some additional changes to ensure that payments are made more periodically to parents, and I look forward to her announcing that in the future. I think this will make a big difference to parents. Early investment in our children’s education is crucial, and getting them to focus on literacy and numeracy and to have a love of learning when they are young will make a big difference as they progress through school and on to university or TAFE. Learning is a lifelong experience and something that should be encouraged. The emphasis of the federal Labor government, of which I am proud to be a member, is to be applauded and welcomed and not criticised by those opposite whose record in this area is a disgrace.