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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 3482


Mr RANDALL (6:07 PM) —I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. I will say at the outset that this bill is noble in its intentions; however, it is short on delivery to the people in my electorate of Canning. This bill seeks to cap the childcare rebate at seven and a half thousand dollars per annum for the next four financial years, with the intention of generating $86.3 million in savings over that period of time. The Labor Party needs the savings to help fund the national quality framework, which is estimated to cost some $273.7 million. Currently, the child care rebate is $7,778 indexed. In other words, the intention of this bill is to provide, on current figures, $278 less per annum.

As I said at the beginning, the intention of this national accreditation program is quite noble. This agenda had been agreed to by the states and territories through COAG in December 2007. The national quality agenda has three key elements: the national quality standard, enhanced regulatory arrangements and a quality rating system. The national quality standard will seek to introduce nationally consistent staff to child ratios and staff qualification requirements. It seeks to enhance the quality of each service by applying an assessment rating of one to five against seven quality criteria.

The national quality standard qualifications prerequisites will require many workers to either upgrade their qualifications or see them possibly leave the industry if they cannot. This gives no consideration to the life experience and maturity of these workers, as many of them have worked in this industry for years and have raised their own children.

Higher staff to child ratios and more highly qualified staff will mean higher labour costs for a given number of enrolments. Increasing staff levels will lead to services cutting places or possibly being forced to close if their business model is no longer viable because of the wage and cost pressures. The coalition supports improved quality standards because we want to ensure the best possible start for our young Australians while they are in care; however, this framework has been developed without sufficient consultation with the child care sector and it certainly needs to be reviewed.

It needs to be noted that teachers, teacher’s aides and carers in this area are currently some of the lowest paid workers in Australia. The consistent message to me from people in my electorate is that there are qualified people in this area who battle to exist on the meagre pay—it is barely above the basic wage. Coming to government in 1996, the coalition went through a similar process for the accreditation of the aged care sector. Yes, reform is needed in a lot of care sectors. The difference is that when we put in place the aged care reforms they came with not only sufficient money to implement them but also sufficient incentives for people to invest in the business of providing aged care beds and facilities. That is the difference between what is being organised here and what was done previously in another care sector.

As I said, families are going to have this rebate capped. It is expected that there will be more than 20,000 families financially worse off as a result of this bill. It could not come at a worse time, as increased cost-of-living pressures are hurting working families. You do not hear the Labor Party talking much about working families lately. It was one of their focus group buzzwords under the leadership of Prime Minister Rudd, but it does not seem to have carried over into the new paradigm. I wonder why. The Labor Party talk about workers and working families, yet they are more interested in the elite latte set in the leafy suburbs than in working people.

As I have said many times in this place, the best thing you can do for a family is to give them a job. We found out recently that the unemployment figures have risen. The cost-of-living pressures for families were recognised by the Rudd government, but they failed again. They were going to have Fuelwatch, GroceryWatch—in fact, they were going to watch everything. They watched a whole lot of things and had hundreds of committees report and look into these matters, but those reports are now gathering dust on the shelves. Those reports might have recommendations or surveys, but they have not actually been dealt with or implemented. Most of them have been shoved sideways onto a shelf with little done about them.

As a digression, Madam Deputy Speaker D’Ath, do you remember the thousand people who came to this place for what I nicknamed the ‘kilo brain’ competition early in the last parliament? Whatever happened to all the ideas that came from that? They evaporated. I have not seen any of them.

Returning to this bill, the fact is that many people who face cost-of-living pressures are going to find they will either have to pay more or won’t be able to pay at all. I heard the member for Cunningham say that she was a schoolteacher. So was I in a previous life, and I am happy to say so. My wife is also a teacher and most of my family are teachers. We know a bit about education and the need for quality care. The goals and ambitions around this bill are very noble, but the consultation and the money are not there.

Putting a child into child care is a serious business. If you have children you might have been in the situation of having to drive your child early in the morning—when it is cold or hot, whatever—and walking with them into the childcare centre and hoping that the people in that centre are good and caring people. I recall an experience I had where my wife and I made the mistake of taking our daughter to a particular childcare centre. We thought we had done the right thing and checked it out first. We wondered why she was so reluctant to go to this place until we found out from other mothers that the treatment at the centre was pretty ordinary. We felt really sick about having to put our child into that sort of care until we were able to find an alternative place where the care was far better.

It is a serious business if you cannot afford to stay at home with your child but have to return to work. My wife had to return to work as a schoolteacher because of cost-of-living pressures. We had a mortgage. We had all the things that most Australian families experience. Cash was tight. We needed two incomes coming into our house. You put your child into care knowing that kids who go to childcare centres end up with more communicable sicknesses like coughs and colds than other kids who have the opportunity to be raised at home. Parents who have to put their children into child care are willing to pay for it. But when the cost of child care gets close to the amount of money they earn, they you have to ask, ‘Is it worth while putting my child into this childcare centre, with all the dislocation that goes with it, when I am barely earning above what I am paying in childcare fees?’ This is the conundrum that a lot of families face.

In the Canning electorate most couples with children earn a gross weekly income of between $1,400 and $1,700 and most single parents earn a gross weekly income of between $500 and $600—much less than the average full-time adult income which is about $1,200 a week. Obtaining affordable child care is the major concern for many parents in my electorate. Not only do the Labor Party want to stop the future indexation of the childcare rebate; they want to immediately reduce the amount of the rebate. Through this bill, the Labor Party want to reduce the childcare rebate to the 2008-09 level. So much for Labor ‘moving forward’. They are going backwards on this issue.

The member for Cunningham spoke about how much money the government was providing and all that sort of stuff. You have to ask: ‘Is this new money? Is this re-announced money?’ Some of Labor’s promises like the double drop-off and the childcare arrangements post the ABC Learning failure have not materialised. How can we trust the government to deliver on something as serious as this when their history on these sorts of issues is one of failure? The Labor Party claim that the national quality framework they are developing will improve childcare services. Hopefully it will, but at what cost? At the cost of working Aussie families doing it hard? Some industry groups have already predicted that childcare fees will increase by up to $22 a day. Imagine this additional cost for a single working parent who only earns $600 a week. The increased cost of child care could force people out of jobs, out of study or out of further training.

The Labor Party basically want to rip off Australian families so they can continue their wasteful spending on some of the big budget, ill-informed projects like the Building the Education Revolution and the pink batts program—areas where money went down the drain. There is no point having better child care if parents cannot afford to put a roof over their child’s head or food on the table. We do not really know whether childcare services will be better. We hope they will. Overheads for childcare centres will increase. Who will bear these extra costs? These costs of course will be passed on to parents. Childcare workers may leave the industry or be forced to upgrade their qualifications. That will mean fewer workers in the sector if they do not have the financial capacity to upgrade.

The national quality framework qualification prerequisites give no consideration to the experience of workers and the work they have already done. The national quality framework will lead to childcare services having to increase staff levels and may force some operators to shut their doors, which will mean fewer places for child care. The competition for places is already tough. The coalition is supportive of improving the quality of child care. As a father and as somebody involved in education previously, I want Australia’s children to have the best possible start to their education. However, the Labor government’s national quality framework requires much more consultation with the childcare sector and it must be reviewed.

The Building the Education Revolution started off admirably, but many people now say, ‘Rather than a small building that could not fit a fridge or having to have two gyms in the one school, we would have liked more funding for teacher education and quality training for teachers, and smaller class sizes.’ We saw that failure again with the pink batts issue. I hope that, as was said in the MPI debate today, this is not another trophy of failure that will go into the Labor Party’s trophy cabinet. They failed to discuss and they failed to consult. The major losers in this whole exercise are not just the working families of Australia but also the children of Australia who are entitled to receive care. We owe them more and to do so we need to make sure these proposals are properly funded and that there is proper consultation to get the best possible outcomes.