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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 3489

Mr TUDGE (6:37 PM) —When the Labor Party went to the election in 2007 their big pitch to the electorate regarded the cost of living. They made the claim that the Howard government had given up on working families and their day-to-day concerns. They claimed that only the Labor Party was in tune with their needs. So they talked about petrol prices going up. They talked about grocery prices. They talked about electricity prices. They talked about housing affordability and they even had, if I recall correctly, a housing affordability summit. They also, of course, talked about interest rates. The cost-of-living pressure facing everyday Australian families was one of the central themes in their bid to be elected.

They told us that they had plans to fix the cost-of-living pressures. They were going to take the pressures off families. Prices were going to drop. They had two big policies to supposedly address the issue of the cost of living: GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch. So this was their claim, their pitch and their basis for being elected in 2007. We now know that this claim, which helped the Labor Party get elected in 2007, was based on naivety or was a lie. I do not know which one it was. Perhaps they honestly thought that a website to monitor grocery prices would actually bring down the costs of fruit and vegetables, milk and bread. Perhaps they did. Perhaps they honestly thought that a website to monitor petrol would actually bring down prices at the bowser. Maybe they were that naive to think that those things would actually make a difference to everyday prices.

I am prepared to give the Labor Party that benefit of the doubt, but my suspicion is that Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and the Labor Party knew that their policies would make no difference to the cost-of-living pressures. My suspicion is that they went to the election—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! The bill is the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. I ask the honourable member to come to the bill.

Mr TUDGE —I will be coming to the bill very soon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was talking about cost-of-living pressures, and this bill directly relates to cost-of-living pressures. We know that the Labor Party, as I was saying, did not deliver on their promise to address the issue of the cost of living. Their two big policies in 2007, GroceryWatch and Fuelwatch, have since disappeared and, if you look at what has happened to prices across the board since November 2007 when the government was first elected, you will see that water and sewerage prices have gone up 46 per cent, electricity prices have gone up 42 per cent, gas has risen by 29 per cent, medical costs by 20 per cent and we have had several interest rate rises.

Mr Tehan —Seven or eight!

Mr TUDGE —As the member for Wannon points out, it is seven or eight. So instead of addressing the cost-of-living pressures over the last three years, the government has made things alarmingly worse for Australian families—and, what is more, there are many plans to continue to put upward pressure on the cost of living and make things even harder. If you look at some of the things that the government are planning on doing which are putting up cost-of-living pressures on families, they have cut back on the private health insurance rebate, so private health insurance is likely to go up.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member must come to the bill as the main point of his speech. His speech cannot be such a broad address. This is an address to this bill and the member must address the bill.

Mr TUDGE —Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is within this context of cost-of-living pressures that I am opposed to this particular bill in this House because the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010 represents just another way in which the government is going to put pressure on many Australian families. It is another way in which they are going to raise the cost of living for families in Australia, and that is the particular context in which I raised those other things. This bill before the House makes child care that little bit more expensive. I have talked about electricity prices, medical prices, fruit and vegetable prices, petrol prices et cetera, but as a result of this bill child care will also become that little bit more expensive.

The bill seeks to set the maximum per child amount of the childcare rebate to $7,500 per annum and suspend indexation until July 2014. So this sees a reduction from the current indexed amount of $7,778 per annum. On the basis of the government’s own figures, families will now pay an additional $86.3 million for child care over the next four years. That is $86.3 million in additional childcare costs from the party who claimed that they were concerned about cost-of-living pressures and were going to put downward pressure on them. In addition, the national quality agenda measures are likely to increase overheads for childcare centres, and some industry groups predict that associated cost increases of between $12 and $22 will come about as a result of the national quality framework—and of course every family that uses child care will be affected by those price increases.

Child care is essential to many families today. It is not a discretionary service. It is often the case that a family has no choice but to use child care, whether it is a single parent who needs to access child care in order to go to work to pay the bills or whether it is couples for whom the cost of housing and other living costs are going up so enormously. As I was saying before, such costs are now so high that both members of a couple need to work in order to make ends meet and to pay the mortgage. The Howard government recognised the importance to families of child care and the cost pressures back in 2005. That is when the Howard government introduced the child care tax rebate and backdated it to 1 July 2004. It was introduced because the coalition understood the importance of families being able to have affordable, accessible and good quality child care and that this was an essential part of a family being able to manage its work and its family obligations.

The question must be asked: why is the government now pulling back on its assistance to families using child care? The answer of course is because it has spent such enormous amounts of money over the last few years on a multitude of issues that it is now in serious financial trouble. It has taken Australia from a budget surplus of $20 billion to a deficit of approximately $50 billion. It is still continuing to borrow $100 million per day. So this bill is a measure to try to claw back some money for the budget.

But my argument is, instead of clawing it back from parents who badly need child care so they can go to work, why doesn’t the government look at some of the other measures which the opposition have put forward through which legitimate savings can be made? This bill will not help Australian families struggling to meet cost-of-living pressures. It will not help them afford child care more easily. On the contrary, it will make getting child care that little bit harder for over 20,000 families across Australia. It is time that the government put a stop to all its new taxes and to its efforts to claw back savings from badly needed government services, such as child care. This bill should be opposed.