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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 3494

Mr TEHAN (7:01 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. Or perhaps what it should be titled, if we were being truthful, is the ‘reduce family assistance legislation amendment (child care) (try and fix the budget) measure’. The small community of Casterton, in my electorate of Wannon, has been struggling for several years to fund a new, quality day care centre. In August I announced that the coalition would fund the entire $1.2 million project if the coalition were elected to government. The Labor Party, unfortunately, refused to help this small community and match this promise, so families in Casterton have been left disappointed and still struggling to gain funding for the new centre. This example goes to the heart of what we are discussing in this bill tonight.

As reported in the Casterton News, local families have battled authorities for years to get a quality day care centre built in Casterton. They are forced to use the former health centre building that was built decades ago and is totally unsuitable for this purpose. To their credit, local families in this small regional community have created their own action group to try to raise the funds desperately needed to improve the quality of child care offered in the region. The Casterton Day Care Action Group has been campaigning for the centre for several years and is trying to raise upwards of $75,000 so it can contribute a share towards the project.

The project was originally costed at $800,000 in 2007, when it was put to the Glenelg Shire Council. I commend the Glenelg Shire Council for putting the day care centre on their agenda and understand their desire to provide such a service, but I am also extremely cognisant that they are facing competing demands, especially because the Victorian state Labor government has failed to provide adequate road funding and other necessary infrastructure for the region.

I would like to place on the record again that a coalition government would have delivered quality childcare services at an affordable rate to Casterton by providing $1.2 million for the building of a child and family complex, which would have provided desperately needed childcare services for that region. This announcement, if we had formed government, would have been a great reward for the Casterton Day Care Action Group, who have been working so hard to secure support for this centre. They have met with me on numerous occasions to outline their needs, and it is a great shame that their hard work was not rewarded as it would have been if the coalition had formed government.

The coalition recognises that investing in children’s wellbeing at an early stage greatly increases their self-confidence, health and educational prospects later in life. We believe all families should have access to quality services for their children, whether they live in the city or in the country. If delivered, this investment, importantly, also would have eased the burden on Glenelg shire ratepayers into the future, because direct investment by the Commonwealth in this project would have enabled the shire to save on the expenditure it had forecast to outlay. The coalition initiative would have encouraged skilled professionals to stay in the region and also would have helped encourage other professionals to come and work locally due to the provision of proper child care.

I would like to place on the record my support for the coalition at the state level providing $500,000 towards the building of the Casterton child and family complex. It once again demonstrates that we on this side understand the importance of providing child care in rural and regional areas and shows Labor’s complete disinterest in doing so. Sadly, this is another case where we have to look at what the Labor government does rather than what it says.

At the 2007 election Labor promised 260 new childcare centres but scrapped the plan before the 2010 election, using the highly cynical excuse that there was no demand for new centres. The Casterton community would argue with the government on that point, and I would encourage the minister to talk to the Casterton Day Care Action Group so she can hear firsthand that there is still demand for childcare centres. Hopefully, this would prevent in future such cynical media releases that argue that such demand does not exist. Hopefully—and this goes to the heart of this bill—it would lead to the Gillard government being upfront and honest with the Australian people, and they would clearly state the reason that they are ignoring the needs of towns like Casterton: because of their massive budget blow-out. We should not be under any misapprehension as to why the Gillard government, in this bill, are now slashing the subsidies to parents paying childcare fees and capping the childcare tax rebate, making it even harder for working parents to afford child care. They are doing this because they cannot manage themselves, let alone manage the economy.

It was only two years ago that the Rudd-Gillard government deemed that childcare costs were rising and putting increased pressure on families who were struggling to pay their bills. To this end, the Labor government increased the childcare rebate by 30 per cent in order to address the growing concerns about increasing childcare costs. What has changed, I ask, from 2008 to now, such that the Labor government now thinks that childcare costs have not just stopped increasing with the consumer price index but in fact fallen? The Labor government must feel that families are not struggling, to propose a reduction in the childcare rebate from the current indexed amount of $7,778 per annum to set the maximum per child amount of childcare rebate to $7,500 per annum and suspend indexation until July 2014. Does the government think that families are not struggling to make ends meet, despite the increasing cost-of-living and inflationary pressures they are adding with their proposed carbon tax plans and their failed schemes wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars? The BER is highlighted just down the road from Casterton at Dunkeld, where $800,000 has been wasted. The pink batts fiasco—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! I ask the honourable member to address the bill.

Mr TEHAN —I am addressing the bill, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The chair will determine whether you are addressing the bill and you have not been addressing the bill. I ask you to come back to the bill.

Mr TEHAN —I will come back to the bill. It is this mismanagement of the BER and the pink batts fiasco which has led to this bill. What this bill basically is is a cash grab from the government, with 21,000 families losing up to $9 a week, and as the years progress and the consumer price index increases, taking the cost of child care with it, the burden on families will grow even further. And that is the point I was trying to make, Mr Deputy Speaker. If the money had not been wasted, there would be no need to cut family assistance to child care.

Rest assured, sadly, that the government’s mismanagement and waste of taxpayers’ dollars will continue unabated as well. Let us call this bill for what it is—a cash grab. Nowhere is this reflected more than in the growth that is estimated in the savings, rising from $5.7 million in 2010-11 to $42 million in 2013-14. This will come from those parents trying to access child care. Some industry groups predict associated cost increases of $12 minimum to $22 maximum a day as a result of the national quality framework, so add those costs on to it as well. If the worst-case fee increases projected by industry representatives come to pass, it would substantially increase the impact of this change. It is obvious that as the indexation freeze progresses, the financial burden on families will only grow.

How can the Gillard government argue that something that increases its coffers by cutting funding to families will not be to the detriment of those it is taking the funding away from? This is Labor’s spin at its best. This government knows no shame. How it could argue that cutting funding from families struggling with increased childcare costs is fair is beyond belief. The government is squeezing the life out of Australian families already. In my electorate, small rural and regional communities are already being forced to fundraise for kindergartens, for community centres, for improved health services and for aged-care facilities. They are being forced to fundraise within an inch of their existence. These communities will not be helped by this bill. These communities are often under some of the greatest strain in the nation, as local government rates are forced upwards because state Labor governments continually cost-shift services onto rural councils. That the government still wishes to make it more difficult for these families is beyond belief.

Let us look at their record. Child care: in my electorate of Wannon, if you want a childcare facility, you now cannot get one. And if you are lucky enough to have access your costs will go up. Kindergarten: under the Gillard government’s so-called universal access to early childhood education reforms, it is looking more and more likely that kindergartens across rural Victoria will be forced to close. So, rather than providing universal access, this policy will be actually taking it away. Tertiary education: there is a well-recognised growing divide between country students accessing tertiary education and their city cousins. What is the Gillard government’s solution? To make it harder, not easier, for country students to access tertiary education by cutting the independent youth allowance. How anyone can think that making tertiary education more expensive for country students will address this divide is well and truly beyond me.

So with this bill we will have the learning trifecta. The Gillard government are making it harder for families to access child care, they are making it harder for their children to go to kindergarten and they are making it harder for students to access tertiary education—and all this coming from a Prime Minister who brags that her biggest claim to fame is her education credentials. This bill is shameful in its cynicism. It is nothing but a cash grab and that is why I oppose it. I go back to where I started. It should be retitled the ‘reduce family assistance legislation amendment (childcare) (try and fix the budget) measure’.