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Monday, 27 May 2013
Page: 3875


Ms KATE ELLIS (AdelaideMinister for Employment Participation and Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare) (16:29): I proudly rise today to support the appropriation bills 2013. I support a budget that has Labor principles at its very core. I support a government that has not been afraid to make once-in-a-generation investments critical to our nation's wellbeing and development—investments that go far beyond political cycles and parliamentary terms. We are a government that has had the courage to make big decisions about this country's future. This is a budget that puts Australia's interests first. Most importantly, it is about jobs and it is about growth. In my ministerial portfolios, I warmly welcome record investments, yet again, in early childhood education and care and continued funding for successful job placement measures, such as job expos and local employment coordinators. Locally, as the very proud member for Adelaide, I have joined with my community to celebrate the massive funding contribution towards the much needed South Road upgrade in the city's inner north-west—something that I know the Deputy Speaker is also very supportive of.

Before I discuss those specific measures in more detail, I want to go back to jobs and growth and to the need to make choices. Just as our government safeguarded our economy and in turn millions of households across the country from the very worst of the global financial crisis, we must maintain a responsible, steady course, because we have seen what savage austerity in Europe has created: record jobless numbers, growing poverty and business closures—all on a massive scale, all widespread. Labor made the choice when the GFC was knocking on our door not to go down that road. We framed budgets that faced those challenges head-on and insulated our economy with positive investments. As a result, since Labor came to office more than 950,000 jobs have been created. We are proud to be presiding over an unemployment rate right now that stands at 5.5 per cent—one of the lowest in the industrialised world. Our budget strategy has seen Australia achieve the gold-plated stable triple A credit rating from all three global ratings agencies for the very first time in our history—something that the Liberals could not achieve in 11½ years in office.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. In the worst economic conditions in 80 years, our economy is 13 per cent larger, with solid growth and contained inflation. It is in spite of these tough global economic conditions and through maintaining a strong economy, as well as achieving responsible and sensible savings measures, that we are now in a position to enter a new phase of nation-building investment. The National Plan for School Improvement is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn the unfair funding structure for Australian schools on its head—a funding structure that kept too many students back simply because of where they were, the size of their school or a host of other specific circumstances. In this government, we believe that all children deserve a great school, and we are looking at the decisions required to ensure that that occurs. For the first time, we link funding to each student's needs. The budget provides an additional $9.8 billion over six years.

Just as Labor created Medicare, so too will we be the creators of DisabilityCare Australia—the first stable and secure funding stream for people with a disability and their carers. The significance of this move cannot be understated. For far too long, successive governments have shunned the opportunity to reform services for the profoundly disabled, leaving people with significant and permanent disabilities and their families and carers behind. Ours is a government that is changing all of that. The delivery of DisabilityCare will ensure the level of support someone receives does not depend on when or where they were born. I would like to congratulate South Australian Premier Joe Weatherill for being one of the first to enter into agreement with the Commonwealth to jointly fund and deliver disability care across South Australia.

To deliver a stronger economy, this budget also commits $24 billion to vital infrastructure, bringing the government's total investment to around $60 billion from 2008-09 to 2018-19. I also want to take this this opportunity to highlight the massive investments made in my two portfolio areas, both of which are integral to the growth of the economy. Our government will once again deliver a budget with a record investment to improve access to quality, affordable child care for Australian families. More Australian parents have been supported in this budget to access child care for the first time.

The strong growth in the number of children and families accessing child care reflected in this budget confirms that our policies are working. Almost 1.4 million children and over 960,000 families will access child care in 2016-17 supported by government childcare assistance. Never before have there been more children and families in Australian child care or more government assistance to subsidise their fees, something that we are incredibly proud of. That is potentially more than 960,000 people who are able to contribute and play a role in the workforce as a result of this sector which has been so strongly supported by our government. Over the next four years we will invest over $25 billion in early childhood education and care and, just to put that number in context, that is almost quadruple what was invested in the last four years of the Howard government. We are making that investment because we know how important child care is for workforce participation and the economy and because we also know that high-quality early childhood education and care gives children the best start in life and is one of the best investments any government can make.

A number of specific funding measures will help to build a childcare system more responsive and suited to the needs of modern families. Firstly, we are investing $475 million over four years in childcare assistance to help more parents receive the training and skills they need to enter or re-enter the workforce. This includes an additional $27 million in this budget and $225 million in the last budget to support more families with the cost of child care with the Jobs, Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance program so that they can get the skills that they need to get into the workforce.

This budget has also delivered access to flexible child care to meet the needs of modern families. Our government understands that there has been a significant shift in the workforce in the last decade with a 25 per cent increase in the number of women in employment—a 25 per cent increase in just 10 years. Obviously, that is changing the way families are structured and it is changing the way that we go about work. We understand that for many families a little bit of flexibility would go a very long way in helping as they juggle work and child care, which is why in this budget we are investing $5.5 million to deliver childcare flexibility trials at over 50 sites across Australia to provide more flexible child care to respond to the needs of modern families.

We have also delivered a $1.3 million childcare flexibility fund, a National Competitive Grants Program, to encourage those who have ideas on the way forward on new and innovative ways that they can better assist both families and children. We are interested in looking at funding those and then ensuring that those trials are backed up by an independent evaluation by the Australian Institute of Family Studies to see how they are meeting the needs of modern families and to see how they may be able to be rolled out more widely.

This budget has also delivered in difficult times a commitment to our professional early childhood workforce, a commitment to our children that they deserve the best quality early childhood education led by qualified educators helping them to learn and develop. Our government understands that the professionalism of the early childhood workforce needs to be recognised on a sustainable and permanent basis across the sector moving forward. That is why we have set up the long-term pathway for early childhood educators to pursue better wages and that is why we have committed in this budget to establish a Pay Equity Unit within the Fair Work Commission. This unit will be able to do the research and collate the data to further assist appropriate resolution across the whole childcare sector in the long term. And of course it builds on the outcomes we have achieved in other feminised industries with pay equity for social and community sector workers and for the aged-care sector.

Also in the interim, we have announced the Early Years Quality Fund to deliver an extra $300 million into the sector to support centres to lift the wages of early childhood educators who meet certain eligibility criteria over the next two years. This is a big step on the path to a professional early childhood workforce. It has now been recognised for the first time in this budget by our government, and I want particularly to acknowledge the work of my colleagues, both Bill Shorten, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and Peter Garrett, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, for making this happen.

The centrepiece of our childcare budget package is of course fee assistance, making child care affordable and manageable for families right across Australia. This is a tough budget environment but it is a testament to this government's core priorities that we have continued to make record investments in fee assistance, some $22.1 billion over the next four years.

Other governments may have decided under the circumstances to target the fee assistance structure to achieve significant savings. They might have decreased the actual childcare rebate which stands at 50 per cent of costs. They might have lowered the annual cap, the maximum amount per year, that families are allowed to claim through the rebate. Other governments may have also decided to means-test the rebate or even to put a cap on the number of childcare places we fund. We are not that government. This budget continues to deliver the Labor government's support for the childcare rebate which we increased from 30 to 50 per cent. We increased the annual cap from $4,354 per child per year as it sat under those opposite to $7,500. We have made a clear decision to keep that and to not means-test the childcare rebate in this budget because we know how important it is to families with the cost of care. We will continue to deliver these record amounts, although of course we know that those opposite have pledged that all of this would be up for review and placed in jeopardy if they were to win government.

Closer to home, my electorate of Adelaide can also see the significant investments in this budget for themselves. This year's budget brings $448 million to upgrade and widen South Road. I know that everyone in the inner west is aware of the dire need to undertake this work. In fact, just this year alone I have had over 16 street corner meetings in this part of Adelaide and this has been the No. 1 request and concern. This is finding that I strongly advocated for after receiving significant feedback from the local community. Improving South Road has been a strong message I have received from residents in the area and this is a real investment in a real project which I am incredibly pleased to be able to assist delivering for the people of Adelaide.

Specifically, this funding will upgrade and widen South Road between Torrens Road and the River Torrens. It will include sinking 1.4 kilometres of the road below surface. It will include erecting an overpass for the Outer Harbour rail line, building three grade separated intersections at Hawker Street, at Port Road and at Grange Road, upgrading and realigning of the existing South Road to become a surface arterial road from Torrens Road to Ashman Parade and upgrading of Torrens Road intersection and the construction of an off-road shared cycling path which I know many people have requested. It will include installing a new walking trail from Torrens Road to the Torrens River. This funding will significantly ease the congestion along this section of South Road. More importantly, this funding will improve the lives of local residents who are sick and tired of being stuck in traffic, who are sick and tired of spending time bumper-to-bumper that they would much rather be spending at home with their families or in their workplaces being productive.

But we also know that this is a project that you will only get from this side of the House because those opposite have made it very clear that this is a project that will be on the chopping block if they are elected to government, instead choosing to invest funding in the most marginal Liberal seat in the country in Boothby at Darlington in a project which we now is not as high a priority as this one for the local residents that I represent and that the Deputy Speaker Georganas represents to so very well.

There are a number of other budget measures for Adelaide which I am really proud of including the Creative Young Stars program which will help foster the creative young minds of people in our area. Walkerville in the electorate will be eligible for competitive grounds to deliver innovative online local government services using the NBN. There will be more funds for youth cancer networks around Australia with the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide leading this project in South Australia. All of these are incredibly important projects. This is why this budget is a good strong Labor budget and I am so pleased to be representing these significant wins for the people of Adelaide. This is why I am so proud to be part of a government that in challenging times has found a way that we can deliver the school improvements that Australian children deserve, that we can deliver DisabilityCare Australia, our first National and Disability Insurance Scheme, because we have made the hard calls to enable us to be able to adequately fund our proposals. I commend the bill to the House.