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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5507


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (11:48): I speak in support of the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Financial Viability) Bill 2011. I had a look at what the coalition want to do in moving their amendment. I had a look at point 2 of the amendment, which calls on us immediately to adopt their alleged red-tape reduction policy that seeks to reduce the Commonwealth's regulatory burden by at least $1 billion per year. I saw '$1 billion' and thought: 'That rings a bell, the coalition wanting to take $1 billion out of something. Let's have a look back to when those opposite had Mr Howard and Mr Costello at the dispatch box. What was one of the first things they did to the childcare sector? They ripped $1 billion out of the sector.'

So the billion dollars those opposite are talking about here has some resonance for me. I want to remind everyone who listens to this that just about the first thing the then coalition government did after 1996 was to rip $1 billion out of the childcare sector. Those in the childcare sector know very well that that is what they did. When the opposition talk about taking $1 billion of federal government money off the sector, it is a bit rich for them to say they are going to reduce the regulatory burden. You always have to listen to what the coalition do, not what they say. There is an old saying in the Bible that it is not the hearers of the word but the doers of the word who are righteous. Those opposite are not very righteous when it comes to child support or child care. They are not particularly good at all, because they say one thing in this place and when they get into government they do exactly the opposite.

The member for Farrer talked about the Paid Parental Leave Scheme. When the coalition were in government did they show heartfelt sympathy for small business operators who collected the goods and services tax, acting as conduits for the tax office? Did they show any sympathy, love or affection for them, or any empathy? No, they did not. The coalition have never supported families with things like the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, except for the ridiculous and fanciful notion they came up with at the last election. They mentioned the ABC Learning Centres collapse. This happened on their watch. The empire was created on their watch, and we had to deal with the problems created through the lack of a regulatory burden, financial capacity and capability in the sector.

This bill we are supporting today introduces new requirements for large long day care entities to provide financial information. We want to make sure that nothing like the ABC Learning collapse, which affected electorates across the country and communities across the nation, never happens again. Why? Because we had to put in $58 million of taxpayers' money to prop up the sector so that 90 per cent of the kids who went to those centres were able to go to continuing centres—for example, in my electorate where Bush Kidz took over the ABC Learning Centre at the back of the Brassall Shopping Centre, where my electorate office is, we had to provide a $15 million loan to the not-for-profit consortium GoodStart Childcare to purchase 678 ABC Learning Centres. That is taxpayers' money. That is taking decisive steps to support child care to ensure that the mums and dads in small businesses and large businesses across the country who rely on childcare centres are available to work. Their kids can be looked after, educated and socialised and the mums and dads can work, use their labour to support small business to make a profit and help about 2.4 million small businesses across the country.

The opposition say they are supporting small business but they never supported child care properly. They will not even support the regulatory measures which are necessary to make sure the viability of the system continues. If the opposition were in, it would be a Milton Friedman type of response: complete laissez-faire, let it go, let the market rip and let ABC and all those problems occur again. If they were in power again they would do it. If you do not believe me, listen to the member for Farrer. That is what they want. They feign support for small business but they will not support the childcare centres that allow the mums and dads to work in the small businesses. They feign support for small business by saying, 'We want to take regulatory burdens off you.' But, when they were in power, they never ceased to tax higher than any other government previously, and certainly the burden of taxation on small business is much lower now compared with when they were in power.

This bill will allow the department to get financial information more expeditiously and more frequently to make sure that if a childcare provider is in trouble we can be aware of it. We can take steps to protect taxpayers' dollars and to step in if necessary to give a helping hand, and that is good for business. It is good for both large and small businesses, and mums and dads everywhere across the country are in need of it.

It is the case that many Australians need to use child care. The last record I could find showed that there were about 870,000 children in child care. That is 628,000 families with parents working and building our economy. There are nearly 14,000 childcare services creating jobs. Once again, those opposite are negative, not supporting the sector. But then, they have form. The member for Farrer talked about the GFC and somehow blamed the GFC. They never like to talk about the GFC. It is almost something they do not want to talk about because they have a record on the GFC. Just as we had to support the childcare sector, the retail sector and the construction sector during the GFC, those opposite would have let 200,000 Australians lose their jobs, including in the childcare sector. I really do wonder if they had been in power in 2008 what they would have done about the ABC Learning Centre collapses. Would they have propped them up? Would they have provided child care? Their record would indicate that they probably would not have done so.

We are undertaking further reform and this legislation that we are debating today is important. It proposes amendments to allow for civil penalties and sanctions if the provider does not provide the financial requirements and comply with the burden. When you read what it is all about, I think it is not difficult for them to provide information because they do that anyway. Business provides information and childcare centres do as well. The legislation defines which providers are large long day care providers and specifies certain related persons who have to provide that information. It makes amendments to allow for the commissioning of an independent audit of large long day care providers where there are concerns about a particular provider's financial viability. There are amendments which enable an audit team accompanied by an authorised officer to enter premises to carry out an audit. This is really important to protect taxpayers' dollars.

As alarming and potentially dangerous as the collapse of the ABC Learning Centres could have been, our quick action prevented it and so there were no locked doors. Those opposite are in favour of locked doors. That is the case because they have taken every step they possibly can to prevent reform in the childcare sector. We have introduced a range of measures since 2008 to strengthen the approval processes and establish a penalty regime. We have assisted families across the sector with that. In fact, with respect to child care, we have provided $20 billion over four years for early childhood education and child care.

Those opposite say they are supporters of child care. But I want anyone who is listening to note that the $20 billion we are providing for early childhood education and child care is almost $12.8 billion more than that provided by the previous Howard coalition government over the four years. That is an enormous increase in funding for the sector. A billion dollars was ripped out by those opposite. First act, what did we do? We massively increased financial support for the sector, and we are providing $16.4 billion to help Australian families annually with their costs.

One of the big burdens for families who engage with the childcare sector is the actual cost of child care. What did we do? Those opposite said, 'Thank you very much, we'll provide a childcare rebate.' They wanted to pay it annually and, when they left office, it was $4,354. We increased that by 72 per cent, to $7,500, and so we have helped nearly 740,000 Australian families since 1 July 2008 with additional assistance, including about 5,600 families in Ipswich and the Somerset region in my electorate of Blair. We have provided additional assistance for 640,000 low- and middle-income families through the childcare benefit. We have also, as I said before, stepped in to help GoodStart to purchase those nearly 678 ABC Learning Centres. We have established 38 priority early learning and care centres across the country, including one in my electorate at Yamanto, at Amberley District State School, and I was very pleased to be there with the minister to open it.

With the states' help, we have integrated the kind of assistance we provide and focused these centres in areas of high disadvantage. So we are helping with child care, playgroups, the childcare rebate, the childcare benefit, the Paid Parental Leave scheme, tax cuts three years in a row and the national quality standards that we are bringing in to make sure there are new training requirements and a ratings system to help families make decisions about the best service for their children. And there is the Healthy Start for School program. So a broad range of funding programs have been rolled out across the country since the election of this federal Labor government in November 2007. It is a record unparalleled by those opposite.

When I went to the last election as a candidate, I looked at the policies of those opposite. It was a bit like a football team looking at video clips or DVDs of matches; I had a look at their policies and checked them out to see which ones were all right and which ones I thought might be a bit of a problem. In politics, you punch, you defend, you feint and you have a look around. I had a look at what the coalition were saying with respect to child care, child support and family support, and I worked out something about the way the coalition operate. I always knew this in the past, but I became even more convinced of it.

The coalition always claim they support business, but they do not act like they support business. They claim they support families and put families first, but they do not—because family values are about education, accommodation, child care, good health care and all the things that really count every day in a person's life. They claim they are supporters of family values, but they are not. Family values are the values that Australians really believe in, and I emphatically believe that they are the values that the Labor government and the Labor Party support: decent child care, help for families, good jobs. Those opposite always, when given the opportunity, put the burden on business. They want to make good employers into bad employers by changing industrial relations and they want to rip money out of child care. They do not support families and they do not want a watch on money. They are the party of waste with respect to money. They are the party of burden on business. They are the party that will not support families.

This legislation is good. The opposition should support it. They should not be coming in with the nonsense they have moved as a second reading amendment to this bill. That amendment is simply a political document without any policies. That is the point I want to make finally. They went into an election without a policy. All they are is mindless and negative. Any policy they have is null and void. I think at the next federal election the people in this country will vitiate them and declare that they are simply not suitable and competent to be, or capable of being, on this side of the House once again. They do not deserve it because they just do not care about Australian families and Australian business. Do not listen to what they say; look at what they do.