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Wednesday, 1 June 2011
Page: 5514

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (12:18): I am pleased to speak in support of the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Financial Viability) Bill 2011. It has been great to hear from the previous speakers, particularly the member for Bradfield and the member for Farrer, the old free marketeers when it comes to kids in child care. But strangely, when it comes to our kids' future in a carbon constrained environment, they are not free marketeers. They do not believe in the market when it comes to pricing carbon. They have a completely different approach. They are free marketeers when it comes to sending our kids off to child care, but when we talk about our kids' future, the future of the planet, which every reasonable person understands is what we are talking about in terms of carbon pollution, there would not be a person in this House—oh, I beg your pardon; there would not be a reasonable person—who takes a scientific approach to it who would not understand that we were going to have—

Mr Morrison: Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order of relevance.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): Thank you. The member for Cook has made his point of order. The member for Moreton could return to the bill. Mind you, some latitude has been given to other speakers, but the member for Moreton will refer to the bill before the chair.

Mr PERRETT: As I said, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was just comparing the different approaches to the market in terms of child care versus carbon pricing. I would have thought that was very relevant, but nevertheless I will defer to your fine judgment, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Yes, I get to decide what is relevant, actually, so the member for Moreton will proceed.

Mr PERRETT: Obviously. This bill builds on the Labor government's strong commitment to child care and supporting Australian families. In fact, this week marks the three-year anniversary of the Australian government's increase to the childcare rebate. I am sure the opposition party room had a little cake to celebrate that. We did not have one in our caucus room, but we did acknowledge the three-year anniversary of the increase to the childcare rebate.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you would remember that we increased the rebate from 30 per cent all the way up to 50 per cent to help take the pressure off Australian families by making child care more affordable. It enables parents to claim up to $7,500 per child per year. We know about cost-of-living pressures. We understand that. We are a Labor government. We actually get it. We have had three years of tax cuts; three years of making sure that people are in jobs. We have created nearly 700,000 jobs. We have had an increase for the pensioners. This is a government that continues to drive changes to support families and the childcare sector.

From July this year families will be able to choose to have their childcare rebate payments made fortnightly or weekly, a much more effective approach to the family budget, as well as the current options for annual or quarterly payments. Parents can also choose to receive a reduction on their bills or continue to receive the rebate as a direct payment. This is a government that understands flexibility. I take this opportunity to remind parents to contact Centrelink and choose a payment option before 17 June.

All these reforms have transformed the childcare landscape in Australia. While families are still not without their cost pressures—we acknowledge that—the Gillard Labor government can be very proud of the difference we have made in the area of child care. All good economists know that money invested now in child care and children's lives saves us money later down the track.

These innovations have not been without their challenges. All of us would remember hearing the news in November 2008 that ABC Learning Centres was in voluntary administration. It was not just a company in limbo but almost 100,000 families around the country were uncertain about their childcare arrangements and 16,000 childcare workers faced the prospect of losing their jobs, with very little notice. It was a very tough time and, as we heard from the member for Bradfield, the Howard government was aware of this back in 2006, I think he said. So, with that many people being affected and particularly when they included society's most vulnerable, our children, obviously that was not a good state of affairs.

The Labor government sprang into action to support the childcare centres, ensuring that 90 per cent of the centres were able to continue operating. The government also worked to find new places for families when their centres closed. As a person with a two-year-old I know how hard it can be to find places for your children and, with the juggling act of careers, bills and mortgages, how crucial it can be to ensure that your children go into a childcare centre. This event showed just how vulnerable the childcare sector was and how much upheaval could be caused by one operator failing, especially when that operator was the biggest in the country.

The ABC Learning child care collapse also put a spotlight on the effectiveness of the regulatory framework for childcare centres. If we look back at the history of ABC Learning and Eddy Groves, we are talking about a milkman who was lucky enough to have a milk run where they plonked down a shopping centre, which meant he and his wife, who was a childcare operator, I think, were from there able to build a centre, and ABC Learning grew like topsy. It was under the Howard government's watch, but these things happen. I remember it being the darling of the stock exchange. Once I think they were deemed to be an ethical investment, because it was child care rather than a coal mine or something like that, and the shares took off. That is why in May last year the Labor government announced $273.7 million to introduce a new national quality framework for early childhood education in child care. This funding includes $1.9 million over four years to cover the costs involved in monitoring the financial viability of large long day care centre operators. We are not talking about the single, standalone, community run, not-for-profit or smaller centres. We are talking about those that have more than 25 sites. As has been suggested by the member for Farrer, we are probably talking about only six operators in Australia.

This bill will help ensure that we have a more stable childcare industry by creating a critical early-warning system. This will help prevent collapses such as occurred with ABC Learning from ever happening again. The bill gives the government the power to request financial information about large long day care providers. This 'no surprises' policy will enable the government to assess the financial viability of a childcare provider. Where there is concern about a provider's ongoing financial viability, the government will have new powers to commission an independent confidential audit of a particular provider. It also authorises an audit team to enter premises and seek documents to carry out the audit. This will enable the government to take timely action to help address the risk of wholesale closures of large long day care centres.

As a condition of the childcare benefit, long day care providers will be required to demonstrate that they are financially viable, and they must continue to demonstrate that every year. This will also give families greater confidence in the reliability of their childcare service. The Labor government, having averted disaster following the ABC Learning collapse, could have sat on its hands and let the childcare market rip—if we had had the same approach to markets that those opposite seem to have—and let it be the status quo. But we cannot let a major collapse like that happen all over again. It is not the Labor government's style. We moved quickly to put in place measures to ensure a more viable childcare industry in the future. We believe in the market but on occasions you need the guiding and watching hand of government, especially when it comes to our children's future.

The Gillard Labor government will proudly ensure that childcare workers, families and governments do not again face that kind of unexpected upheaval. I commend the bill to the House.