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Tuesday, 11 September 2012
Page: 10222


Ms KATE ELLIS (AdelaideMinister for Employment Participation and Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare) (17:08): by leave—Our government has worked hard to make child care more affordable, more accessible and better quality for Australian children and their families. That is why we are investing a record $22.3 billion over the next four years in early childhood education and care—more than triple that invested by the former Liberal-National government in its last four years in office. It is why we so massively increased the childcare rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent of parents' out-of-pocket costs and it is why we increased the cap from $4,354 per child per year, as it was under the coalition, to $7,500 per child per year now.

We are also making it easier than ever before to claim childcare assistance by paying the childcare rebate fortnightly, as the bills come in, rather than leaving parents to wait until the end of the year to receive any assistance. We understand the burden it can be on the family budget and have done more than any other government to assist parents with their childcare costs and reduce the percentage of their disposable income being spent on such fees.

We also understand that parents want the peace of mind that, when they drop their child off in the morning, they are placing them in the best of hands for quality care. All of the research now provides compelling evidence of the critical importance of the early years and that child care can never again be regarded simply as babysitting. We now know that at this stage, as up to 90 per cent of a child’s brain development occurs, we must offer the best early childhood education and care to contribute to the best outcomes for that child right throughout their life—their developmental outcomes, their social outcomes, their educational outcomes and their health outcomes. That is why we worked to secure agreement with every state and territory government, of all different political persuasions, to agree on the National Quality Framework, which is now nine months into implementation.

The effect of our government’s reforms on our childcare system has been remarkable, and I am today able to share some figures with the House which illustrate this clearly. Some of those opposite have tried to claim that our reforms are causing masses of families to turn their back on approved care, and to turn to what they refer to as 'backyard care'.

Let us today be very clear about the reality. There are more and more children using child care than ever before because of the steps we have taken to improve the quality and affordability for families. The figures I am about to outline make this very clear: in the year to September 2008, there was a 1.79 per cent increase in the number of children using care; in the following year, to September 2009, there was a 2.53 per cent increase; in the year to September 2010, there was a 4.56 per cent increase; and in the year to September 2011, there was an 8.97 per cent increase.

It was only a short time ago that we announced that Australia had reached the milestone of one million children using care. Today I can announce a new milestone for our early childhood education and care system. The 2011-12 figures show that, for the first time, there were 1.3 million children using child care over the year. This represents a 20.6 per cent increase in the number of children using care since 2007. The figures also show that an extra 664 approved childcare services opened during the 12-month period. These figures shows that there has been a 42 per cent increase in the number of approved childcare centres since we came to government. Never have we seen more children using child care in Australia and in so many childcare services.

More children are getting access to an early childhood education under our government. And more parents are getting the opportunity, for the first time, to return to work and make life better for them and their young families. This is a huge achievement for the sector, for our government and for the nation.

Of course the rapid expansion and growth also brings challenges. But I believe there are some practical things that can be done to make sure more children and families can access child care over the next four years. There are parents, mainly mothers, who cannot return to work and cannot even access the increased childcare assistance provided by the federal government, because they cannot first find a childcare place. In the quickly developing growth corridors, we need to ensure that new areas are not set up with these challenges.

In June, the Prime Minister and I participated in a live blog with Mamamia readers and we heard some of the stories about the difficulty some parents are facing with lack of childcare places. One mother said:

I have had my child on wait lists to get into Child care centres from before he was born. I am due to go back to work in August and they have all told me I won’t get a placement until next year. I am down on a Family day care list too and they too have told me not to hold out for that. I can’t afford a nanny’s daily rate, it is more than what I get paid—what ... am I going to do come August to pay the rent and feed my child????

Another mother said:

I listed my daughter for the Sutherland Shire council long day care in March, one week after she was born. I have been told the waiting list is long and I’ll be lucky to get even one day of care within a year. I want to go back to work but not having guaranteed childcare makes this nearly impossible.

A lack of childcare places doesn’t just affect those parents’ ability to make life better for themselves and their families; it also affects our country’s productivity—lost investment in skills, and lost potential in the development of our children, our future workforce.

We also know there are other childcare services with low occupancy rates. Clearly we need better planning—better planning to ensure that supply is meeting the changing demographics of communities, and better planning to ensure excess demand does not result in further increases to childcare prices. Planning is a state and local government responsibility. But I believe that demand is now so high that, no matter what tier of government you are from, action to increase access to child care must be a top-order priority. That is why I have written to the states to prioritise work to overcome the barriers in their jurisdictions and to look at removing the barriers to the supply of childcare places where they are needed most. I am asking state, territory and local governments to take a hard look at whether zoning adequately reflects the childcare needs of communities in the 21st century—the needs of 1.3 million plus children in care.

We will also push to ensure that regulations and by-laws do not unduly restrict the number of childcare places in new services. I have personally heard from councils which automatically place greater barriers for child care with over 50 places—extra hurdles discouraging investment in much-needed community assets. We are asking state and local governments to look at ways of preventing the problem where new childcare centres are held up for years just to get development consent. We are asking them to look at making sure that building code requirements support the development of childcare services in inner metropolitan areas, not restrict them. We are asking that all governments work with developers to ensure that child care is an integral part of new housing developments, not an afterthought.

I am asking state and local governments to look at best practice in their jurisdiction and bring their ideas to the table about how we can build child-friendly cities and communities into the future. I have announced my intention to work through the Standing Council on School Education and Early Childhood Education to meet this challenge. Local government must be part of the solution and be involved in the way forward.

Our government wants more families to be able to benefit from our historic reforms and investment and we are determined to work to continue to remove barriers and ensure that this is the case.

I present a copy of my statement and I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Farrer to speak for 8½ minutes.

Leave granted.

Ms KATE ELLIS: I move:

That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Ms Ley speaking for a period not exceeding eight and a half minutes.

Question agreed to.