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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 2144

Senator FEENEY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) (6:23 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Today I am reintroducing a Bill to the House that returns the Child Care Rebate annual cap to $7500 per child per year and pauses indexation of the annual cap for four years until 30 June 2014 in order to generate $86.3 million that will be specifically re-directed to support the Government’s quest to increase the quality of child care and early education in Australia.

Although we know that many child care centres across Australia are doing well, the National Childcare Accreditation Council’s latest report shows that sadly, too many child care centres are failing to meet basic safety, hygiene, educational and wellbeing standards.

For instance, of the 1,129 centres that received an accreditation decision between 1st January and 30th June, 30 per cent had failed to ensure that toileting and nappy changing procedures were consistent with advice from recognised health authorities, and 32 per cent had failed to ensure that potentially dangerous products, plants and objects were inaccessible to children. 

These figures demonstrate just how important it is to support our hard working and dedicated early education and child care workers to do the job they do best and to lift the quality of child care and early education across Australia.

This amendment will produce $86.3 million over the next four years to be invested in delivering the Government’s National Quality Framework in partnership with the states and territories.

Our $273.7 million investment in the National Quality Framework endorsed by COAG will improve educator to child ratios so that each child gets more individual time and attention.

It will introduce educator qualification requirements so educators are better able to lead activities that inspire youngsters and help them learn and develop. 

And deliver a new ratings system so parents know the quality of care on offer and can make informed choices, and will reduce regulation burden so services only have to deal with one regulator.

Crucially this measure will also help fund our $59.4 million investment in improving the quality of 142 budget based funded early childhood services located in rural and remote Australia that provide care to some of Australia’s most vulnerable children.

We are doing this because the Government believes that the 800,000 Australian families who place their children in care each week deserve to know that they are safe and in a happy and stimulating learning environment. 

In contrast the leader of the Opposition wants to put the National Quality Standard on hold indefinitely and also said he would scrap the rating system that will shine a light on child care in Australia. 

While the Opposition may be content to sit back while too many child care centres across the country are failing to meet basic safety, hygiene, educational and wellbeing standards, this Government believes we can and must do better when it comes to the safety, wellbeing and early learning of our children. 

When it comes to investing in early childhood education and care, Federal Labor’s record is clear.  We are investing $17.1 billion over the next four years - that is almost $10 billion more than that provided in the last four years of the former Coalition Government.

And our record on helping families meet the costs of child care stands head and shoulders above those opposite.  Overall, we are providing $14.4 billion to help 800 000 Australian families annually with the cost of child care, through Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate. This includes $8.4 billion over four years to 2013-14 to reduce child care fees under the Child Care Benefit and $6 billion to assist working families with out-of-pocket child care expenses under the Child Care Rebate.

We have already delivered greater assistance to families by delivering on our 2007 election commitment to increase the Child Care Rebate from 30 to 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs from a maximum of $4354 to $7500 per child per year.   ABS statistics show that when Federal Labor delivered on our commitment to increase Child Care Rebate to 50 percent, costs fell to parents by 20 percent.

We increased the frequency of payments to families from yearly to quarterly, so families would not have to wait until the end of each year to receive assistance with their child care fees.

And from 1 July 2011 we will pay the Child Care Rebate fortnightly - so families get the assistance they need when they need it.  We will move to introduce enabling legislation to ensure that we are able to commence paying the rebate from this time. Work is already underway to implement this important change to the delivery of the rebate that will positively impact all families using approved child care. 

An overwhelming 97% of families using child care will not have their payment effected by these measures. And less than 1 per cent of families using child care who earn less than $100 000 a year will be impacted in 2010-11.  In order to reach the cap most families would need to be placing their child in care for 10 to 12 hours a day for more than four days a week - at average fee levels. The average use of child care in Australia is much lower with most parents using child care around two and a half days a week.  And by 2013-14, it is estimated that the average Child Care Rebate claim will be $2300 - well under the cap of $7500.

These measures will not affect the vast majority of Australian families, but they will fund essential improvements to the quality of care in Australia - from which 800,000 families will benefit.  And they will also help bring the Budget back into surplus three years early. 

The Australian Government is committed to improving the affordability, accessibility and quality of child care in Australia.

Our quality reform agenda is unashamedly ambitious.  That is what parents expect from us.  And through our quality reforms, that is what we will deliver. 

Debate (on motion by Senator Feeney) adjourned.