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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 476


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (1:12 PM) —I rise today to speak to the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. Doesn’t it feel like Groundhog Day? We have spoken about this bill already in this chamber. We spoke about it after the budget last year. Of course, at that time, back in May and June, the Senate decided that they wanted to amend this piece of legislation because it was not good enough for the government simply to freeze the indexation for child care at the 2008-09 levels and not consider doing whatever they could to ease the burden on working families—those families who of course rely everyday on the childcare support measures.

So the Senate amended this piece of legislation so that we could have fortnightly payments introduced, to ensure that parents who have to pay their childcare fees on a weekly basis would only have to wait two weeks to get their 50 per cent rebate. That would go a long way to helping families manage their weekly, fortnightly and monthly budgets. Currently, the situation is that child care is repaid through the childcare rebate every quarter. So, despite some families having to pay up to $300, $400 or $500 in childcare fees per week, they would have to wait an entire three months before being able to get that 50 per cent rebate.

This chamber agreed that it was not good enough for this piece of legislation, as presented by the government, to be passed without ensuring that we can do other things to address the burden on families through childcare support. The Greens amendment standing in my name successfully passed through this chamber to do that. It then went to the House, where it was rejected. We have seen election promises. The Gillard government said, ‘Yes, fortnightly payments are a great idea.’ I do question why this was not supported in June last year, because we could already have been giving parents that much needed support. We have now seen this bill re-presented to the parliament in its old form, unamended.

There are a lot of things that need to be fixed in the way that the childcare rebate is administered and in the way it is given to parents to support them. We also need to look at having a broader understanding of how we support child care across this country. This chamber supported a 12-month inquiry into how we run various childcare support—the childcare benefit, the childcare tax rebate—in the aftermath of the ABC collapse. The report from that inquiry specifically said that things like the funding of the childcare rebate and the childcare benefit needed to be revised by the government of the day, because we are not being the most efficient in funding childcare services for Australian families that ensure the best quality of care for our youngest Australians.

So we are here today discussing this bill again. While I find it perplexing that this bill will only save us $86.3 million over four years, it could cost some parents upwards of $1,000 extra per year. We want childcare standards in this country to be raised. That means we need to start paying childcare workers what they are worth. We need to ensure that there are more staff on the floor caring for our kids. All of these things are going to mean that childcare costs need to rise, because that is the only way we will be paying for the value of caring and looking after the early education of our youngest Australians. If we see a freezing of the indexation, as suggested in this bill by this government, with no recourse as to how we make thing easier for parents, we will see parents being forced to pay higher childcare fees. They will be struggling to keep their kids in places that have better quality care and resorting to care that is substandard, simply because they cannot afford the best-quality care that their children deserve.

I have said already that we know that this is going to affect Australian families. One of the key things that I found frustrating last time we discussed this bill was that the government would not be upfront with how many families this legislation was going to affect. Through the process of Senate estimates, which this chamber sponsors, we know that rather than just a few thousand families—as was promoted and reported by the Prime Minister herself when this legislation was first presented back in 2010—in the vicinity of at least 72,000 Australian families are going to have to pay more money because of this particular measure.

I know that the savings from this bill are going to go towards other areas of child care, including helping to implement the quality framework. Why aren’t we paying for that anyway? Why haven’t we funded that anyway? Trying to find budget savings in child care and early childhood education services just does not make sense. It is one of the places you would not touch if you were a government who believed in training and educating, in caring for our future generations, for our future schoolchildren and for our future workers, in ensuring that, right from the word go in those really formative years of zero to five, we give our young Australians the best support and the best chance possible. But of course this government has ignored that problem, has ignored that vision, and decided, ‘We will find some budget savings with the childcare rebate.’ I do not think that is good enough.

I am of course concerned that, despite Julia Gillard’s promises during the election campaign, saying that she liked the idea of fortnightly payments, we have seen time and time again many of these election promises being dumped. Already we have seen a variety of promises announced during the election campaign either put on the backburner or buried under the carpet altogether. The fortnightly payments should not land in the same place. The fortnightly payment of the childcare rebate is something that families actually need. It is something that would help them deal not just with the costs of today but the rising costs and the costs that would be implemented because of the freezing of the indexation.

My amendments have been circulated. I have circulated them before and this chamber has supported them before. It is time for the government to recognise that, if we are to support any type of change or reduction to the childcare rebate budget, we need to at least make it easier for families to access the money that they have already been promised. That means bringing forward payments to fortnightly intervals. That should not take until next year. It should have been able to be implemented last year. I want to make sure that these fortnightly payments are implemented and started by 1 July 2011. Until I see some legislation backing up the government’s promise on this or until we see this particular piece of legislation amended as the Senate has already agreed, the Greens will not be supporting this bill.