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Investing in quality care for kids: fixing childcare affordability



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Printed and authorised by Senator Christine Milne, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600. Page 1 of 2

The old parties know that Australian parents are facing a crisis in childcare fees and costs of living. Despite the increasing pressure on Australian families, there’s been nothing but empty promises on childcare from both old parties.

The childcare sector has made leaps and bounds in improving quality of care, but the Government and Opposition have failed to match those achievements with the major investment needed to keep costs down.

> OVERHAULING CHILDCARE PAYMENTS AND INVESTING IN QUALITY The Greens are standing up for greater quality and affordability in early education and care, and we know that means ensuring parents are not shouldering the full burden. We are fully committed to the national quality reforms being rolled out across the country, and only the Greens have proposed a fully-costed way to back that commitment up with effective financial investment.

By rolling the rebate and benefit together and boosting funding, the Greens are proposing a new way of childcare assistance that is better targeted, more generous and fairer to all families.

The Australian Greens’ New Benefit Scheme:

 Invests $2.29 billion into childcare over the forward estimates from 1 July 2015, helping with the costs of national quality reforms and addressing the crisis of high fees and unavailability.

 Streamlines the existing Benefit and Rebate into one central payment, and pays it directly to centres, so parents only have to pay the fee gap and will find it easier to plan and budget.

 Increases the assistance for childcare across the board by significantly raising the hourly rate, keeping existing means

testing and income limits in place and adding new loadings for babies (0-2) and children in regional and rural locations.

o Providing additional assistance for 800,000 families covering 1.15 million Australian children.

o Providing an average increase of $27 per week for families using long day care (approximately $1300 per year extra on average).

o For a low-income family in a rural or regional place with a baby, effectively doubling their childcare assistance from $4.15 to $8 per hour.

 Targeted funding for children and families who need it most, including 100% of costs covered for vulnerable and at risk children, and 90% of costs covered for children from low-income families as per the Henry Tax Review recommendation.

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 Maintains equivalent childcare assistance for those currently receiving the Rebate, that is, 50% of annual costs covered to a cap of $7500, as now.

With greater investment in the early education and childcare sector we’ll see enhanced productivity and happier families. The real question to the old parties is; how can we not afford to invest in our youngest citizens?

> BOOSTING FUNDING TO HELP KEEP FEES DOWN FOR FAMILIES Childcare fees are rising around the country, with no meaningful response from the big parties. A Greens survey of national childcare fees in early 2013 involving over 230 childcare centres nationally, found that fees and waiting lists had grown over the last three years, while the number of available places was shrinking.

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INVESTING IN QUALITY CARE FOR KIDS FIXING CHILDCARE AFFORDABILITY The Greens’ new way to reduce childcare costs and increase availability

Australian families are struggling to find and afford quality childcare that fits with their busy schedules. Sky-rocketing fees around the country have been ignored, with no extra help for parents facing the pressure of costs and unmanageable waiting lists.

Printed and authorised by Senator Christine Milne, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600. Page 2 of 2

Childcare fees are commonly around $90-$110 per day in many places across Australia, with high pressure spots reaching fees as high as $140 per day.

The Australia Institute has found some families are paying an average of 9.6 per cent of their disposable income on childcare. iii

This is simply not good enough - quality childcare and early education should be seen as an essential service, not a luxury commodity.

Under the Greens’ New Benefit scheme, we are raising the base hourly rate for child care assistance from $4.15 to $6.10, and adding further loadings to address current and continuing pressures, including a special 10% loading for babies aged (0-2), and a further 10% loading for rural and regional areas that have difficulty maintaining affordability for childcare.

Our plan will offset the increased costs associated with higher staff-child ratios for baby rooms, and increase the number of baby places available which is currently a significant problem in many metropolitan and regional areas.

Over a million Australian children are in a form of care, with a massive 40% increase in the use of long day care since 2004. iv

The crisis in affordability is not one that can be ignored any longer.

The Greens’ New Benefit childcare payment is smart policy, targeted at those who need it most, with 100% of costs covered for families with children who are vulnerable or at risk, and 90% or more of costs covered for lowest income families.

> INVESTING IN CHILDCARE IS ESSENTIAL TO OPENING UP PLACES The Greens childcare survey released in 2013 showed that long waiting lists were causing difficulties for families across Australia, with some women having to put their child on a list as soon as they became pregnant.

The survey showed that with the new ratios of educators to babies as part of the quality reforms coming into force, baby room availability had dropped by 10% and in some places, such as Sydney, 50% of centres with waiting lists had families waiting for more than two years to find a place in a baby room.

The Greens have proposed policies that will open up new childcare places through:

 Additional funding for childcare assistance so that parents and providers aren’t shouldering the costs of better quality childcare and expanded services.

 Our Capital Grants Scheme of $200 million over four years, which will allow community and not-for-profit centres to build new rooms and facilities.

 Our HELP waiver scheme for teachers, to assist the sector to attract and keep four year tertiary qualified teachers in long day care and fill in the urgent staffing gaps in the early education teaching sector.

> STREAMLINING PAYMENTS TO KEEP OUT-OF-POCKET COSTS DOWN

A critical aspect of this reform is the streamlining of payments so that all payments go direct to centres, through the Child Care Management System, to save parents hassle and out of pocket costs. This means families, and particularly mothers, can focus more on building a health family, career and finding a better work life balance.

The unaffordability of care impacts on household budgets, women’s employment, childcare providers’ ability to expand their services and fair access to quality local care for children.

Current fee levels are also having the effect of discouraging women from returning to the workforce or forcing them to rely on less suitable and lower quality forms of care.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has noted that ''one driver of increasing productivity is ensuring we have a better balance between paid parental leave provisions and childcare”.

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The Greens are the only party standing up for women’s productivity and participation with our effective and comprehensive suite of childcare policies, backed up by world-class Paid Parental Leave.

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i Recommendation 99, Chapter 12, Henry Tax Review http://taxreview.treasury.gov.au/content/finalreport.aspx?doc=html/publicatio ns/papers/final_report_part_1/chapter_12.htm ii

Media Release, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, 20 January 2013 http://sarah-hanson-young.greensmps.org.au/content/media-releases/survey-says-childcare-situation-worsening iii

‘Trouble with Childcare: Affordability, Availability, Quality’, The Australia Institute, p 28. iv Rachel Browne, 4 August 2013, The Age http://www.theage.com.au/national/childcare-use-hits-the-million-mark-20130803-2r6bv.html v

Cosima Marriner and Craig Butt, The Age, 24 August 2013, http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2013/many-wait-as-parental-leave-debate-buries-childcare-crisis-20130824-2sir1.html vi

See the Greens’ Paid Parental Leave policy http://greens.org.au/better-paid-parental-leave