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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1448

Child Care

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:54): Mr President, my question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister update the Senate on the Turnbull government's compliance measures to ensure that childcare providers manage federal subsidies responsibly?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:54): I thank Senator Williams for his question and his interest in ensuring that every dollar of Australian taxpayers' money is respected and directed towards the cause that it is intended for. That is why, in relation to the record levels of expenditure in child care and early education, the Turnbull government is making sure that we are applying scrutiny to every possible area of compliance to ensure spending is directed to support early education and childcare services that are genuine—because over the next four years we will be supporting around $40 billion worth of investment to help Australian families and to provide the best possible start for young Australian children.

One of the major changes we made, in terms of compliance measures, over the last year was to stop the practice of child swapping that was rife within certain family day care services—a practice that resulted in some family day care services claiming benefits for caring for children of another family day care service in operation at the same time. This measure is estimated to be saving around $421 million from going to people who were otherwise rorting childcare services.

But, importantly, our government has also stepped up compliance from around 500 compliance checks that were undertaken in 2012-13 to more than 3,100 compliance checks undertaken in 2015-16. This has resulted in the arrest of 16 people, the suspension or cancellation of over 30 services, the seizure of over $8 million, enforcement action taken against 109 services—all of this driven by a 500 per cent increase in compliance activities under our government. We are serious about making sure that finite taxpayer dollars that are determined to be used for early education or childcare services are used for genuine purposes, not by those who seek to rort the taxpayer.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Williams, a supplementary question.

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:57): Well done, Minister. Can the minister outline what these changes will mean for families, and how they will prevent future fraudulent misuse of childcare funding.

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:57): Hardworking families who depend on childcare services or who are accessing our world-class early education services have, of course, absolutely nothing to fear and will feel no impact from our increased compliance, because it is the rorters and those who are seeking to abuse our support for early education and child care who we are clamping down on.

But those hardworking families and all Australians can be confident that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being better protected from waste and misuse because of the efforts of our government. There are exemptions to some of the rules we brought in to make sure that we protect the very vulnerable, particular those who may disability.

Just yesterday, new measures, I am pleased to say, have come into effect, which will make sure that it is not acceptable to claim a session of care for only picking a child up from school and taking them home, that it is not acceptable to claim subsidies when care is provided where the parent and child actually reside, and that it is not acceptable for an operator to withhold key information about significant incidents that might make them unsuitable to look after children. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Williams, a final supplementary question.

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (14:58): Can the minister inform the Senate of what else the government is doing to tighten compliance in the childcare sector.

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:58): In addition to the range of additional regulatory impacts we have brought in to make sure we tighten conditions and enhance compliance activities, we are also working as closely as we can with the states and territories—who have a key role to play, through enhanced data-sharing services with the states and territories—to make sure that we are better informed when their regulatory authorities identify services that may not have children in them and to make sure that those states and territories report that to us, so that we can take action to stop payments to those services.

I have urged state and territory ministers, who have the primary responsibility in relation to the regulation of childcare services and providers, to do more—to work with us. We have agreed to come back at the education council by the end of this year to assess what additionality can occur to make sure we further strengthen the measures the Turnbull government has already taken to save around half a billion dollars in otherwise wasted funding.