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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 100

Ms KATE ELLIS (Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare and Minister for the Status of Women) (10:42 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I am reintroducing a bill to the House that returns the childcare rebate annual cap to $7,500 per child per year and pauses indexation of the annual cap for four years until 30 June 2014. This is in order to generate $86.3 million that will be specifically redirected to support the government’s quest to increase the quality of child care and early education in Australia.

Although we know that many childcare centres across Australia are doing well, the National Childcare Accreditation Council’s latest report shows that, sadly, too many childcare 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 1 January and 30 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 hardworking and dedicated early education and childcare workers to do the job that 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 individual attention.

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

And it will deliver a new ratings system so parents know the quality of care on offer and can make informed choices. It will also reduce regulation burden so that 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 the 142 budget based funded early childhood services which are located in rural and remote Australia and 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.

We know that the Leader of the Opposition wants to put the National Quality Standard on hold indefinitely and also has said that 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 childcare centres across the country are failing to meet basic safety, hygiene, educational and wellbeing standards, this government believes that 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, our government’s record is clear. We are investing some $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 the former coalition government. Overall, we are providing $14.4 billion to help 800,000 Australian families annually with the cost of child care, through the childcare benefit and the childcare rebate. This includes $8.4 billion over four years to 2013-14 to reduce childcare fees under the childcare benefit and $6 billion to assist working families with out-of-pocket childcare expenses through the childcare rebate.

We have already delivered greater assistance to families by delivering on our 2007 election commitment to increase the childcare rebate from 30 to 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs from a maximum of $4,354 to $7,500 per child per year. ABS statistics show that when federal Labor delivered on our commitment to increase the childcare rebate to 50 per cent, costs to parents fell by 20 per cent.

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

And from 1 July 2011 we will pay the childcare rebate fortnightly—so that families get the assistance that they need and 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 per cent of families using child care will not have their payment affected by these measures introduced today. And less than one 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. In reality, 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 childcare rebate claim will be $2,300—well under the cap of $7,500.

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. 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 unapologetically ambitious. This is what parents expect from us. And through our quality reforms, this is exactly what we will deliver. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Gambaro) adjourned.