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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10282

Child Care


Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (14:57): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Birmingham. Can the minister advise the Senate on how the new childcare package is delivering for all Australian families?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:57): I thank Senator Gichuhi for her question in relation to the delivery of the government's new childcare reforms that came into effect on 2 July last year. Indeed, those reforms are now clearly making a substantial benefit in the lives of many hardworking Australian families. These were the most significant reforms to the way childcare support is delivered in Australia in around 40 years. They're the result of record levels of funding and investment by our Liberal-National government into the childcare system: some $8.3 billion in 2018-19, projected to increase to more than $10 billion in coming years.

But most important is the impact on hardworking families. ABS data shows that out-of-pocket childcare costs for Australian families went down by more than 10 per cent over the first six months of our reforms being in place. That's right—a 10 per cent reduction in the out-of-pocket costs for hardworking Australian families as they seek to juggle childcare services and those bills and fees in their daily lives. That's 10 per cent back into their pockets, enabling them to choose to work an extra shift or to work an extra day and know that they can afford the childcare fees that come with that.

This, of course, is the result of having a strong economy and strong budget management that enables the government to give that additional support back to families and to those who need it most. It's because of the strong economy and the strong budget that we're able to put an extra $2½ billion into early childhood education and care. It's because of that that we're able to lift the cap on support for 85 per cent of Australian families, and it's because of the strong economy and the strong budget that we're able to have implemented these reforms, saving these hardworking Australian families 10 per cent of their childcare costs and empowering them to make decisions about the work arrangements that better suit them and their circumstance.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gichuhi, a supplementary question.



Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (15:00): Minister, what are the benefits of this package for all Australians across the country?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:00): Around one million Australian families are benefiting from these changes. As we said, costs, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, are down around 10 per cent. One million families are benefiting, and it's because of the way we've structured this. By targeting support to those who are working the longest hours and those earning the least amount, we are delivering lower costs but greater participation. The data also shows that the number of families utilising early childhood services increased by 3.6 per cent in the June quarter. So utilisation is going up because families are realising that child care is more affordable and accessible thanks to our reforms.

Despite the doomsday predictions we heard from some of those opposite, I am very pleased to note a 24 per cent increase in the number of Indigenous children accessing early childhood education and care. Those opposite predicted doom and gloom because of activity-test or other reforms. We said safeguards are in place, and the proof is there that participation has, in fact, gone up.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Gichuhi, a final supplementary question.



Senator GICHUHI (South Australia) (15:01): Can the minister advise the Senate of the alternatives to this childcare package?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (15:01): We know that those opposite fought tooth and nail to stop this package coming into place, so a package that in the end has seen more Australian families and more Indigenous children accessing early childhood education and care and has seen a 10 per cent reduction in out-of-pocket costs for hardworking Australian families was opposed by the Labor Party and their co-conspirators in the Greens. It's remarkable, of course, that they could come in here and oppose reforms that have made life easier for so many hardworking Australians. It shows that they just never understood the failings of their policies when they were in office, because, under their six years in office, childcare fees increased by 53 per cent.

We then worked—and we had to work long and hard to get the support of this Senate—to actually put our reforms in place, but we have delivered reforms that have driven costs down for Australian families, enabled more to access that and, in doing so, made it easier for families to choose to work, work more hours and work more days to help their family circumstances. (Time expired)