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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1373

Child Care

Senator BUSHBY (Tasmania—Chief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:44): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. Will the minister explain to the Senate how the government's childcare package will support parents in balancing their work and family responsibilities?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:44): I thank Senator Bushby for his question and for his interest in the Turnbull government's childcare reforms, which will be of particular benefit to his constituents in Tasmania.

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I will take the interjection from Senator Dastyari along the way about whether Senator Bushby's question relates to empirical evidence—because there is plenty of empirical evidence to support the Turnbull government's childcare reforms, to demonstrate that they are necessary to ensure we have a workable, achievable, affordable, sustainable childcare program in the future because the current model is clearly broken, which is why the Turnbull government has comprehensive reforms. New empirical data evidence released just yesterday, over the weekend, shows that Australian families and therefore Australian taxpayers continue to wear a burden of increased price escalation when it comes to our childcare fees. It is necessary therefore to change the model—to change the way in which childcare subsidies work—because the current childcare rebate arrangements drive those fee increases. They make it simpler and easier for services to up their fees with little regard for the impact on families or taxpayers. Indeed, during the years of the previous Labor government, we saw fee increases of up to 13 per cent at times. We have managed to stymie those and hold those down, but the whole broken system needs to be replaced—which is exactly what we are proposing. Our reforms will be comprehensive and are sweeping and now is the time to see them legislated. They will put in place a new fee mechanism which will ensure downward pressure on fee growth in the future. They will ensure that we have more support for the lowest-income, hardest-working Australian families. They will remove the $7½ thousand cap on support—many families fall off that cliff of support each year. There will be new compliance powers, a clear safety net for vulnerable children, comprehensive reforms that ensure we fix a broken system—

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator BIRMINGHAM: and all we need is for those opposite to stop interjecting and start supporting.

Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:46): Mr President, I rise on a supplementary question. Would the minister update the Senate on how this childcare package will help drive workforce participation?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:47): These reforms will help empower more Australian families to choose the days they work and the hours they work to suit their family circumstances. Evidence indicates that around 230,000 Australian families would be likely to increase their workforce participation under the Turnbull government's childcare reforms. In fact, just yesterday Goodstart Early Learning, Australia's largest early education and childcare provider, issued findings of their survey of more than 1,500 parents: it found that 61 per cent of families, including 78 per cent of non-working families, would look to work more hours or start work, if more affordable child care was available to them. And that is exactly what our reforms will put in place—more affordable child care that will allow those families to choose to work more hours if that suits their needs, without fear of the impact of childcare costs—because, for the lowest-income families, under our reforms childcare would become available at a cost of about $15 a day: far more accessible to all of them. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bushby, a final supplementary question.

Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:48): Thank you, Mr President: can the minister advise the Senate of any alternative policies?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:48): Mr President, all I can say to Senator Bushby is that only the Turnbull government has a comprehensive plan to fix the broken childcare model in Australia. Those opposite went to the election proposing a continuance of the current broken model. Then after the election, they went to the National Press Club and promised consultation. Well, there has been plenty of consultation—there has been a Productivity Commission inquiry, there have been several different Senate inquiries—all of which have essentially found that the proposals that the Turnbull government has on the table are the right reforms to fix a broken system, to put in place mechanisms to keep a lid on fee growth in the future, to provide more support to the lowest-income Australian families, to ensure that we do not have families falling off a cliff mid-financial-year in their childcare support, to have better compliance powers in place to stop rorting in the family day care sector or elsewhere, to have a strong safety net to guarantee two sessions of care per week for Australia's most vulnerable children—these are valuable reforms and the Senate ought to support them in these two weeks. (Time expired)