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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8618

Child Care

Senator LINDGREN ( Queensland ) ( 15:02 ): My question is to the Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham. What is the government doing to deliver flexible, affordable and accessible child care and early learning for families?

Senator BIRMINGHAM ( South Australia Minister for Education and Training ) ( 15:02 ): I thank Senator Lindgren for her question, which of course reflects her very strong interest, as a former teacher, in child care, early learning and all forms of education. The government's significant childcare reforms, a $40 billion childcare package and more than $3 billion of additional investment, are designed to make the system simpler, more affordable and more flexible for parents, for children and for childcare providers. The system will become simpler because we are proposing to turn three different payment arrangements into one childcare subsidy arrangement, a simple system for parents to access that will ensure all parents can readily and easily understand the type of support for accessing child care and early learning that they can access. It will become more affordable thanks to the increased investment that our government is proposing in child care.

We will ensure that families who need it most get the most support to access child care to be able to balance their work and family obligations. Those families earning between $65,000 and $170,000 will be, on average, $30 per week better off thanks to our childcare reforms. That is some $1,500 per annum better off for those families to be able to get to work, participate in the workforce and manage to juggle their work and family obligations by accessing our childcare services. We will make sure that there is an appropriate safety net in place for the most vulnerable so that we can have confidence that early learning opportunities will still be available to children in low-income families and that all four-year-olds, through preschool arrangements, will continue to enjoy the support and opportunity of early learning and preschool activities.

Of course, ultimately what we want to do is make sure we do not see the type of price rise that occurred under the Labor government, where prices went up some 53 per cent over six years in the childcare sector—unacceptable. Our reforms seek to address these problems that Labor ignored.

Senator LINDGREN ( Queensland ) ( 15:04 ): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How is the government helping services deliver flexible, affordable and accessible child care and early learning for families?

Senator Sterle: Making it nimble and agile!

Senator BIRMINGHAM ( South Australia Minister for Education and Training ) ( 15:05 ): Indeed, Senator Sterle is right: we do hope that providers will be nimble and agile in responding to these reforms and that they will absolutely, in a deft way, be able to provide the types of services that parents demand. Currently, long day care, in-home care and family day care services operating all normal working days must operate all normal working days in at least 40 weeks of the year and provide care for any particular child for at least eight continuous hours on each normal working day. As a result of the simplification for providers under our new arrangements, they will only be required to operate for a minimum of 48 weeks per year. Otherwise there is flexibility for them to create and provide new services to meet parents who may not be demanding that level of hours or those arrangements. It is unacceptable that parents who routinely only require—perhaps for early learning outcomes—sessions of four or six hours of care per day are routinely charged for 10 or 12 hours for that care. (Time expired)

Senator LINDGREN ( Queensland ) ( 15:06 ): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What else is the government doing to ensure that the almost $40 billion in child care over the next four years extends access to high-quality, flexible child care for as many families as possible?

Senator BIRMINGHAM ( South Australia Minister for Education and Training ) ( 15:06 ): As well as making our childcare system more accessible for those families who rely upon it to undertake their work responsibilities, we want to make sure that people are supported in the most vulnerable categories. That is why we are proposing an $869 million childcare safety net, recognising that vulnerable children and families need extra support to access early learning, care and protection at appropriate times. Similarly, we have committed to ensure that universal access to preschool is extended for a further two years, providing guarantees in line with school funding determinations to provide federal support for 15 hours of preschool a week in the year before school. This was a measure, of course, that the Labor government had left unfunded and had not committed to. We have delivered this funding now over a three-year period to make sure that four-year-olds, in the year before entering school, can be guaranteed to access those 15 hours of early learning opportunities in addition to any childcare activities that their parents access.