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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4533

Ms McKEW (Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Childcare) (8:46 PM) —As opposed to what we have just heard from the member for Warringah, the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2008 marks a milestone in the delivery of more affordable child care and points the way to an ambitious and high-quality early childhood platform for Australian families. The government went to the 24 November 2007 election on the promise of an education revolution and right here, right now, as opposed to what we have heard, we start delivering on that promise. This bill contains measures that are focused on our youngest and on their families. We know that access to affordable quality child care is a central issue for over 700,000 families, families where both parents are working, families where a secondary earner is likely to increase his or her hours, or single-parent families.

The measures contained in this bill will help all of these families with the cost of child care. The effect of this legislation is to put money back into their pockets, something that the member for Warringah finally acknowledged. The increase in the childcare tax rebate from the current 30 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses to 50 per cent, to be paid quarterly instead of annually, will reduce the cost of approved child care and bring welcome relief to families. Importantly, families will receive the increased rebate closer to the time they incur the costs, and the benefits are substantial—they are real. The mothers and fathers I have been meeting in my electorate have all done their sums and they know they will be better off. For example, for a family on a household income of $70,000 a year with one child in part-time care, these changes will mean around $300 extra in their pockets each quarter. For a family on an income of $110,000 with two children in part-time care, the changes will mean an extra $790 extra a quarter.

It is important to emphasise that all families who currently receive the tax rebate will continue to do so regardless of their income. There is no sleight of hand here. Although the government has removed the minimum rate of childcare benefit, families will receive more assistance through the tax rebate changes than they will lose in CCB. There has been much discussion—I have to say: much of it ill informed—about the effect of these changes on the fees charged by childcare centres. This has been fuelled by press commentary in recent days about proposed fee increases by some parts of the sector. In fact, annual fee adjustments at the end of this financial year can be expected to be in the order of two to four per cent. That is the view expressed by the Childcare Association of Australia, one of the largest representative groups covering the private sector. I want to address this question a little bit more because it is important.

First of all, families should understand that, with the passage of this bill, 50 per cent of their out-of-pocket expenses will be met with the first quarterly payment coming this October. This is regardless of the fee structure at their particular centre. While the daily fee rate is often quoted in the media, this is not what parents actually pay. For example, a family on a combined income of $70,000 with one child in part-time care have 70 per cent of their childcare costs subsidised by the Australian government. Equally, families higher up the income scale on $115,000 with one child in part-time care attract a Commonwealth subsidy of 54 per cent. This is why Commonwealth outlays for childcare benefit and for the rebate now amount to around $10 billion over four years to 2012. With the measures in this bill, the increase in the rebate to 50 per cent will add an extra $1.6 billion to those outlays over four years. This is a huge investment by the Commonwealth. It is why the Rudd Labor government is determined to get value for money.

On 24 November 2007, families across the country voted for a government that is committed to pursuing an ambitious quality framework for our youngest children. Parents know and value quality early learning. The combined policies that the government will enact—integrated care and learning, universal preschool for all pre-primary children, a rigorous A to E set of quality standards and a highly trained professional workforce—will all serve to give our youngest people the very best start.

We will also be moving over this next period to remove the false distinction between child care and learning. Everyone knows we begin to learn from the time we are born. Parents are the first teachers, but in their absence we have to ensure that those charged with the care of very young children are well qualified and provide the most appropriate developmental opportunities. That means customised programs in centres of excellence that identify the individual interests of children and programs that are delivered by attentive degree trained teachers. We have centres that provide this kind of excellent care but, regrettably, too few of them. It is fascinating to look at how affordable these excellent centres are. What is fascinating to me, as parliamentary secretary with responsibility for this area, is to visit these centres and to realise that, at these premium quality centres, the fees charged are no higher than the industry average. Be they centres in high-growth corridors in our major cities or in regional areas, it is instructive to see that those early-learning institutions that have high staff-child ratios and where the teaching leadership of the centre insists on constant professional development are not the centres at the top of the fees graph. We are committed to the establishment of another 260 additional early-learning centres to increase the supply of available quality childcare places in areas of high demand. We acknowledge that quality costs, but it is a cost that the Rudd Labor government has budgeted for, with $114 million for the first 38 of our new early-learning centres and $126 million over the next four years that will support the development of the professional skills of the workforce that will be needed to staff Australia’s 21st century early-learning centres.

Of course, we are determined at the same time to ease the cost burden for working families—which is why the measure in this bill is so welcome and why, come October, over 700,000 families with children in approved care will see their costs go down. This bill marks the start of the government’s commitment to the future of our children. We are delivering on our commitment to provide affordable and quality child care and we will continue to provide better opportunities for children by pursuing the education revolution to benefit all young Australians.

Mr Abbott —Madam Deputy Speaker, on indulgence: I indicated that the opposition would be dividing on the amendment. I have subsequently been informed that an arrangement has been entered into with the Leader of the House that that will not be the case. So we will not be dividing, and I apologise if I inadvertently misled my colleagues.