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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4535

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (8:54 PM) —In the 2007 election campaign, my campaign slogan was: ‘Labor for a fair go in Braddon’. The recent budget is about giving people a fair go, and this amendment in the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2008, as the Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Childcare has so ably demonstrated, is a classic example. It helps people to cope with the financial stresses of living today in Australia and deals with one of the most precious and valued areas—our children. The days where one parent stayed at home with the children are gone for many, whether it is through economic necessity or a desire to stay in touch with their careers. We must do everything we can to support families in this endeavour. To do this we need, and must have, access to affordable child care—a fair go for childcare costs.

People on Tasmania’s north-west coast are no different from people anywhere else in Australia. We have some fine examples of childcare innovators such as Chantal Williams, who operates some 12 childcare centres in Tasmania and eight out-of-school-hours care centres in Victoria as well as other childcare centres in my electorate such as the Wynyard Child Care Centre and Keiko Child Care Centre in East Devonport. But, no matter how good these centres—or, more importantly, the people who run and staff them—are, if parents cannot afford to access these services they will be left wondering where to turn. This amendment bill is about giving working families a fair go, by increasing the rate of the childcare tax rebate from 30 to 50 per cent for out-of-pocket expenses. That could mean up to $7,500 per child. It will also be paid quarterly, which will help working families to cope with the costs they face from week to week and month to month rather than their having to perform the annual juggling act. The amendment bill will remove the minimum childcare benefit to high-income families, but this change will be more than offset by the increase in the childcare tax rebate.

Giving parents the support to return to work is vital, particularly in regions like mine, where skills are at a premium. We have businesses crying out for skilled people, but what option do people have in returning to work if it costs them too much to put their children in quality child care? Part of delivering quality child care, as the parliamentary secretary mentioned, is a commitment to provide 260 new early-learning and childcare centres, including 38 in this budget year. This includes six specialist centres to provide the best care for children and families with autism. One of these centres will be in my electorate, and I am working hard to see that it is in place as soon as possible. This amendment bill is a vital part of an overall package not only to give parents and their children access to affordable and quality child care but indeed to build a quality system from the ground up.

The Rudd government is determined to meet its commitment to provide a fair go for families, and this is one of the first but most important parts of that $2.4 billion investment over the next five years in integrated early childhood initiatives. To reinforce the importance of this increase in the childcare tax rebate for families, it is worth remembering two important and sobering statistics. An ABS survey has found that concerns about quality, accessibility and affordability of child care were important factors in the decisions of 85,000 secondary earners to stay out of the workforce. More than 700,000 Australian families use child care each year. Between 2003 and 2007, childcare costs have grown much faster than the price of other goods and services. Indeed, in the last 12 months to June 2007 alone, after factoring in the childcare benefit, childcare costs rose by 12.8 per cent—the fifth year in a row of double-digit increases. I have much pleasure in supporting this bill.