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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 8983

Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (15:31): I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Kim Carr today in response to questions from Senator Nash about the increasing costs of child care in Australia. I noted that Senator Carr made the comment that this side is always looking into everything every time the government announces a new policy. I suggest that the reason we constantly do request to look into things is that so often many of the negative consequences and implications of these policies have not been thoroughly considered, such as the potential negative impacts on our communities. These policies are made without a thorough investigation of those consequences for the very people they are purporting to help.

So often these policy announcements are a little bit like trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer. In the instance of child care, in the recent debate we have seen that child care is being forced out of the reach of many Australians. I understand that there are an estimated 110,000 parents who may no longer be able to afford to return to the workforce. In deciding to increase the requirements of childcare operations, we have to ask: has the government looked at the impact on Australian families of these increases? Has the government looked into whether the changes are going to improve the accessibility, the affordability or the flexibility of childcare services for Australian families?

Child care is so, so important, and every mother will tell you that child care and the quality of child care are the most important things she considers when she lets go of her child for that first time when she goes back to work. Many parents need child care because they do have to go back to work. Their finances demand that they go back to work. Other parents go back to work simply because they choose to; they want to go back to work. From the perspective of employers, many of them need their staff to come back to work because there is a lack of people in their particular pool that they are drawing from or possibly because the skills of the people who are off on maternity leave or have just had children are very, very important to their particular business. On the productivity front, denying access to appropriate child care denies Australia a huge section of the workforce. This is particularly true of the more skilled areas of our workforce. Many of our professional women are in high demand in the workforce and we have an obligation and a responsibility to give them every opportunity to put their skills back to work if and when they choose to do so.

As I said before, as parents we all want the very best for our children and this includes child care. But in the pursuit of excellence we need to be careful we do not regulate ourselves out of the market, and that seems to be what is happening here. Changes to child care over the past five years are making this fundamental service so overburdened it is becoming completely out of reach and totally user unfriendly. The coalition certainly welcome the positive elements of the national quality framework, but my understanding is that the implementation of that particular framework has so many demands in relation to regulation and compliance that it is estimated that the cost of child care over the next few years will increase by up to $2,000 every year.

The 20 per cent increase in childcare costs that have occurred under this government have hit every family, but they hit people in the country so much more. The increasing training requirements for childcare staff often cannot be accessed in regional areas. I understand that centres with more than 29 children will require a teacher with a four-year tertiary qualification. Where on earth are people and communities in the country going to find these highly qualified people when at the moment they are struggling to attract doctors and nurses and teachers?

The nine-to-five economy is not one that exists in the country. I can tell you stories about the lack of flexibility that is denying people the opportunity to go back to work. Seasonal work is an example. People work double shifts or they want to work early in the day to get away from the heat of the day, but so often these people are denied the opportunity to go back to work because they cannot access appropriate child care. I know firsthand the dilemma that women face in making the decision to go back to work from a financial perspective—the combined effect of the reduction in family support payments and the cost of child care means these parents are actually financially better off staying at home and living off the government purse.

Another impact that is acutely felt in the country is the lack of professionals who are prepared to go to the country. If they cannot get good childcare services, they are just not going to come any more. We need to stop putting this burden of regulation on our people so that we can get on with being productive in this country. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.