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Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Page: 3360


Mr TEHAN (WannonMinister for Education) (10:24): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Building on the Child Care Package) Bill 2019 makes life easier for families and providers using the child care subsidy. It makes some important refinements to the operation of the government's childcare package that was implemented on 2 July 2018.

The childcare package represents the biggest reforms to child care since the introduction of the Commonwealth Child Care Act in 1972.

The development of the childcare package was led by the need for increased investment and genuine reform in early learning and child care. Just over one year into its implementation, it is delivering on both counts.

In coming years, it will bring the government's investment in early learning and child care to around $10 billion a year, to the benefit of the 1.1 million families utilising approved care.

We have combined two separate payments into a single subsidy that is helping parents access more affordable early learning and child care while they can work, train, study or volunteer.

The childcare subsidy provides the most hours of support to the families who work the longest hours. It also ensures the greatest amount of financial support goes to the families who earn the least.

The vast majority of families are entitled to 72 hours or more of subsidised care per fortnight and most families are entitled to a subsidy rate of 50 per cent or more—approximately one-quarter are entitled to the highest 85 per cent rate.

The latest childcare consumer price index figures from the ABS indicate that, across Australia, out-of-pocket costs for families are 7.9 per cent lower than their peak in the June quarter 2018.

More children and families are using subsidised care than ever before. There's no annual cap for more than three-quarters of the families using the system. This is a great relief for those families who previously hit the cap before the end of the financial year.

The Child Care Safety Net, including the additional childcare subsidy and Community Child Care Fund, is also helping our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, giving them a strong start through access to quality early learning and child care.

Just over 12 months into implementation, it is clear that the government is delivering on its goal to create a more affordable, accessible and flexible childcare system.

We are also taking stock of areas for improvement.

A key to the successful implementation of the childcare package was the extensive consultation undertaken with families and the childcare sector.

Since July last year, the government has continued to listen to feedback from families and the childcare sector on what aspects of the childcare package have worked well, their concerns, and what we could improve.

The key measures contained in this bill reflect feedback from families and child care providers, and early findings from formal evaluation processes.

This bill makes amendments to the current A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 and A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999, including:

Making life easier for families by extending the time frame for enrolments to be ceased due to a child's nonattendance at a service, from eight weeks to 14 weeks. This will reduce regulatory burden on both families and childcare providers by eliminating the need for children to be re-enrolled following most regular breaks in attendance, such as where a child attends care during school holidays but not during school terms.

A number of colleagues and providers have raised this issue with me, including the member for Mayo, who wrote to me on behalf of Woodside Primary School Out of School Hours Care in her electorate. I know that all the families from that centre who wrote to the member will be pleased to see this change, and I thank them for that feedback.

Providing more options for providers to deliver services by removing the limit on the number of children childcare providers can certify as being at risk of serious abuse or neglect to receive a higher rate of subsidy under the additional childcare subsidy.

Supporting families who have the most to gain by establishing the capacity for a small number of targeted payments made by third parties—such as another government agency—to be used in combination with the childcare subsidy to ensure cost is not a barrier to vulnerable and disadvantaged families accessing early learning and child care. Supporting families with affordability by enabling parents to receive subsidy in limited circumstances where their child cannot attend scheduled care at the start or end of an enrolment. This will ensure that parents are not unfairly disadvantaged by a rule intended to prevent unscrupulous behaviour by some child care providers.

Another important change introduced by this bill is the inclusion of in-home care in the legislation. While in-home care is currently given effect in subordinate legislation, it was not included in the bill that gave effect to the childcare package, because the final details of the program were not completed until after the legislation was passed.

In addition to including the hourly rate cap for in-home care alongside other care types, the bill also allows eligibility criteria for access to in-home care to be prescribed in subordinate legislation to ensure that this capped care type is targeted to families for whom other options are not available or appropriate.

The bill also contains a number of other refinements, corrections and consequential amendments to bring clarity to policy intent and achieve closer alignment with related state and territory laws.

In conclusion, this bill demonstrates that the government is making life easier for families and providers using childcare subsidy and that the government has been listening to hardworking Australian families and the childcare sector.

The changes in this bill will reduce regulatory burden on families and childcare providers, support vulnerable and disadvantaged families' access to quality early learning and child care, and help parents access financial assistance to support their participation in the workforce.

The government's landmark childcare package is delivering significant and much-needed reform. This bill will ensure that the government continues to build on these significant achievements.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.