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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8609

Child Care

Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:27): My question is to the Minister for Education, Senator Birmingham. I refer to the government's plan to force childcare centres to bill by the hour. Will the minister guarantee that no centres will close as a result of this policy change?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:27): I thank Senator Dastyari for the question—I think his first in his new frontbench role, and I congratulate him on that. I am happy, Mr President, to tell Senator Dastyari that the government has no plans nor intentions to force child care providers to charge by the hour.

Senator Cormann interjecting

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Indeed, Senator Cormann; that is right. What the government is hoping and encouraging is that, through our childcare reforms, which are increasing affordability for families and flexibility for childcare providers, childcare providers will consider options within their business models to be able to provide different levels of sessional care for children. It is important that people who routinely or regularly wish to or want to access maybe five or six hours of care on certain days for their children are not billed for 10, 11 or 12 hours of care. But these will be matters for childcare providers to determine in accordance with their business models. So there should be absolutely no threat, risk or otherwise to the price of child care nor the viability of those childcare providers.

So I am very happy to give Senator Dastyari a very clear answer to his question: no, I see no risk of closure. To perhaps pre-empt the next question: I see no risk of price rises, because it is entirely up to the childcare providers to assess how their business model can best be supported. In fact, what we should see is greater affordability for families. We should see greater affordability, because we are investing more than $3 billion in improving childcare subsidies and support for families—more than $3 billion in additional support for, in particular, working families—to ensure that they get the maximum assistance to access child care and support when they need it in balancing and juggling their work and family obligations. So our reforms will ensure greater affordability and greater flexibility.

Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:29): Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and ask a supplementary question. The Australian Childcare Alliance said today, and I quote Gwynn Bridge:

If we charge by the hour, there will be a higher cost.

Minister, will you guarantee that hourly fees will not rise for any family as a result of the government's move to hourly charging?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:29): Senator Dastyari is clearly neither very nimble nor very agile in his questioning, because if he listened to the previous answer he would have heard that I addressed pricing and pre-empted that that might be his supplementary question.

I am very happy to say that this government's reforms will put downward pressure on prices, because for the first time we are introducing an efficient level of pricing within the childcare sector that has been benchmarked and that will provide an hourly efficiency charge against which services will be expected to operate, or at least declare, and that we will be basing the subsidy arrangements for parents on that basis.

Of course, extra funding is going in—more than $3 billion additional funding—to ensure parents have extra support. But unlike the previous government, who turned a blind eye to the rise in childcare costs, we have not, and we have structured our reforms to make them more affordable through more taxpayer support and a better model of revision— (Time expired)

Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:31): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The Community Child Care Association has said that a move to short-session billing would:

…make childcare less affordable for all families, would exclude those who could not afford the increase completely, and would potentially lead to closures for services in some areas.

Will the minister guarantee that no child will be pushed out of early education because of these changes?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (14:31): As I said at the outset, and I again reiterate, the government is not proposing to force any childcare provider to shift to short-session billing. The government is making sure the arrangements we have in place provide the flexibility for providers to do so if they so wish. I am very happy to say that no child will be pushed out in those circumstances because no provider, I imagine, would change if it were going to push a child out.

Senator Dastyari, you can be absolutely confident that under our reforms parents who need childcare support and early-learning support to be able to access their work obligations will get greater support. Those families that rely on child care most to juggle work and family obligations get greater support. Childcare providers will ensure that they have the flexibility to tailor their business models to support those families as well as early-learning outcomes across the sector.

Senator Dastyari: These words are going to come back and haunt you!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Senator Dastyari, they will not, because I am quite confident in the model and that your questions are completely misplaced— (Time expired)