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Thursday, 11 June 2020
Page: 2857

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (18:08): This government continues to make balls-up after balls-up in its terrible response to the COVID-19 crisis economically. It consistently misjudges and does not understand the financial and economic situation that people find themselves in, day after day, in the midst of this pandemic. We see that the education minister, Dan Tehan, announced that the government thinks it's justifiable to return to full fees because participation in early childhood and care has now returned to 74 per cent across the board. That is a ridiculous premise on which to base this policy. That is a return to 74 per cent of previous participation in a system that had free fees. So you're now about to return a system that has 74 per cent participation based on free fees and use that to justify a return to a full-fee-paying system?

Australia already has one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world. Families were already telling us, in response to the government's so-called new childcare package, that the system was too expensive and that they could barely afford it before the pandemic and now you're asking them to return to these fee structures in an environment where many households have lost income and jobs. In fact, many of those households that will be struggling with these fee increases have had dramatic drops in income.

This government made a complete balls-up again of the interim arrangements. We saw some childcare centres that were forced to offer free child care—for example, in the family day care sector—have absolutely no way of meeting their basic expenses to cover the costs of that care. Why? Because they weren't eligible for things like JobKeeper. It was patently ridiculous.

I saw other examples in the north-west of Western Australia. Skilled people still in employment were unable to get child care because the government had offered free child care and again the centres couldn't afford to open because they couldn't meet their expenses under the government's free childcare model. As a result, working families who were prepared to pay fees couldn't even get a place.

Instead of thinking intelligently about how you respond to the needs of centres, the needs of working families and, most importantly, the needs of children, the government has just announced snapback to a system that is intrinsically not built for the current post-COVID circumstances. In an environment where women's working opportunities are more challenged because they were the first to be casualised, you are now asking them to undertake an activity test to be eligible for a couple of days of week child care. If you've lost work, you have to look for work two days a week. That sounds fair enough until you put on the table the complexities of what it's like to look for work when you're trying to organise your life around child care.

What does it mean if you're suddenly offered a full-time job and you can secure only two days? Many families would like to say: 'I'm looking for a full-time job. That's my commitment. My child is three. They're going to school soon. If we get organised, we can do three days a week and I can move up to four days. We can get our child ready to make that transition.' In many cases you can't just say: 'I'm doing my two days while I'm looking for a job. Now I want a full-time place because I've found a full-time job.' This government is simply not listening to the needs of families in our nation.