Speech to Parliament: Standing up for Child Care

I am pleased to speak in support of the amendment moved by the member for Adelaide. In doing so, I speak on behalf of 6,850 families in the electorate of Kingsford Smith who receive the childcare benefit and the childcare rebate—that much-needed support for affordable child care in our community. 

I ask representatives of the government: why are you cutting funding for childcare support for families by freezing these two very important payments? Why are you making it harder for families to make ends meet by making childcare more unaffordable? Why are you doing this, when at the same time you are giving large multinational mining companies in this country a tax break? It says everything about the priorities of this government. Why are you not supporting families in a time when cost-of-living pressures are through the roof?

Prime Minister Abbott is not the person he said he would be. This government is not the government that it said it would be prior to the election. Before the election, they made it clear that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no cuts to pensions and no cuts to the ABC and SBS—but in these bills we clearly see a cut to education and a cut to support for early childhood education in our community. It is a clear and continuing broken election commitment. Before the election, the Prime Minister personally wrote to all childcare centres about the impact of a proposal to cap the childcare rebate. Before the election the Prime Minister's view, put in writing to those childcare centres, was that capping and freezing the childcare rebate 'would increase out-of-pocket costs for families.' Yet, this is exactly what his government is doing. The hypocrisy of this government knows no bounds when it comes to the cuts that they have undertaken to education and health and their changes to pensions.

In my community, the cost of living is the No. 1 political issue. It is the No. 1 pressure facing families. Housing costs are astronomical—they have gone through the roof. What is the approach of this government? They apply layer upon layer of additional pressure: implementing GP co-payments so that families will now have to pay every time one of their kids get sick and has to visit the doctor; removing family tax benefits and making it more difficult, particularly for single-parent families, to make ends meet; cutting the schoolkids bonus, vital support to families to ensure that they can meet the costs of sending kids to school; and now, in these bills, they are freezing the childcare rebate and freezing the childcare benefit. There is layer upon layer of more costs and more difficulty for families through these reforms.

For many families in my community the Child Care Rebate or the Child Care Benefit is the difference between having a child in chid care and not having the child in child care. Subsequently, it is the difference between the ability of some families to have both parents in the workforce and only one parent in the workforce—and that is very important to cost-of-living pressures and the ability of families to participate actively in society. Freezing these childcare rebates and benefits will make it more difficult for families. That is illustrated by the numbers of people who will reach or have reached the cap for the rebate.

The greatest betrayal in this reform is the fact that the savings generated from the freezing of these benefits will not be re-invested in early-childhood development or in the childcare system. They are clear cuts to early-childhood education and clear cuts to benefits and payments to families to help them meet the costs of having kids in child care. That says everything about this government's priorities, particularly in the context of offering tax breaks to wealthy mining companies and to those who are on large superannuation balances and who earn large incomes from them. It comes on top of cuts to early-childhood education in other areas—$450 million has been cut from the out-of-school-hours care program. In my area a school like Randwick Primary School, which has 800 students, has a waiting list of 100 students—100 families are trying to get their kids into out-of-school care. How happy are they going to be about the cuts that this government is making to out-of-school care? They are going to be extremely pleased that $450 million is being cut when that money could be used to expand the number of positions at places like Randwick Primary School. Such care is necessary in the context of having both parents work, as modern families do.

Some $157 million is also being cut from Family Day Care services. Indigenous Family Day Care centres are facing cuts. One is the Gujuga Family Day Care Service in La Perouse, which I recently visited and which provides a wonderful service to young students. It is teetering on the edge, because the support they have been receiving from all levels of government is threatened by the federal cuts; and, no doubt, that will have an impact on the number of places they can provide for Indigenous families.

This government's approach to childcare workers is nothing short of disgraceful. Anyone who has kids in child care, as I do, would know just how hard and important the work of childcare workers is for early-childhood development. They are not simply a child-minding service. Early-childhood workers are educators, and numerous studies demonstrate the value of early-childhood development for the ongoing educational capacity of kids and for the developmental abilities of kids, particularly those with disabilities—the value of early intervention and early education for kids with disabilities is infinite. I see it in my children. My eldest daughter could read words before kindergarten, because of the support and the education she was given by the educators in her childcare service. It is a valuable service that, historically, has been undervalued by the community. Relatively speaking, childcare workers are being paid a pittance when compared to the value of the service they provide for kids and their development and, ultimately, the productivity of our education system and the economy.

The previous government's approach was to say that finally as a society we need to value the work and the role of early-childhood educators. We need to highly value the role they play not only in looking after kids and educating them, but also in the emotional support they provide. That was evident in the approach taken by the previous Labor government, guided quite ably by the member for Adelaide, in boosting the wages of childcare workers to ensure they are paid a fair and decent wage.

The greatest betrayal, as I have said, is that the money saved through these cuts is not being re-invested into early-childhood development. That says everything about the approach of this government and this government's priorities, especially when it provides a tax break for large multinational mining companies and for those with large superannuation balances and when it persists with the $16 billion Paid Parental Leave scheme.

The impact of freezing the Child Care Benefits will be monumental for some families. The Child Care Benefit is a targeted payment—it is means tested and starts to reduce once a family's income reaches $41,000 and cuts out at $145,000 for single-child families. So it is targeted to low-income families to ensure that they have the support and the wherewithal to send kids to child care. In the Senate inquiry into this particular bill, the Department of Education admitted that 500,000 families will receive less support for early-childhood education from the changes and the freezing of the Child Care Benefit. This proposal is being rushed through the House and the parliament with very little community consultation. I note that a number of advocacy bodies and people who work day to day in this space are opposed to these changes. Many of those bodies were given only five days to comment on the context and the implications of this bill. Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of this reform is the fact that the Productivity Commission inquiry into early childhood education and learning is still running. One would think that the government would await the outcomes and the recommendations of their own inquiry before jumping to conclusions and rushing through legislation, without adequate consultation of the wider community and interested parties—but, no, they have adopted this reform. Again, this is another example of a government without a plan and with policy being developed on the run—policy that is being rushed and that is ill-thought through, particularly on the implications for families.

In terms of the childcare rebate, the impact will again affect a number of families in my community. The childcare rebate is a non means-tested payment that provides 50 per cent of the out-of-pocket expenses up to $7,500 per child per year. In terms of the cost of freezing the cap, it has been revealed that 74,000 families will reach the cap in 2014-15 and that that will increase to 150,000 families in 2016-17. It says everything about the impact moving forward of freezing this benefit on those families for whom childcare will become unaffordable and more difficult as a result of this reform. In opposition, as I mentioned earlier, the current government, the Abbott government, opposed freezing the cap. Even when we were planning to invest that money back into the childcare system, they opposed this reform. But here we have them pushing ahead with this reform. It is a rushed reform. There has been inadequate consultation, and this is symbolic of the government developing policy on the run.

In conclusion, on behalf of those almost 7,000 families in my community who are feeling the pinch when it comes to the cost of living, who are struggling to make ends meet and to ensure that they keep their kids in child care, the childcare rebate and the childcare benefit can mean the difference between having their kid in child care and not having their kid in child care. The freezing of these payments and the rushed manner in which these reforms have been conducted, particularly in the context of the government's ongoing Productivity Commission inquiry, is something that the opposition does not support. This is why the minister has sought to split these bills. There has not been adequate consultation in order to get an appropriate response from those in the community who are affected by these reforms and nor have the implications of these reforms been thoroughly thought through.

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