Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (1.19 pm) - I rise to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010 put forward, sadly, by the government on budget night. It is going to have a significant impact on families who access child care right around the country - and the pain will grow not just for the coming financial year but across the forward estimates.
It was interesting to sit here listening to the opposition's spokesman because I agree with a number of his points. This is not a good piece of legislation; we should not be looking for budget savings in the really important essential service area of child care. We need to see more funding directed into the area and a better way of ensuring that the government can get their quality outcomes addressed through how they actually pay for child care.
Of course, the Greens have put on the record numerous times that the childcare rebate is not the best way of delivering good quality, affordable or accessible child care. But that is what we have got and that is what parents rely on week in week out to go some way towards meeting the very expensive cost of good quality child care.
It does cost money to pay qualified people for their wonderful skills in educating and caring for our youngest kids. It is an essential service for parents and it is an essential service for the country. We know that between the ages of zero and five is the most crucial time for educating and caring for children. The best investment we can make in their educational outcomes into the future is to get it right in that age group.
The three core principles that should underpin any type of early education and care in this country are quality, affordability and accessibility. The government's move to cut the childcare rebate, to freeze the indexation and to make it more difficult for families right around the country to afford good quality child care shows a total misunderstanding of the struggle that working families and parents have every week.
Every week they make choices to ensure that their children are looked after in good quality care and it is expensive. The government needs to accept that if we want good quality childcare, if we want a framework that insists on that right around the country, if we want qualified people looking after our most vulnerable kids at the time when we need to be investing in good quality care and education then we are going to have to pay for that.
This cost should not just be slapped on the shoulders of parents; we need the government to help foot the bill to ensure that we are investing in these kids' future. The government should not be using childcare and early childhood education as the scapegoat for finding budget savings.
On the point of budget savings, it may not seem an awful lot in the big scheme of things - $86.3 million over four years is all this measure would save the government - yet it would work out as hundreds if not thousands of dollars per child for families that this is going to affect. It may not be much for the government in the big scheme of things in the global budget, but it would have a very significant impact on families right around the country.
As I said, as the quality framework continues to be implemented the cost of delivering good quality care is going to rise and unfortunately the government have not met this challenge with a way of supporting parents to meet those costs. Instead they have done the exact opposite and they are going to make it more difficult for them to accept it.
While I said I agree with a number of the points that were raised by the opposition in relation to this bill, I am sad to see them support it, that they are simply going to wave it through. It is not good policy, it does not make financial sense and it is going to make the lives of families far more difficult.
The Greens will move an amendment to this piece of legislation which would make the childcare rebate accessible on a fortnightly basis. At the moment parents have to wait to access the rebates every quarter, so every three months. You pay your childcare fees weekly or fortnightly and you keep paying, keep paying and keep paying yet it is not until three months later that you get your rebate.
That has a very significant impact on family budgets. I have written to the minister about this and spoken publicly about this. Let us try and ease that burden by at least helping with the budgeting situation by ensuring that that rebate is paid fortnightly. This was promised by the Rudd Labor government during the 2007 election, but the government has not done so. It seems that they are not prepared to put more money in to ease the cost for families.
As the cost of childcare is going to rise because of the quality framework and ensuring that we have good quality care then, at the very least, let us try and help families manage their budgets. Waiting for three months for their $6,000 or $7,000 rebate is not very helpful. That is the crux of it.
I do not understand why the government have targeted childcare as a place to try and find budget savings. It does not make sense. It is going to make family budgets more difficult and it is going to make it more difficult for the government to sell its message about the importance of a good quality framework that needs to be rolled out around the country. We need well-qualified people and good quality care for our kids.
The government are going to have a big problem trying to sell the importance of those reforms if they are not prepared to fund them. They are reforms that the childcare sector, families and parents have been waiting for for a long time, yet it seems that this government will have an uphill battle on their hands in trying to sell the importance of it if they are not going to carry the costs to help parents afford good quality care.
The move by the government to cut the childcare rebate, freeze the indexation, is going to make things far more difficult and flies in the face of the three core principles of quality, affordability and accessibility. This is just another issue in a long line of broken promises by the Government in this area. We saw the axing of the 260 childcare centres and the flimsy figures used to excuse that, saying that there was a 91 per cent - plus vacancy rate across the country.
Parents were told they did not need to worry as they could get their kids into childcare centres. We know that is simply not true. If you are in a metropolitan area or you are in a rural or regional area that is simply not true. If you have a 12-month-old child chances are you will be on a waiting list for quite some time or you are going to have to go back to your employer and negotiate to work on a different day because there are no spots on the particular day that your shift has been offered.
The government have not been genuine with the Australian community or families in relation to their commitment to childcare. They keep talking about it yet everything they do is making things more difficult for them. Yes, we need good quality care. Yes, we need a framework that implements that. But the government must fund that properly and support parents to afford that. Cutting the childcare rebate and cutting the commitment to build new centres which would provide more affordable places is simply going to make things much harder.
I hope that under the new leadership of the federal Labor Party Prime Minister Gillard will see sense, that making things more difficult for parents to afford good quality care and access places will be reviewed. I hope that the government sees sense on the amendment that we are putting forward, which is not going to cost the government any more money.
Exactly the same amount of money will be given back in the rebate, but it will make it more affordable for parents because they will not have to wait to get their rebate every three months; they will only have to wait a fortnight - just like all other government and parenting payments. It simply makes sense. I would like to think that the opposition would support that amendment because it is a fundamentally important one.
Government bureaucrats may not care much about this as they draft these pieces of legislation, but to families who have to carry the cost of weekly childcare fees it is important that they get the rebate in a fortnightly instalment as opposed to waiting for a quarterly rebate. This is going to have a very significant impact.
I thank my colleague Rachel Siewert for clearly putting forward the Greens position on this piece of legislation earlier in the week. She pointed out how important investment in early childhood education is for any government, regardless of who their leader is. Regardless of what side of the benches we sit on, we need to be investing in the early education and care of our kids.
We need to ensure kids have access to education and care of the highest quality. We must make sure that people can access it and it is affordable. There is no use having the best quality care in the world if parents cannot afford it. We need to help them to carry that cost. Child care and early childhood education are not a luxury, they are an essential services that families right around the country rely on every day.
We need to make sure not only that families can afford it but also that it is good quality. I will be moving an amendment in the committee stage.