Parliament – Family Assistance Legislation Amendment – Consideration in Detail

Thursday, 18 March 2021

I move opposition amendments (1) and (2) together:

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 8, column 1), omit “Part 8”, substitute “Parts 8 and 9”.

(2) Schedule 1, page 17 (after line 8), at the end of the Schedule, add:

Part 9—Exception to duty to enforce payment of hourly session fees because of stay at home directions etc.

A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999

54 After subsection 201B(1)

Insert:

Exception because of stay at home directions etc.

(1AA) The provider is not required to take reasonable steps in relation to a session of care provided by the service to the child if the child is not able to attend the session of care because of a law of a State or Territory (e.g. a public health direction) that:

(a) is enacted or made in response to the coronavirus known as COVID‑19; and

(b) restricts the ability of persons to:

   (i) leave their homes; or

   (ii) travel a certain distance from their homes.

Note: A defendant bears an evidential burden in relation to the matters mentioned in this subsection: see subsection 13.3(3) of the Criminal Code and section 96 of the Regulatory Powers Act.

55 After paragraph 201C(1 ) ( a)

Insert:

(aa) if the provider is not taking reasonable steps in relation to the session of care because of subsection 201B(1AA)—the provider charged immediately before the coming into force of the relevant restriction mentioned in that subsection; or

56 After paragraph 201C(1A ) ( a)

Insert:

(aa) if the provider is not taking reasonable steps in relation to the session of care because of subsection 201B(1AA)—the provider charged immediately before the coming into force of the relevant restriction mentioned in that subsection; or

57 After section 201C(1A)

Insert:

(1AA) If the approved provider of a child care service is not taking reasonable steps in relation to a session of care provided by the service to a child because of subsection 201B(1AA), the provider must not charge an individual who is eligible for CCS for the session of care an hourly session fee that exceeds the hourly session fee that the provider charged immediately before the coming into force of the relevant restriction mentioned in that subsection.

58 Subsections 201C(2) and (3)

After “(1A)”, insert “, (1AA)”.

This amendment is quite important. While we have said that we will support the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Early Childhood Education and Care Coronavirus Response and Other Measures) Bill 2021, this amendment before the House gives families relief from childcare fees during government directed lockdowns.

It is a feature of the current childcare subsidy system that, under normal circumstances, providers are legally required to enforce payment of their hourly sessional fees. Section 201B of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 states that. But, in these unusual circumstances, what this has meant is that families are slugged with gap fees during pandemic lockdowns, unless the government chooses to grant an exemption. The minister has the power to grant exemptions now under section 54A of the Child Care Subsidy Minister’s Rules 2017. When the government passed the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020, it added a subsection 201B(1A) to the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act. This subsection created the ability for the minister to grant exemptions from the requirement to charge a gap fee during particular events or circumstances. Section 54A of the minister’s rules outlines the COVID related circumstances in which the minister is able to waive the requirement of the gap fee as set out in section 201B.

Importantly, we need to recognise that the government had, and has, the power to give families relief when their state governments or the federal government direct a lockdown—that is, tells them that they cannot go to childcare centres and asks them to stay at home. The government chose to use this power during the national lockdown last year and the second lockdown in Victoria but unfortunately did not choose to use this power for more recent city based lockdowns in Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne. Under these public health lockdowns, most families were directed by their state governments to stay at home with their children to protect the community. The childcare centres, though, had to stay open to serve essential workers. These centres have been legally required to charge all the families gap fees during those lockdown periods.

I was contacted by a centre director in Albert Park, Adelaide who was unhappy that he had to charge parents for care they didn’t receive during the snap lockdown but was told directly by the department he had to charge the gap fees. I heard from Laura from Windsor Gardens in Adelaide who is an essential worker, who was charged fees for the days she was locked down last November. I heard from parents in Perth who were outraged that they were charged for care that they could not receive during the Perth lockdown a few months ago. They called Centrelink for advice, and they were told to contact their local MP. I think it’s time to put a stop to this. While the government have the power, they have chosen not to use it. So what we are doing today is moving an amendment to add a clause to section 201B(1A) so that an exemption is provided in circumstances where a stay-at-home direction has been issued within a restricted area and families are directed not to send their children to child care.

This is a sensible amendment. It removes the inequitable minister’s discretion, as they’ve been using it, and it puts it in the bill so that the exemption is automatically triggered when a stay-at-home order is issued. In other words, it gives services an automatic exemption from charging gap fees as soon as a lockdown is proclaimed. Services will still receive a childcare subsidy during this lockdown period, so the government will still provide that money to centres to keep the doors open. But we need this amendment because the minister has shown that they cannot be trusted to act on this consistently. Parents shouldn’t be getting a conflicted message where they’re told they must stay home, yet then are slugged fees for not using the service. It is time for this parliament to act. This is a sensible amendment, and, if the government vote this down, we know that they won’t be on the side of families.

More News

Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Parliament – Family Assistance Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 – Second Reading
Thursday, 11 February 2021
APS College of Educational and Developmental Psychologists Conference
Thursday, 04 February 2021
Parliament – Out of pocket child care costs