Parliament – penalty rates, new child care system

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

At the end of this week, families are going to be hit twice by this government and its cruel cuts. On Sunday, we are going to see the penalty rates that Australian workers rely on cut by this government. And then on Monday, the Turnbull government’s new, unfair childcare system will come in—a system that will make it harder for so many children to get access to early education and childcare. We know that cutting workers’ entitlements is an article of faith for the Liberal Party. It is an article of faith for the Liberal Party to cut from workers—to cut penalty rates and to cut their working conditions. They have never shied away from that. But I thought they cared about early education and access to early education for so many people. But of course it is clear now that their ideological crusade is not just about penalty rates and cutting and stripping workers’ rights but also about denying children—often the most vulnerable children—access to early education.

When these new childcare changes which the minister has been talking up come in, we know from the government’s own information that 279,000 families will be worse off as a result. The majority of these are low-income and vulnerable families. That is 279,000 families across this country. We know the plight of families is absolutely no concern for this government. The fate of this activity test that the government’s introducing will come to fruition shortly. We know that the government is now requiring families to meet a set of complex activity and income tests in order to qualify for the childcare subsidy. This activity test is all about treating early education as glorified babysitting. It doesn’t seem to understand that your child, no matter where you come from, should get access to early education. Children in families where parents aren’t working will have their child care cut in half, to 12 hours of subsidy per week, and children in families earning over $65,000 where one parent is at home caring will have no access to subsidies. Where is the National Party when it comes to these families? The National Party says that it stands up for families and that it loves to support families. Well, the National Party has gone missing in action, and instead we are seeing families being denied access to early education, and we will have many families in electorates right around this country that will no longer get access.

The minister has often said that it’s only Labor that has spoken out against these changes. Well, he is misleading the Australian public and the community, because, of course, there have been many people in the sector who have been vocal about the impact that this activity test will have. Australian Community Children’s Services have said that the changes take Australia backwards in the early childhood policy arena. The Early Learning Association Australia said:

… we’re very concerned about the notion of children being impacted because of effectively the actions or inactions of their parents.

The New South Wales Liberal government—the Liberal government—said:

… reducing the minimum hours of subsidised care for vulnerable and disadvantaged children is inconsistent with universal access commitments.

So there are all these groups—all those that work at the coalface—that understand that the government’s new, unfair changes will have an impact on children.

But of course this Turnbull government is so arrogant and out of touch it does not believe that children in families that may not meet its cookie-cutter activity test deserve access to early education. The minister has stated that those parents at home should basically go and get a job and stop bludging off the taxpayer. In January he said it would be ‘a waste of taxpayers’ dollars’ to ‘support child care for people who are sitting at home’. There you have it: Australia’s education minister saying that parents that may have complex family arrangements where one parent may need to stay at home are just couch potatoes and their children are less deserving of early education.

Let’s just consider who these families might be. There are cases that have been widely canvassed in the media involving ill parents and carers such as Rebecca Tucker, who has breast cancer and cannot look for work because she is undergoing chemotherapy. She needs access to early education and child care, but what will she get under this government? Nothing. Olivia White is self-employed, has wide variation in the hours she works and will regularly fail the fortnightly activity test. This government says that she’s not doing enough. They say she’s just a couch potato. Of course, there’s the mother—or father—at home with two or three children who is also caring for elderly parents who can no longer live independently. She’s just a bludger, according to this government. She doesn’t deserve early education for her young children. So it is inappropriate and absolutely disgraceful that this government is cutting support for so many children.

We on this side of the House know the importance of quality early education. It leads to a range of better educational, social and health outcomes for children later in life. It literally lays down the solid foundations for life. But this government would rather give $80 billion away in corporate tax cuts than invest in early education. Talk about priorities!

If it were just utter ideology, I could probably understand it, because we know that this government does not care about working people or about families. We’ve seen in this area of childcare changes complete incompetence by the minister as well. Currently, with only a few days to go, 235,000 families have not been able to register on the new system—20 per cent of families are not registered—and from 2 July they are going to miss out on support. In response to these families not registering, what has the minister had to say? The minister said: ‘It is their fault. Why are families being so lazy? They just need to get onto myGov and register.’ That just demonstrates that the minister is completely out of touch. What else has happened is that a number of providers have not been able to register. Once again the minister’s response is just to say that they are lazy. This minister doesn’t take any responsibility. These are his childcare changes and this is his program. He needs to stop blaming families and centres.

The government’s new system was meant to put downward pressure. ‘The hourly fee cap will put downward pressure on prices’—that is what the minister said. This is his usual spin and it is not backed up by facts. We are now hearing that fees are going up by 10 per cent. Under this government, families are already seeing increases of more than $2,000. What has the minister had to say? He said, ‘I encourage any families being ripped off to consider what alternatives may be available to them.’ There is proof again of an out-of-touch minister who has no idea about moving your child from one childcare centre to another. Children develop relationships with their carers and develop connections with the other children, and often there are no vacancies available. Plucking children out of one centre and putting them in another centre and letting the free market rip is just not the answer when it comes to early education. Unfortunately, that is the attitude of the minister.

Finally, we heard the minister representing the minister in the House talk about compliance and quality. The budget just handed down by the government ripped out money when it comes to compliance and quality. They took $20 million out of ensuring and enforcing quality in the sector. So, while they want to give $17 billion to the big banks, they take $20 million out that was supporting states and territories actually improving quality. This means that there will be fewer checks on centres, less compliance and less security and confidence for families.

It’s not good for this minister to take a hands-off approach when it comes to early education. We want to see a minister committed to early education, committed to quality and committed to access. Unfortunately, this minister has proven he is not up to the job. Labor are up to the job. We will deliver quality early education for families across this country. We won’t blame families and centres when it comes to his failed system.

More News

Sunday, 24 June 2018
No relief in sight for families
Wednesday, 20 June 2018
1 in 4 families still yet to sign up to unfair child care package
Tuesday, 12 June 2018
Labor not alone with concerns about child care activity test