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senate vote 2020-08-26#1

Edited by mackay

on 2021-05-07 14:57:08


  • Bills — Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Improving Assistance for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Families) Bill 2020; Second Reading
  • Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Improving Assistance for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Families) Bill 2020 - Second Reading - Put the question


  • <p class="speaker">Katy Gallagher</p>
  • <p>Labor will be supporting this bill today. The additional childcare subsidy for child wellbeing is a vital program that provides a safe and nurturing learning environment for children in extremely vulnerable situations at home. For most of these children it can be the difference between being able to stay at home or having to go into the child protection system. It's critical that the government treats this program with sensitivity and ensures families and providers are not overly burdened with red tape.</p>
  • <p>This Liberal-National government introduced a number of new requirements and rules that restricted access to the additional childcare subsidy in July 2018. This government like to bang the drum about cutting red tape. It's one of those media releases they put out on regular rotation, but they go out of their way to increase red tape for vulnerable families and the childcare providers trying to help them. In the first six months of the new system, the number of children receiving the child wellbeing subsidy collapsed by 21 per cent. These numbers have since recovered pre-July 2018 levels but only after a significant effort and resources from providers.</p>
  • The majority voted against a [motion]( "*That the question be put.*" This is parliamentary jargon for voting on the question straight away rather than continuing to debate it.
  • <p>When asked in Senate estimates if the department was concerned about the drop, they admitted that they weren't and also confessed that they weren't even tracking families that had dropped out of the system. During the Senate inquiry into the government's first round of changes to the childcare legislation last September, the stakeholders all expressed strong views that the additional childcare subsidy was not working in the best interests of vulnerable children. The Early Learning and Care Council of Australia, Early Childhood Australia and Goodstart all called on the government to fix the red tape and restrictions on the ACCS.</p>
  • <p>Labor will support these changes because they fix some of the design flaws in their new system and will help to get vulnerable children the support they need, but the Liberals' childcare system still has many other serious flaws. This is a system which leaves one in four families worse off. It's a design feature where access to early education and care is reduced for 279,000 families. It's a system that only 40 per cent of providers and 41 per cent of families told the independent evaluation reviewers had resulted in positive change, and 83 per cent of parents told the evaluation that the new system had made no impact on their work or study. It's a system that has been forcing childcare providers to act as unpaid debt collectors for the government, because families are struggling to stay on top of the complicated activity and means tests. It's a system that has been riddled with software glitches that have left providers and families in the dark and staff without pay. It sends out blunt letters, telling families they owe the government money without any explanation. So far over 91,000 families, or 16 per cent of all families, audited so far have been hit with a childcare subsidy debt notice, which is more evidence that their new system is too complex and not working for families.</p>
  • <p>Childcare fees are already out of control in the new system. The CPI figures show childcare costs increased by 1.9 per cent in the December quarter, the fourth successive increase, and have now gone up by 7.2 per cent in the 12-month period. Fees are now 34 per cent up under the Liberal-National government. Families are now paying on average $3,800 a year more for early education and care under this government. The government was very confident that the new system would put downward pressure on fees and they were driving down the cost of child care. The minister was keen to spruik a new website as a game changer and told families to shop around, but less than half of providers are providing accurate fee information to the website. You certainly don't hear the minister making these claims any more. And, like in every other portfolio, the government has no idea and no plan on how to bring fees under control. The Minister for Education claims taxpayer funding of early education and care is communism. The Prime Minister calls the childcare budget a money pit. These are unacceptable comments from an out-of-touch Morrison government.</p>
  • <p>Labor will support this bill, but we also note our ongoing concerns with the failure of the Morrison government to manage our childcare sector.</p>
  • <p class="italic"><i>(Quorum formed)</i></p>
  • <p class="speaker">Mehreen Faruqi</p>
  • <p>I rise to speak on behalf of the Greens on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Improving Assistance for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Families) Bill 2020. The bill makes changes to additional childcare subsidy (child wellbeing) and to the calculation method used when an individual whose relationship status changes throughout the year meets the childcare subsidy reconciliation conditions. A major intention is to ensure that providers can care for a child at risk of abuse or neglect while a foster family determines its eligibility for the childcare subsidy and, potentially, the additional childcare subsidy. The bill will also allow for the backdating of the additional childcare subsidy (child wellbeing) certificates and determinations for up to 13 weeks, which is up from the current 28 days in certain circumstances. Finally, it will extend the maximum period for an ACCS (child wellbeing) determination period from 13 weeks to up to 12 months for classes of children to be prescribed in the minister's rules.</p>
  • <p>The Greens support this bill as we support every measure to make subsidised early learning more accessible and more generous for families and children. Sadly, the way early learning in Australia is regulated is enormously complex and families can fall through the cracks of the system. This bill will help to ensure that more families can access subsidised early learning, particularly those where the children may be at particular risk of serious abuse or neglect.</p>
  • <p>In a second reading speech on this bill way back in February, Minister Tehan said:</p>
  • <p class="italic">Just over 18 months into implementation of the childcare package and it is clear that the government is delivering on its goals to create a more affordable, accessible and flexible childcare system.</p>
  • <p>They say hindsight is 20/20, but I think, in the intervening six months, we have seen that early childhood education and care is not the affordable, accessible and flexible system that the minister so wishes it to be.</p>
  • <p>After a brief flirtation with free childcare, most families are now back to paying fees in one of the most expensive childcare sectors in the world during a pandemic which has decimated our economy and jobs. As for accessibility, childcare is still out of reach for plenty of marginalised and disadvantaged families. As for flexibility, COVID-19 almost toppled the whole system. Far from being an agile, resilient and flexible system, it is a house of cards. Obviously the pandemic rattled our whole economy and society, but, unlike other sectors, early childhood education and care almost went under completely in a matter of just weeks.</p>
  • <p>As many have said, COVID-19 has exposed the cracks in the system which governments have tried to ignore or downplay for far too long. Precarious and insecure work, expensive child care, overstretched aged-care systems and health systems and an unemployment benefit that keeps its recipients below the poverty line are just a few of these structural problems that the government has had to face up to during this seismic change in our economy.</p>
  • <p>At the moment, across the country, families are struggling with the burden of going back to paying full fees for early learning. Free child care being cut off in July was the first of the big COVID measures to be wound back. Fees are back. We have a bizarre and, frankly, shameful situation now where parents are forced to pay fees, early learning centres can't access the JobKeeper wage subsidy and ECEC workers don't have a wage or income guarantee at all. They were the first workers to lose JobKeeper by decree of this Liberal government. This is unacceptable and clearly unsustainable. We need to chart a new course. We need proper government investment to make early learning well funded, high quality and fee free.</p>
  • <p>A recent report by the Grattan Institute looked at the value of investing to raise the CCS to make child care cheaper for families and, in particular, looked at the impacts of women's workforce participation. It found that getting rid of expensive fees is good for women, good for children and good for the economy. The reality is that expensive child care has held Australian women back for far too long. Child rearing in Australia is highly gendered, and it's women who lose independence and income when decisions have to be made about who will stay at home.</p>
  • <p>The government should invest in early learning and make it fee free for all. This will benefit women, this will benefit families and this will benefit the whole community. Early learning and care should be recognised as a critical part of a child's development and funded as such by government. It should be fee free so every family can access it without any barriers. It is an essential service, and it should be universally accessible.</p>
  • <p>I have enthusiastically welcomed growing calls to make early learning permanently free for Australian families. This is not pie in the sky thinking. Like free higher education, free child care is now in the basket of, 'We had it, and we can have it again.' I urge the government to go back to the drawing board on early learning and invest to make big changes needed and ultimately make this essential service accessible, universal and fee free for all families. Until then, we will continue to tinker around the edges.</p>
  • <p>As early childhood education consultant Lisa Bryant wrote in <i>The Guardian</i>recently<i>:</i></p>
  • <p class="italic">&#8230; now would be a really good time for the government to announce that Australia's early education and care system is not fit for purpose, that the funding is still nightmarishly complex and they are going to make a fundamental change to how they are going to fund it.</p>
  • <p class="italic">They need to stop funding parents and start funding services.</p>
  • <p>This would certainly be a good place to start.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sarah Henderson</p>
  • <p>It's my pleasure to rise and speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Improving Assistance for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Families) Bill 2020. I want to start my contribution by noting with some concern the contribution of Senator Faruqi. While Senator Faruqi made a number of statements critical of our government's support for families and for child care, she didn't really reference any facts. We are interested in the facts, and the facts of the matter are that around one million Australian families who are balancing work and parental responsibilities are benefiting from this package. At the moment in this country, Senator Faruqi, 72 per cent of families pay no more than $5 per hour in day care centres. We have monumentally reformed child care in this country, and, of that subset of 72 per cent, Senator Faruqi, 24 per cent pay no more than $2 per hour. We reject the proposition, which the Greens did not speak up about a number of years ago, that families earning $1 million and more were being subsidised on their childcare payments.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Katy Gallagher</p>
  • <p>Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I believe the senator should be making her comments through you rather than them being directed at any particular senator in the chamber.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Amanda Stoker</p>
  • <p>Senator Henderson, please direct your comments through the chair.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Sarah Henderson</p>
  • <p>Through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, I reiterate my concern about the Greens' position and the distortion of the facts. The fact is that this government is providing record funding for child care&#8212;$9.9 billion by 2022-23. Australians listening to that contribution from Senator Faruqi would not actually know that the most disadvantaged families in our country receive a rebate of 85 per cent of their childcare costs.</p>
  • <p>What our government has done is fundamentally change the way families are supported by directing the greatest amount of support to families who need it the most. We reject the proposition that the same level of subsidy should be provided to families earning very high wages. We don't think that's fair. Why is it that the Greens have not addressed this issue? The fact of the matter is that, when the Greens make a contribution on this issue, they should be candid with the Australian people as to what we are doing.</p>
  • <p>As part of our reform of child care, we are also proudly preventing $3 billion of taxpayers' money from being claimed as part of the very strong stance that we have taken against fraudulent behaviour. So I am very proud of the way our government is supporting families and of the way our government is supporting the most disadvantaged families, and that is a fact.</p>
  • <p>Honourable senators interjecting&#8212;</p>
  • <p>It is also regrettable that&#8212;</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Amanda Stoker</p>
  • <p>Senator Brockman on a point of order?</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Slade Brockman</p>
  • <p>Interjections are always disorderly and, from the end of the chamber, we have constant interjections through this second reading contribution from Senator Henderson. I would bring the matter to your attention.</p>
  • <p class="speaker">Amanda Stoker</p>
  • <p>Interjections are disorderly. The senator has the right to be heard in silence. Senator Henderson, please resume.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>