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senate vote 2020-08-26#2

Edited by mackay staff

on 2021-05-07 14:55:59


  • 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">Helen Polley</p>
  • <p>I rise to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Improving Assistance for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Families) Bill 2020. This legislation makes further changes to the government's new childcare system to remove design flaws that have placed significant administrative burdens on at-risk families and early learning providers.</p>
  • <p>The additional childcare subsidy (child wellbeing) is a payment for at-risk and vulnerable families who need support with the cost of child care to support the child's participation in early learning. These children are typically at risk of child protection and child safety issues. Families who receive the ACCS (child wellbeing) payment are exempt from the activities test. Providers receive a subsidy equal to the actual fee charged by the service, up to 120 per cent of the CSS hourly fee cap. Therefore, almost all children receiving the ACCS (child wellbeing) receive free early learning.</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>Before I speak in greater detail regarding this bill, I want to pay tribute to all our wonderful teachers and teachers' assistants, social workers, speech pathologists, principals and educators across my home state of Tasmania and Australia. COVID-19 presented many challenges within our communities. The significant pressure it placed on our educators and educational institutions should not be underestimated. But in the true spirit of Australian grit, resilience and passion, the education sector rose to the challenge. For weeks, teachers adapted to this situation as learning occurred from home and then via technology for many students. We know that our teachers are the bedrock of our children's future, and they really did rise to the challenge during this crisis. All Tasmanians thank our teachers and all educators.</p>
  • <p>Now to the substance of this bill. The additional childcare subsidy (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 is crucial that governments at all levels, especially the federal government, treat this program with the sensitivity it deserves and ensure families and providers are not overly burdened with red tape.</p>
  • <p>The Liberal government introduced a number of new requirements and rules that restricted access to the additional childcare subsidy in July 2018. This third-term Liberal government likes to bang the drum about cutting red tape. It is one of the media releases they put out on a 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 a massive 21 per cent. These numbers have since recovered to pre-July 2018 levels, but only after significant efforts and use of resources by providers. When asked in the Senate estimates at the beginning of the year if the department was concerned about the drop, they admitted they weren't, and also confessed they weren't even tracking if families had dropped out of the system. This is the kind of government those opposite believe is fit and proper. That isn't good governance by any stretch of the imagination or by any standard.</p>
  • <p>What are stakeholders' views regarding this? I am sure many people will be asking. The Early Learning and Care Council of Australia, Early Childhood Australia and Goodstart all called on the government to fix the red tape restrictions on the ACCS. What did the government do? Did they listen? Of course not, because the government are arrogant. Their born-to-rule mentality means they simply ignored the views of the sector. They ignored the views of those working in this important sector.</p>
  • <p>Of course, we on this side of the chamber will support these changes because they do fix some of the design flaws in the new system and will help get vulnerable children the support that they need. However, I emphasise the word 'some'. The government's childcare system still has many other serious flaws. This is a system that leaves one in four families worse off. It's a design feature that access to early education and care has been reduced for 279,000 families. It is a system in relation to which only 40 per cent of providers and 41 per cent of families told independent evaluation reviewers that it had resulted in positive change. Eighty-three per cent of parents told the reviewers that the system had made no impact on their work and 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 activities and means tests. It is a system that is riddled with software glitches that have left providers and families in the dark and staff without pay. I'm sure many people can recall that the system is known for sending 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 the new system is too complex and not working for families.</p>
  • <p>Childcare fees are already out of control in the new system. The latest CPI figures show childcare costs increased by 1.9 per cent in the December quarter&#8212;the fourth successive increase&#8212;and have gone up by 7.2 per cent in the past 12 months. Before COVID-19, fees were up 34 per cent under the Liberal government. Families were paying, on average, $3,800 a year more for early education and care under this government. The government were very confident that their new system would 'put downward pressure on fees' and that it was 'driving down the cost of child care'. The minister was keen to spruik a new website as the 'game changer' for families and told families to shop around, but fewer than half of providers are providing accurate fee information to the website. You don't hear the minister making these claims anymore. Let's be frank: who knows how the government are going to treat child care once the COVID pandemic passes? I really do hope they don't toss the sector aside and treat it with the disdain it became accustomed to in the past.</p>
  • <p>Like in every other portfolio, the government have absolutely no idea, no plan, for bringing fees under control. The Minister for Education claims taxpayer funding of early education and care is communal, yet during COVID-19 the government were willing to support free child care for all families. The Prime Minister calls the childcare budget a 'money pit'&#8212;his words, not mine, and not the words of anyone on this side of the chamber. We on this side of the chamber are waiting, as are the Australian people, to see how this government treats our childcare system in a post-COVID-19 country. I, like so many other families that are relying on early childhood education and child care, hope that it is treated better, that they have respect for those families, that they respect the sector, that they respect the early educators in this country and that they support these families. As we know, this particular scheme is there for vulnerable children and for their families. This government needs to demonstrate that it has respect, not just words, for the sector, that it is not just trying to spin a story but is actually there to support and encourage the early educators and give the support that the mums and dads and the children in this country so richly deserve.</p>
  • <p class='motion-notice motion-notice-truncated'>Long debate text truncated.</p>