Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (1:12 PM) -I rise to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010. This bill comes at a difficult time for Australian families. They can only be feeling profoundly disappointed at the failures of this government to support them and their families, given promise after promise that was made before and since the last election. The general report card on the government is pretty poor. Before the last election, the commitment was to high-quality, affordable child care and universal access to early childhood education. The actual impact of the government’s policies has been to reduce the government’s financial assistance for child care and increase costs for both child care and early childhood education.
Let us have a look at some of the promises that have gone absent without leave-and many of these were canvassed at the recent Senate estimates. The commitment to 260 new childcare centres was quietly withdrawn in April this year-coincidentally, on the same day as the Melbourne Storm salary cap debacle erupted in the media-and it was buried on the second page of a ministerial press release with no indication in the heading of the press release as to what the most profound part of that press release was. We always look to the second page of the press release for the key announcement, don’t we, Mr Acting Deputy President? The upshot of that press release was that 222 childcare centres will now not be proceeding. After all of the excitable claims about ending the double drop-off, which we heard time and again before the last election, that was not to be. That is another promise not met, amid suggestions of supply issues, which is one thing if you live, as many constituents obviously do, in outer metropolitan areas but another thing altogether if you are fighting for an affordable space for your child in inner city Sydney or Melbourne.
Rural childcare centres that operate on a part-time basis are also under threat. Minister Ellis will only guarantees six months accreditation, which it virtually impossible to employ staff or to start new services. If you are a parent looking for childcare services, your choices will now also be reduced with the removal of the government’s start-up funding for family day care and remote area day care. Clearly, reduced numbers of small business people, particularly women, will be able to start this home based service without the grant; so families who want to opt for the alternative, and often cheaper, family day care will face further shortages of places from 1 July 2010. The government has also cut funding for occasional care. This is an essential service for parents wanting emergency child care or access to a playgroup. Even the after school community program will cease operation from the end of this year. All of these decisions have a cumulative effect on the choices and abilities of parents to find good reliable care for their children so women can maximise their participation in the workforce.
In the recent budget a raft of supposed savings were announced. These included a reduction in the childcare rebate cap by $278 per year for the next four years, which is contained in the bill before us at the moment. This comes at a time when the new quality agenda is also expected to push up daily fees and reduce the number of childcare places. This will significantly increase the cost of child care. Clearly, the new national quality agenda means that additional staff with higher qualifications will be required. Parents will face extra daily costs of between $13 and $22 for babies and toddlers in care.
In relation to the budget decision in this bill, the new capped limit is cut to $7,500, which is reached as soon as child care costs hit $15,000. This will not be indexed for years. Full-time care over 48 weeks per year at just under $70 a day would reach this limit. Parents of babies and toddlers who pay higher fees because of higher staff ratios will be hardest hit. Three days of care a week at $125 a day, which is not uncommon for baby and toddler care in high-demand city centres, would cost $18,000 a year. Parents would be $10½ thousand out of pocket.
I have already referred to estimates by Childcare Alliance Australia that fee increases of between $13 and $22 a day will be necessary from next year to cover the small staff ratios and higher staff qualifications required of centres to meet the national quality standard reforms. It is worth noting that, in a survey by the Daily Telegraph in Sydney in March, parents were found to be paying an average of $100 a day for toddler child care in Sydney’s CBD.
Labor is selling this rebate cut on the basis that it will only affect three per cent of working families receiving CCR and that these families are wealthy. This is not a realistic assessment. The reality is that parents all over the country are reassessing whether they can afford good quality child care or the number of days of care per week now used. There is a direct relationship between affordable child care and the number of hours that parents, especially women, can work. The finance minister’s claim that these reductions are ‘just a bit of a haircut’ shows how removed from reality the government is.
Parents and the childcare sector have every right to feel let down by this government. The government has attempted to justify the CCR reduction by claiming that the savings of $86.3 million over four years will instead assist in paying for the national quality reforms agenda. But, again, we know from the budget papers and Senate estimates that the government is spending some $100 million on administration and red tape and $120 million on advertising. This is not ‘a haircut’; it is an insult to Australia’s working families.