6 Feb | '2023
The member for Bean talks a big game, which of course is a prerequisite of being a Labor Party member these days because Labor just loves to talk about how great they are and how great their policies are and how everything will be better under Labor. It’s a rosy picture. Labor loves to sell the Australian people a fantasy, usually too good to be true, and we know that things that are too good to be true usually are. When I look at this government’s early childhood education policy, that’s what I see. When they come into government, they realise that they have to make all that fantasy a reality, and then they panic because they simply don’t actually have a plan to deliver it. There’s a lack of plan, a fantasy with no detail and no real plan for delivery.
This government has been full of sweeping statements. Here are just a couple of them: ‘No family will be worse off.’ ‘Fees won’t increase’—now there’s a promise I’m going to hold them to! ‘This policy won’t have an effect on inflation.’ What are we seeing with inflation, people? Up it goes. ‘We’ll have enough workers in the sector to meet demand.’ But they haven’t done the work. They haven’t done any work to back up any of those statements.
I ask the government where the plan is to deliver additional access for families living in childcare deserts? There are nine million of them across the country, and what is the government doing to ensure that those families can access early childhood education? Well, don’t worry. That was a rhetorical question because we know what the answer is and it is that they are doing nothing. Those nine million Australians simply don’t have extra access under this legislation.
What is the government doing to address the rising costs? Well, the latest CPI data shows costs increasing by a whopping 4.5 per cent in December 2022. That’s the largest quarterly increase outside the reversal of COVID measures since 2007. Already we’ve seen CPI going through the roof.
Fees are going up. One major provider announced that they would increase their fees last month, and it’s only a matter of time before other providers follow suit. We know what that means. That means that a lot of this money that’s coming through—$4.7 billion in July—could be lost simply to price rises and to inflation. How will the government ensure that, come July this year, families aren’t immediately—due to those price rises—losing a portion of their higher subsidy to those increased fees? They can’t guarantee it, because it’s already happening. That’s another rhetorical question because they just don’t have a plan for that either. They’ve got the ACCC doing a review of the sector, but that’s not due to report back until the end of the year, which means they won’t do anything to address those rising fees until perhaps next year, 2024.
While we’re here asking for details, I’m sure that educators across the country would really love to know what the government’s plan is to address their very real concerns. I’ve been speaking with educators, as I do, and they’re tired, they’re overworked and they’re feeling underappreciated. What is the government doing to support them? Again, it’s a rhetorical question. The answer is: nothing. They will point to fee-free TAFE places and university courses, but that doesn’t help educators in the sector right here and right now, doing a job that will only get more stressful come July when more families try to enrol their children. I was at a childcare centre in my electorate just at the end of last week. It’s a brand new childcare centre. It’s huge—massive—and it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. They have over 400 people on the waiting list right now. Is this $4.7 billion package going to help them to shorten that waiting list? I don’t think so. The government doesn’t have a plan to address access and it doesn’t have a plan to address rising costs, and there’s no plan to address the educator concerns. It’s hard to see how this policy is going to deliver all the things that the government, again, has promised it will.
We in the coalition have a strong record when it comes to delivering for Australian families. During our time in government, we doubled investment in the ECE sector, to $11 billion in 2022-23. We also did something Labor never did: we delivered ongoing preschool funding. We undertook the biggest reforms to the childcare system in over 40 years. We provided more support to families—targeted support that helped bring down the cost of care—and 280,000 more children were able to access early childhood education. That’s more places. We saw women’s workforce participation reach record highs at 62.3 per cent. Under Labor, when they left office last time— (Time expired)