Consideration in Detail – Early Childhood Education
24 Nov | '2022
Over the last couple of months I’ve spoken in great detail about the government’s cheaper child care bill, and my colleagues and I have asked hundreds of questions of this government regarding their plan, and we’re still yet to receive any real answers, even though the bill has now passed through all of its processes as of this morning. We’ve spent hours in the chamber, in the Senate inquiry, in Senate estimates and on the floor of the other place trying to get any information at all out of this government on how this policy will deliver for families who need it most. All we’ve learned is that Labor has no real implementation plan, just statements and numbers. Labor has no plan, certainly, to address any of the rising costs or to address the lack of access for families, particularly in regional and remote areas around our country. This bill does not at all address that big problem, a huge problem, for the nine million Australians who live in a childcare desert. There’s no plan to address the current workforce concerns. The coalition have been very strong about outlining exactly how they are going to fix that particular plan. There have been a few grand statements, again, but no actual implementation plan.
Let me be clear: on our side, we believe in choice for families and we believe Australian families should be able to make their own choices for their children in their best interests. We also believe in ensuring that working families who need care can access it. This, of course, is a big problem for many of my National Party colleagues who live in regional and remote Australia, which is why the opposition has not opposed this bill. I’ll repeat that for the benefit of the Prime Minister who, when the bill was introduced to the parliament, didn’t quite hear— perhaps he misheard, like the Treasurer—or didn’t quite acknowledge or understand what I said at the dispatch box, which was that the opposition will not oppose this bill and will not stand in the way of any additional support for working families, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have very real concerns that the costs will blow out and that it won’t deliver what the government has promised, because they simply haven’t done the work around this bill.
The coalition does have a strong record when it comes to delivering access for families. Under our government, there were 280,000 more children accessing early childhood education. Under Labor’s policy, there’s a huge concern from many in the sector that there are not enough places for the additional children that may flood the system on 1 July next year. As I said, nine million Australians live in a childcare desert. That is nine million Australians who, if they have a child, will not be better off under this policy because they can’t access care through this bill. It makes perfect sense to us on this side. They can’t access one extra place. We’ve asked the government time and again what their plan is to address these concerns and increase access in those areas, and they’ve come back with nothing—zero. It’s $4.7 billion in taxpayer money, and not one extra place has been created for Australian families. This is disappointing news.
They’ve pointed to the Community Child Care Fund on a number of occasions, but there is no funding for the next grant round in the October budget, nor is there any information on when the next round will open, except ‘shortly’. So we’ve asked the government how many more educators will be needed in the sector to meet the increased influx of children from 1 July. Again, there has been no answer—just waffling speeches about TAFE and university places. Out-of-pocket childcare costs came down 4.6 per cent in the year to June 2022, thanks to the changes we made when we were in government. In contrast, Labor has, of course, always believed that your money is their money. But Labor have changed the price tag of this policy, and this is where I come to my question. The price tag has changed five times now. First, it was $5.4 billion, then it went to $5.1 billion and then it was $4.5 billion. Now they’ve settled on $4.7 billion, and I read in a story in the media yesterday by the minister that it was $5 billion. So I ask the minister: Which is it? What is the price tag on this policy? Is it likely to blow out? Is it likely to bring down costs for families around Australia? Has the government done the modelling on that? I ask that because Labor, as we know, do the bare minimum when it comes to any work on these grand ideas that they have—no GDP modelling, no attendance or behavioural change modelling. Again, we’ve heard nothing from this government. So I ask: With no real plan to implement this policy, how can you expect to deliver on all the promises you made to Australian families before the last election? What is the actual cost of this policy to the budget?