Employment and Workplace Relations – Consideration in Detail

14 Jun | '2023

Those on the other side of the chamber should be ashamed of themselves that their cabinet ministers are not here in attendance today. Under the last coalition government, cabinet ministers—the education minister was in this chamber for consideration in detail. It shows the arrogance and hubris coming out of the Albanese government that those cabinet ministers are not here for the consideration in detail before us as well. It’s an absolute disgrace.

It’s been 12 months since the Albanese government came to power. Unlike the Prime Minister’s repeated promises, I haven’t actually met an Australian—especially in my electorate of Moncrieff, on the Gold Coast—who is better off under this government. They keep saying it, but it’s not actually true. Electricity bills have skyrocketed. Grocery and petrol costs have increased substantially. The cost of sending your children to early childhood education has increased. We just heard a bit of a spray there from the member for Macarthur. He’s talking about how children have equal access and how there are 900 children on a waiting list in one centre. That’s right: waiting lists are growing around the country. I have centres in my own electorate where there are waiting lists of 400 children.

Coming out of Melbourne now is news that Victorian families are being turned away from child care because of critical staff shortages, with demand for spots higher than ever. A survey has found two-thirds of centres had to cap placements earlier this year. Centres are actually capping their placements and their enrolments. What is coming out of this Albanese government about early childhood education is simply not what’s happening across the sector. The last time Labor was in government, the fees increased by 53 per cent in just six years. Out-of-pocket costs have already increased in the last six months—that’s half the time they’ve been in government—by 6.5 per cent. We’re seeing this increase all the time. This means their lack of management of inflation has now put at risk the $4.7 billion bill that they put forward for cheaper childcare for families across the nation. That will not come to fruition, because it will all be wasted. Centres will put their prices up, which we’re seeing, and cap their enrolments because they don’t have the educators. Families will lose that subsidy. If you’re a family living in a thin market or a childcare desert, stuck on a waiting list, with no early learning centre in your area, you’ll be in exactly the same position come 1 July. I asked the minister: will you commit to Australian families that fees will not increase and that children actually will be able to have access in regional and remote areas in particular around the country?

The government have no idea what they’re doing. They have no real plan when it comes to the early childhood education sector. We can see that from their 2023-24 budget, which contained pretty much rats and mice for the sector and nothing to address the increasing number of concerns that are being raised weekly with me. Sure, there’s a $72.4 million package for educators to receive training, but it’s for only 80,000 places. There are over 200,000 educators in the sector right now and, as I meet with them and have roundtables across each of the states, they’re telling me that they’re under great pressure. It will basically be a lucky dip for who gets to undertake further training and who doesn’t. It’s a bit of a slap in the face for educators who work tirelessly to look after our children.

If the government is so committed to supporting educators—and we know they love to use them when they stand up at a centre every other day for those media opportunities, always in the cities, never in the regions, possibly because there’s such a lack of infrastructure that there’s nowhere to go to do a presser on early childhood education. They need to start building some centres in some of the areas.

While we’re on this topic: given there’s such a shortage of educators in the sector, how are centres going to be able to backfill and allow their staff to go participate in training? Where are they going to get the staff to do that? They won’t be able to get them. This package promises opportunity, but, with the workforce to backfill, educators will simply be stuck—especially those, as I said, living in regional and rural communities where there are no educators to spare, because Labor simply don’t care about regional Australia. They don’t care about remote Australia. There will not be one extra new place in regional and remote Australia for families that need to put their children into early childhood education. Those on the other side have always failed to understand that regional communities are the backbone of this country.

I have a few more questions. What about families who don’t work the traditional nine-to-five hours? What are they going to do for those families? What is the government doing for them? Minister, I ask you what the government is doing for families that cannot access— (Time expired)

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