Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Subsidy) Bill 2023

31 May | '2023

As a constructive opposition, we’ve always said that we will assess each of the Albanese government’s proposals on its merits. The Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Subsidy) Bill 2023 seeks to amend the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 to correct administrative errors regarding the way overpayments of the childcare subsidy are recovered by the Commonwealth government. These errors were unintended, and these amendments will ensure the legislation matches up with the policy and practice of recovering childcare subsidy overpayments. The government has assured the coalition that this will not change the way overpayments are collected, and so the coalition will be supporting this bill.

We also understand that the bill will make it easier for providers and of course families to know which debts they may be responsible for, ensuring early childhood education and care providers are responsible for debts incurred by their actions—reporting and maintaining enrolments—and families are responsible for debts incurred by their actions, and income and activity details. The amendments also ensure that providers are not claiming CCS for children who have yet to attend their centre—this is sometimes known as place-holding—or have left the centre with no plans to return.

The federal government spends billions of dollars a year through the CCS. So any measures put in place to protect the integrity of the scheme and to prevent fraud will always be supported by the coalition.

The coalition government’s 2018 reforms to the childcare subsidy were the biggest reforms undertaken in over 40 years. We stand by those reforms. And we stand by our record in government. On our watch, we almost doubled childcare investment to $11 billion and locked in ongoing funding for preschools and kindergartens. We increased access to CCS for more than 1.3 million children from around one million families. We got 280,000 more children into early childhood education. We brought down out-of-pocket costs by 4.6 per cent in the year to June 2022. We saw women’s workforce participation reach record highs, at 62.3 per cent in May 2022, compared to 58.7 per cent when Labor last left office in 2013.

I would also like to take the opportunity to talk more broadly on the early learning sector and to ask the government what they’re doing to ensure that, come 1 July, every family that wants to access ECE can do so. We’ve all seen the Mitchell institute data; we know that over nine million Australians live in a childcare desert. It’s particularly bad in South Australia, where 82 per cent of South Australians are living without access to a centre. We also know, from data released this week by the ACCC, that many families are struggling to get off waitlists and into care, even if they’re registering their children before they are even born.

The coalition supported the Albanese government’s cheaper childcare bill last year. We support additional access to ECE so that families can return to work or study or take on more hours, and, in this current cost-of-living crisis, many families need both parents to work.

But we again raise concerns that we have raised for almost 12 months now: that little is being done to ensure families living in regional, rural and remote Australia have access to ECE equal to those living in our major cities. I’ve visited and spoken with many communities who have no access at all. Tumby Bay is one such community—a beautiful town in South Australia represented by my friend and colleague the member for Grey. There they have no access to ECE at all and an increasing number of new and expectant mothers. There are nurses who cannot return to work in the nearby hospital, so the hospital must fly in nurses from WA. There are teachers who cannot return to work at the local school, which may actually have to close. There are families leaving this beautiful town to go somewhere else because they cannot work and need the income.

This government needs to do more for those families. They deserve access to quality ECE and they shouldn’t be forgotten about just because they live outside the major cities. The regions are the backbone of this country, and it’s time this Albanese government acknowledged that.

We also know that, come 1 July, there’ll be families who cannot access traditional ECE—maybe they work shift work, and so the standard nine to five or sometimes seven to six doesn’t work for them. More needs to be done to support those families who will not benefit from cheaper ECE from 1 July.

The coalition has always believed in choice—choice for you to spend your money, and choice for you in how you raise your family. We want to see more choice and more flexibility in the sector so that all families, no matter where they live or what they do for work, have equal access to early childhood education.

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