Motion – Childcare

29 Nov | '2022

I move that the motion relating to childcare in the terms in which it appears on the notice paper.

The coalition has a strong record when it comes to delivering for Australians. During our time in government, we doubled investment in the early childhood education sector to $11 billion in 2022-23, and we also did something that Labor never did and that is delivering ongoing preschool funding. We locked in a four year preschool reform agreement with states and territories which drives greater participation, especially for Indigenous and disadvantaged children. We undertook the biggest reforms to the childcare system in over 40 years, replacing a complex system with one which was better targeted and measured and which provided more support to families. Under the coalition, 280,000 more children were able to access early childhood education. We abolished the annual cap on the childcare subsidy and, since March of this year, we provided a higher subsidy for up to 95 per cent of families with multiple children. This targeted support also helped to bring down the cost of care, with June 2022 CPI data showing that childcare costs decreased by 4.6 per cent.

When COVID hit, many industries, including the ECEC sector, were hit hard, and our $3.2 billion investment in the ECEC sector throughout the pandemic kept services viable and educators employed. This funding also ensured that families could continue to access care, preventing sector collapse and keeping services open, especially for vulnerable children and children of essential workers. This included three months of free child care during 2020, the waiving of gap fees in COVID related instances, and the increased number of allowable absences days from 42 to 52. We saw women’s workforce participation reach record highs at 62.3 per cent when we left government in May 2022, compared to 58.7 per cent when Labor left office.

I’m proud of our record in this space, as we should be, but I’m also concerned for the future of the sector under this Albanese government because we had a plan—a good plan—and it’s clear from what we’ve seen that this government doesn’t have one. This government has no plan to address rising costs, no plan to address the lack of access and no plan to address current workforce concerns. This government has been full of sweeping statements:

‘No family will be worse off. Fees won’t increase. This policy won’t have an effect on inflation. We’ll have enough workers in the sector to meet demand.’ These are all sweeping statements, but they haven’t done any of the work to back up those statements. The opposition and many others in this place are very, very concerned about this policy. We’re concerned that there are not enough places for the additional children that may flood the system after 1 July next year and we’re concerned that nine million Australians currently live in a childcare desert. That’s nine million Australians who, if they have a child, will not be better off under this policy because they can’t access care to begin with. Time and time again, we’ve asked about Labor’s plan to address access issues, and they’ve provided simply nothing. We’re also concerned about how educators will meet the increased influx of children from 1 July.

Goodstart Early Learning says there are 7,200 current vacancies in the sector; some believe that to be under-represented and that there could be up to 20,000. That is a huge number, yet the government has no plans to fill those gaps and get new educators into the sector by 1 July. The last time Labor was in government, childcare fees skyrocketed by 53 per cent in six years. We brought costs down, but, with fee increases expected, it’s likely that some of the additional subsidies will be eroded, leaving families worse off. Labor’s policy is full of empty promises and baseless statements, something I’m sure the 2024 review will shine a light on. The coalition wants to see the government do more to address concerns raised by educators, by the sector and, of course, by families. We want to see more done in terms of access in regional Australia in those communities that are doing it tough and those communities that currently don’t have access to early learning centres. There is no infrastructure in some of those communities in regional and remote Australia, and we want to see that improved, particularly when there is $4.7 billion being invested in the sector.

We want to see a plan that will increase access and a plan to increase the pipeline of educators and retain them in the sector. Otherwise this policy will not deliver on the promises that they’ve sold to Australians, leaving many children and families and the sector much worse off. So we need more access. There is $4.7 billion but not one extra place from this government. We want to see greater access for families across the country, and we want to see infrastructure investment in more centres around the country so that more families can get back into work and send their kids to child care.

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