Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Improving Assistance for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Families) Bill 2020
Ms WELLS (Lilley) (16:24): Mr Deputy Speaker Llew O'Brien, it is a real thrill to be able to rise and speak this afternoon on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Improving Assistance for Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Families) Bill 2020, a bill that I think has been listed and deferred six, seven or eight times since it was first tabled in the House. I have sat here six, seven or eight times waiting for the chance to talk about childcare policy in this country, and it just thrills me that you are in the chair when I get this opportunity this afternoon to talk about it.
I also give a big shout-out to all the childcare educators who are still working late on this Friday afternoon as we sit and many of whom will still be working until six, 6.30 or seven o'clock. They work very long, hard hours. They are essential workers. They do some of our country's most important work. All of the data and all of the statistics say that the first five years of children's lives are the most important for the rest of their lives. The PwC review said that, for every dollar that we invest in child care, the country gets $2 back. I would note, when people talk about the cost of child care in this country, that getting $2 back means we're spending less on children's preventive health, less on children's welfare and less on children's justice. We just cannot invest enough in this crucial area both for the wellbeing of our kids and for the economic productivity of our country.
It is disappointing, then, that I rise to speak about a number of small but important amendments this evening rather than any broader vision for the country on child care. I say that because earlier this week the government sent out government senator Gerard Rennick, a patron senator of mine—I give a big shout-out to Senator Rennick—to speak about child care, and do you know what he said? His fresh, modern, forward-thinking, future-oriented approach to child care was to say: 'You know what? One parent should stay at home and one child should stay at home with that parent. That's what the children want.' He said:
Dorothy didn't … say, 'There's no place like child care.' She said, 'There's no place like home.'
It really struck a chord. The fact that the government would send someone out to say that in all seriousness, and that we have to actually address it as colleagues in the Australian parliament, really beggars belief. I think it tells us all we need to know that it is a 1939 movie that Senator Rennick quotes when he talks about his vision for Australian child care moving into the future.
I will note that the amendments that the government has proposed today are good ones. They are important ones to help vulnerable families. They help the childcare centres who support those vulnerable families in reducing their bureaucratic red tape. We support them. We're glad to do it, but we can't let this opportunity pass without noting that there are big and important reforms to go in child care, and this is a missed opportunity to make those reforms. Child care in Brisbane costs an average of around $112 per child per day. The average monthly mortgage in Brisbane is 1,885 bucks, or $62 a day, so it's roughly twice the cost of your mortgage per day to put your child into child care in Brisbane. It is a huge amount of money. Childcare costs, on average, absorb 27 per cent of a household's income, of a family's income, which is on par with about 30 per cent for the average mortgage. It's also risen by 150 per cent in cost since 2001.
I note that the now Prime Minister, then Treasurer, introduced childcare reform packages a few years back, and they were designed to reduce the complexity of the system. That's what they said—that they were simplifying the system, merging two payments into one system. Everyone would be happier with a less complex system. But on 2 April, when the childcare minister announced the COVID-19 response package for the sector, he said, 'Now, this is a very complex system that we're grappling with.' Is it? Didn't you just make changes a few years ago to reduce the complexity of this system? You can't have it both ways.
But I will concede that I agree with the childcare minister on that point: it is a complex system, and parents and centres find it very complex to navigate. We could make it a lot simpler. We could make it free, for example. But, if we're not going to do that, we could at least fund it properly, and that starts by addressing the problems with the COVID revision package. Childcare workers did some of our most essential work during COVID, and they do not deserve to be the first people off the boat when it comes to being kicked off JobKeeper. They deserve our thanks and respect. They deserve better pay and conditions. Instead what they're getting is to be first off the life raft—'See you later, educators.' It is a disgrace. In fact, the government could move an amendment to this bill to fix that problem. I urge them to do it. When they talk about JobKeeper, I'm glad they didn't call it 'promise keeper'. They'd be in a right royal pickle now if they'd called it 'promise keeper', because it is nothing but broken promises, and soon it will be lost jobs as well.
I would note that we've just had an MPI on the construction stimulus package. This is a male dominated sector where the average worker receives far more than the average taxpayer, yet it has received a targeted stimulus package from this government. The childcare sector, 97 per cent dominated by women—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Llew O'Brien ): Order! After you said such nice things to me it's a bit harsh of me to do this, but it is 4.30.