Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill 2022

SECOND READING DEBATE - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

It's an absolute pleasure to rise today to speak on the resumption of debate for the second reading for the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill 2022. It is an absolute pleasure because for nine years in this place my colleagues and I, on this side of the House now, called for dramatic change to child care to ensure that families in electorates like mine, in electorates like the member for Canberra's, could have the economic reform that would not just see child care provided better on the ground in our electorates and for our communities but would see a structural change that would mean improvement in gender equity and improvement in retirement incomes for women. The economic reform that is in front of us inside this bill has implications across decades. It is good for families, it is good for women, it is good for children, and it is good for the economy.

I stand here representing the seat that has the highest number of children in early childhood care and education in the country. There are 10,800 families in my electorate for whom this is excellent news. It's also cost-of living action from this government that they can bank on that will save 10,800 families in my electorate. It's an extraordinary piece of legislation and a well thought out piece of legislation. It's a policy that addresses so many things, because it was developed thoughtfully by this government to impact on the economy, to make people's lives better and to ensure that we're talking about not just care for children but also quality education for children and the kind of interventions that we know are necessary for our youngest to be given the best start in life.

It's an extraordinary day, and in my electorate early education and care takes various forms. Lots of families access family day care, and I've stood in this place many times across the last nine years to talk about the impacts of the former government's policies on that sector—pre-COVID, let alone during COVID. It's about the families who are accessing long day care through the hundreds of early learning and childcare centres in my electorate. Like most people on this side, I want to pay some homage to the people in my community who are working in this sector. It's a place that I visit often and, as an educator—having originally trained in and, for most of the decades I worked in education, worked at the secondary school level—my admiration for people working in the early years, as you can imagine, is extraordinary. Year 9s may take some work to engage, but they don't quite require the same levels of patience. I pay tribute to those workers, and not just for the care, for the nurturing, for the scraped knees and for working through with children how to play together and work together—not just for the things we all think of when we think about early education and care—but also for the planning that goes into ensuring every child in that centre is reaching their milestones. I thank them for the training that they've been doing in early education to ensure that they have the skills required to keep this sector going. I thank them, most importantly, for their work across the pandemic, when uncertainty didn't stop them from delivering for my local families and families across the country.

This is a cost-of-living measure, it's an economic reform, and it also has some really important points to note. It puts measures in place that will deter fraud, something that has plagued this sector and that we've seen headlines about. It's this government that's going to put in place things to ensure that the public perception of the sector improves. People will have assurance that those people in this sector who are acting against the best interests of our community will be stopped in their tracks.

It's also a really important piece of legislation because it supports First Nations children. It will provide additional support to First Nations children and families in accessing early childhood education and care. It will help close the gap in educational outcomes for First Nations children. Importantly, the bill provides 36 hours of subsidised early education and care a fortnight, regardless of activity level. This is absolutely critical to ensure that First Nations children can access early education and care, regardless of what's happening at home. This is important because in 2021 the Closing the Gap target to increase the proportion of First Nations children assessed as developmentally on track went backwards for the first time, and we need to turn this around. I note the shadow minister made the point that, in terms of children attending preschool, there have been improvements, but this is where the rubber hits the road. The proportion assessed as being developmentally on track went backwards. That's what early educators do every day—they are not just making sure that the children in their care are happy.

They're doing more than making sure they are learning how to play. They're doing more than ensuring that they've had their lunch, their morning tea and perhaps their evening meal—in my electorate it's often the case that the children of shift workers are being looked after into late hours. They're doing much more than that. They're monitoring how far children are from milestones. They're putting steps in place to ensure that children reach those milestones, and, where children fall behind, they're working to ensure that they pick up that pace. This is extraordinary work. I don't think I'll be the only person in the chamber today to say it's extraordinary work— and work that should be paid more rather than less.

We heard the Prime Minister earlier say that this legislation will remove a structural disincentive for women to return to work for longer hours. The estimate is that this legislation could, in fact, create 36,000 effective full-time workers for this country. This is incredible structural reform that we are looking at here, and it is work that those opposite ignored; chose not to do. Let's face it: most of these aspects were in the public domain while those opposite were in government. They chose to ignore it. In fact, they chose to bring in legislation that supported people with multiple children but left out out-of-school-hours care. Everyone knows that you can be a mum working full time while your youngsters are in long day care and then have to hit the brakes because once they start school you are not getting support for out-of-school-hours care. So people actually work less sometimes when their child starts school. But those opposite chose to completely ignore out-of-school-hours care in the last piece of legislation they brought into this chamber—an extraordinary oversight; an oversight that was pointed out to them when we were in opposition, and they still chose not to change it and not to amend it.

I welcome hearing from the shadow minister that those opposite will support the legislation. I absolutely welcome them to walk into this chamber and vote for this legislation, because it is good policy, because it is good economics, because it is going to remove structural disincentives that are preventing women from earning as much as they could be and having that balance of being able to earn and look after their families. It's going to mean that women can make choices to ensure that their superannuation is building and growing at a higher rate. It has long been said by women in my family that husbands are not a superannuation package. I lived this firsthand in my family, having lost my father when I was in primary school. I watched my mum struggle on a single-parent pension with eight children from that day.

In this country, we need women to earn their own living to ensure they can keep a roof over their own heads and their children's heads. This legislation goes some way to ensuring that, if you are a single parent, you are not going to be disadvantaged by a childcare system. It fixes the structural disadvantage. It supports families across the country. It supports our early learners. It supports the sector that we owe such a debt of gratitude to for their work during the pandemic and who were left abandoned twice by the then government during the pandemic without assurances, and who were left to tell families that they would not be able to attend, because they had gone past the number of days they could miss. Every time the former government played catch-up in that space, they hurt families in my community and they hurt this sector in my community. They actually risked people leaving the sector in a community like mine, where 11,000 families access early learning.

I welcome this legislation. I can't wait for it to pass the parliament. I can't wait for it to come into law. It's budget day and this is great legislation that makes great economic sense as well as great educational sense. It really is a piece of work that I want to congratulate and commend the Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister Aly, for her work in this space. Of course, I pay tribute to the member for Kingston for the work she did in this space across so many years, with support from many of us on this side of the chamber. And I pay tribute to those who worked in this space prior to that: the former member for Adelaide, who, on the day I became a member of parliament, began conversations with me about early education and child care in my community, and who was so versed in it.

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