TUESDAY, 22 JULY 2014
KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD: It’s fantastic to be here at MacKinnon Parade Children’s Centre with Nikki and her amazing team of educators who do such a great job day in and day out with Australia’s children. Today of course we have seen the draft report of the Productivity Commission into, their inquiry into the future of child care and early learning in this country. We have seen in it the many broad ranging recommendations, we have seen about 900 pages of the report.
But there is only one thing in this report that we can be certain of, and that is that Tony Abbott has guaranteed that there will not be an extra dollar to fund any of the recommendations in this report. What that means is that any of these recommendations about funding nannies, about extending subsidies, about unlimited in-home care, can only be funded by cutting the existing child care support that Australian parents currently rely upon. I know that there are many parents out there that would be deeply disturbed to know that their existing child care subsidies could be under attack. But that is the one thing that this Government have guaranteed.
We also know that Tony Abbott has form when it comes to cutting child care, we have now seen over a billion dollars in cuts to child care announced by this government and we do not want this report to be an alibi for just more cuts to child care by the Abbott Government. We’ve seen a billion dollars in cuts from out-of-school-hours care to family day care to cuts to the Child Care Rebate. And as we speak this Government have legislation before the parliament that would, for the first time, cut the Child Care Benefit that low and middle income families rely upon in Australia.
Tony Abbott has commissioned this report because he wants Australians to think that he cares about child care affordability. If he really cared he could demonstrate it today and announce that he will abandon his attempts to cut the child care support that is currently before the Australian Parliament. This would be a very important first step, because otherwise we know that this Government is just all talk, and the only thing they actually do is cut the support that Australian families rely upon.
I also want to make clear that there are some deep concerns about recommendations around watering down the quality of early childhood education and care that Australian children deserve each and every day. There are recommendations around watering down qualifications and ratios. We need to make sure that we recognise that all of the research is conclusive. We know that the first five years of a child’s life are where 90% of brain development occurs. We know that they will have an impact throughout that child’s life and we know that Australian children deserve quality care. We should not be walking away from that.
This Productivity Commission report contains many recommendations, of course they should be studied, they should be debated and they should be responded to appropriately, but this Productivity Commission report must not be used as just an alibi for more of Tony Abbott’s cuts to child care.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about means-testing when it comes to rebates?
ELLIS: Well we saw before the election that the Government was prepared to comprehensively promise the Australian people that they would not means-test the Child Care Rebate. We see today that they’re backing away from that promise, and I think Australians are right to question whether this is just another broken promise from this Prime Minister who has such a track record.
Now of course we all acknowledge that we need to take a closer look at each one of these recommendations, but we also need more information and we need appropriate modelling to see just what sort of impact that this is going to have on workforce participation.
Of course the other thing that is important about today’s report is that the Productivity Commission has now joined with the army of critics who have called the Prime Minister’s Paid Parental Leave scheme out for the dud that it is. Is has said that through investing over $20 billion in the PM’s signature PPL Scheme is not the way to boost workforce participation, that we need to actually look at ways that we can assist Australian families in the most meaningful way and that is not through the policy that the Prime Minister has put forward.
JOURNALIST: The Government says that the previous Government left the system at breaking point, in crisis, and that their hands were tied.
ELLIS: Look the Government likes to play politics with everything that comes before them. We’re really proud that we acted to increase support to make child care more affordable, that we lifted the quality of early childhood education and care in Australia, and that we looked at ways that we could make it more accessible. But I for one am not going to say that we shouldn’t constantly be looking at improvements to the system, of course we should, and of course we should be considering the recommendations of the Productivity Commission report.
But I would say that if the Government wanted to stop playing politics for a minute and actually get serious about action, they could demonstrate it today, announce that they are dropping their cuts to the Child Care Benefit or all of this is just a mirage that is put out there to make it look like this Government is doing something other than just cutting the support families rely upon.
JOURNALIST: Where does this report leave middle-income families?
ELLIS: Well I think that there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered when it comes to this report and I think that we do need to see serious modelling to have a look at the impact that this would have on people at a low-income, at a middle-income and at a higher income. The Government has said as recently as today that they want child care to be more affordable for all Australians. I think some serious inquiry is going to be looking at these recommendations to see whether they’re the way to get there or not, but we’ll work through that.
JOURNALIST: But do you think they’ll be worse off, middle-income families?
ELLIS: What we do know is that there is no magic pudding, either the Government funds support or it comes out of parent’s pockets, and they need to outline which one they think is appropriate. There is no way that you can make child care more affordable for parents at the same time as you are cutting the ongoing support and subsidies that they rely upon. So it doesn’t add up at the moment.
The important thing about the model that’s being put forward today is that it suggests that the Government will fund some of the cost of that child care place directly to the centre, but that any additional profit, any additional part of that fee that the Government does not cover will come out of the pockets of parents. This needs to be really closely examined because what nobody wants is to find that parents are worse off because the Government has cut their existing child care support, introduced new support for nannies and at the same time dampened quality of the care and education that every Australian child is receiving.
JOURNALIST: So you’re not open to less formally schooled care being supported by the Government?
ELLIS: As I said, we want to go through properly this 900 page report, we want to consult, we want to see more modelling and obviously we want to see the final report of the Productivity Commission report when it comes out. I’m not interested in just ruling things out because it’s come from a report that the Government commissioned.
The Government can play politics, what we’re interested in doing is constantly finding ways that we can make early childhood education and care more affordable, more accessible, but of higher quality. And we will be going through and assessing each one of these recommendations to see whether or not they do it.
If the Government were fair dinkum about helping Australian parents when it came to child care though, they wouldn’t just be commissioning fancy reports, they would be dropping their plans to cut over a billion dollars of existing child care support.