SUNDAY, 28 DECEMBER 2014
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD, KATE ELLIS: Before the last election Tony Abbott promised every Australian family that child care would be made more affordable. But of course now today we see that there are unexpected price hikes that will see fees continue to explode up until 2018.
We know that the Government have been keeping secret figures of how much parents out-of-pocket costs are paying and now we see the reason why. Because we see a $2.4 billion explosion in the child care budget over the next four years. We see price rises of over 30 per cent to hit the hip pocket of Australian families and we see a Government that has no solutions and won't even front up and admit the problem.
If Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison really care at all about the pressures Australian child care is placing on families, the first thing they'll do today is reverse the billion dollars in cuts that they have already announced immediately. When it comes to Australian child care, this is a Government that promised to be all things to all people, but we see that this is just yet another broken promise, another lie from Tony Abbott, when he promised Australian public one thing and he's doing quite the opposite - slugging them with higher child care fees.
Just on one other matter before we move over, I just wanted to briefly make some comments about Joe Hockey's recent GST announcements and that he is looking for ways to come up with a more generous arrangement for Western Australia. South Australia has been sold out by this Federal Government too many times. What we have seen is a distinct lack of leadership from our highest ranking South Australian Liberal, Christopher Pyne, who should today come out and guarantee that South Australia will be left no worse off as a result of the Government's changes to the GST. What we do know is that the Government promised on multiple occasions before the last election that there would be no changes to the GST. We know that the only way that they can make more generous arrangements for Western Australia is to leave other States and Territories worse off, and on these occasions too many times we've seen that it is South Australia in the firing line. My South Australian Labor colleagues and I will be standing up for our State. All we are hearing is silence from the South Australian Liberals and we've heard too much of it.
JOURNALIST: Could this make childcare unaffordable for some families?
ELLIS: We know that there are many families who are already struggling with the costs. If you increase fees by 30 per cent, at the same time that this Government is cutting $1 billion in assistance from the child care system, you will push some people out of the sector and you will have a significant impact on workforce participation.
JOURNALIST: These figures about the 30 per cent increase in child care costs come from Education Department figures released in July. Is there anything to suggest that since then the figures could be even worse?
ELLIS: Unfortunately, there is. Figures released in July based on the Budget information showed 30 per cent increases to child care fees. Since then, in the mini-budget released last week by the Treasurer, we've seen a further $2.4 billion blow-out in the child care budget which they have put down to, and I quote, ‘unexpected price increases.’ What this means is that Australian parents will be hit by more than 30 per cent price increases. The situation is worse than the Government thought it would be even earlier this year when they released their Budget, yet, we have seen no solutions, no possibilities and they are yet to release the Productivity Commission inquiry into child care.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree that the current child care system or the way in which it is all organised is a bit unsustainable?
ELLIS: I think we would all support reform of our child care system to improve access, affordability and quality of the sector. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any solutions from this Government. All we've seen is empty pre-election promises and now we're seeing huge price increases whilst they try and cover-up the full extent that Australians are paying. We need to be really clear that the previous Labor Government would regularly release the information of how much out-of-pocket costs Australian parents were paying. This Government have refused to do that and today it becomes very clear just why.
JOURNALIST: What reform is needed, you can elaborate how it should be changed?
ELLIS: The very first reform that Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison should announce is that they are reversing the $1 billion they've cut from the sector. They should release the Productivity Commission's inquiry into the Australian child care sector so we can all have an informed debate about the way forward. What we do know is that Australian families are hurting with cost of living pressures and that this Government is making it worse. We do know that the child care fees are expected to rise by over 30 per cent and that that's going to have significant impacts on Australian families and their decisions about re-entering the workforce.
JOURNALIST: When it comes to the possibility of means testing the Child Care Rebate, where do you stand on that?
ELLIS: We haven't seen any responses from the Government on this issue, but beyond that, we are yet to actually see the Productivity Commission's recommendations. The first step is we are calling on the Government to release this report. They've now had it for many weeks and we need to have an informed debate about the way forward for the child care sector. The Government claimed that they would come up with the answers by commissioning the Productivity Commission to undertake a report. The first step is to release that report and then we'll be commenting on its findings.
JOURNALIST: A few days before Christmas Joe Hockey mentioned the idea of a families package and the possibility of that appearing in future Budgets. What do you think that would need to include and how soon should it be rolled out?
ELLIS: We know that this is all just talk from Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott. If they were serious in any way about a families package, if they were serious about assisting Australian parents, they would stand up today and reverse the $1 billion of cuts to the Australian child care sector that they've inflicted in just over a year.
JOURNALIST: What do you think it should include anyway if they were to bring it out? Surely it would be a good thing?
ELLIS: I think it would be a good thing if we put back the assistance that's already been taken out and then we can have the debate about the next steps from there. The truth is that before the last election the Prime Minister went out of his way to personally write to every single child care service in the country to say that child care would be made more affordable under his Government. That was yet another broken promise. That was another lie that this Prime Minister said to get elected with no solutions and no way to actually deliver it.
JOURNALIST: How will this price hike actually affect Australian families?
ELLIS: We know that many Australian families are finding it hard to weigh up how much they should return to work, whether they should return to work at all. As child care fees continue to rise, at the same time that this Government continues to cut child care assistance, we know that too many families are being locked out of our workplaces or aren't working the hours that they would like to. This has really significant impacts, not just on women's workforce participation, but on the decisions that families are making, and also on the critical access to early childhood education of Australia's newest generation.
JOURNALIST: If child care is becoming more and more expensive, shouldn’t your Government, when you were in power, have taken steps to reform the sector more so we wouldn't be in this position now?
ELLIS: What we did see when we were in Government we massively increased the Child Care Rebate from 30 to 50 per cent to come up with a real way of assisting Australian families to reduce their out-of-pocket expenses for Australian child care fees. This Government have offered no such solutions. All they've done is made very big promises and all they're delivering is very big price hikes.