SUBJECTS: Child care crisis, cuts to the FTB.
ROS CHILDS: The Federal Opposition has vowed to vote against the Government's so-called Omnibus Bill, combining several welfare measures. The bill includes the Government's package of child care reforms as well as changes to paid parental leave and cuts to family tax payments. Labor argues families need extra childcare support but it shouldn't be contingent on accounts in other areas. Shadow Minister Kate Ellis is speaking with political reporter Julie Doyle.
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TAFE AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION KATE ELLIS: We remain opposed to families having to pay the price for any child care improvements. Unfortunately what the Government is now saying with this legislation is that they will hit not just families, but also women and those seeking paid parental leave, and also pensioners with the energy supplement being included in this bill as well. This is a real statement about the Government's priorities, that the only way they will deliver long overdue assistance for families with child care is by robbing other families, mothers, and pensioners as well.
JULIE DOYLE: So, broadly speaking, though, you're supportive of the childcare changes, broadly, so is that enough, though, to warrant making sacrifices in other areas to get that long-awaited reform?
ELLIS: Look, we've just gone through an entire parliamentary term without seeing any additional assistance for families when it comes to child care. So I think the one thing that everyone can agree on is that additional child care assistance is long, long overdue. Unfortunately there are some major flaws in this package when it comes to just the child care changes, namely that as the Government has put forward in the bill today, disadvantaged children will actually have their access to early childhood education restricted as a result of this bill. But also there is some really serious implications for Indigenous children and remote and regional services, who face closure as a result of the Government's changes. I just think it's unacceptable that the Government can talk about spending additional money, yet making some of the most vulnerable Australian children worse off when it comes to accessing early childhood education.
DOYLE: On the Indigenous changes they're making of moving those services into the mainstream model, it doesn't appear the Government will budge on that one, but as far as increasing the minimum access, the sector has put forward a proposal to increase that to a guaranteed 15 hours a week. The sector agrees on that as a compromise. Does Labor agree with that?
ELLIS: We’ve obviously been talking to the sector, we've shared our very deep concerns about the current proposal the Government has made. I don't think that 15 hours is the ideal solution, but obviously we would be willing to sit down and work through a whole range of possible outcomes if we can make sure that those children are not going to be substantially worse off. The Government yesterday indicated - the Minister himself indicated - that he knew there were deep concerns when it came to the activity test, he knew that there were deep concerns when it came to Indigenous and remote services and that they were looking at ways they might address that, which is why it's just totally unbelievable that they have once again introduced a bill into Parliament that hasn't addressed any of those really serious flaws.
DOYLE: Does that mean that at this point Labor is prepared to vote against this bill, which includes the child care changes, even though those child care changes will help a lot of families?
ELLIS: We have said that we will vote against the bill. We do not support the cuts to FTB and we are deeply concerned by the 70,000 mothers who will be worse off by the PPL changes. I have to say someone who represents my local community, I have heard from pensioners how tough they're doing it. I just can't believe the Government is looking to hit them again in this bill. So we have deep concerns and would vote against this bill on those issues alone. But also when it comes to the child care changes, we've been upfront with the Government, we've said, we will work productively with you, but you need to fix this access for disadvantaged children and you need to fix Indigenous and remote services. They have been so lazy playing the politics that they haven't done the politics to do that, and now say they will do wheeling and dealing in the Senate. That's not good enough.
DOYLE: So as it stands, are you prepared to face that this bill gets voted down and parents are stuck with this complex and unworkable child care system that we have at the moment?
ELLIS: I should say that even if these child care changes go through, I'm not convinced that this is the long-term solution to Australia's child care system. This is about tinkering around the edges of a broken system. It does nothing to address waiting lists, it does nothing to limit parents' out-of-pocket costs. So we do want to see some improvement now which is why we want to be able to support the Government's package, but we also know there is much, much more work to do. Labor is getting on with the job of getting out there, speaking with experts, speaking with providers, speaking with parents, so that we can come up with the hard policy solutions to serious reform in the system.
DOYLE: Just finally then, what will be those hard policy solutions? What would be Labor's policy there?
ELLIS: Well, as I said, we know that there is no silver bullet. It actually means that we need serious system change which you cannot do overnight and you cannot do lightly, which is why we are now undertaking that work. We want to outline a long-term plan to Australian parents for Australian children ahead of the next election. But we are also calling on the Government, let's just everybody agree, we've had enough Band-Aid solutions. This Parliament needs to recognise our child care system is broken and we need real and serious reform to fix it.
DOYLE: Kate Ellis, thank you.
ELLIS: Thank you.
THE HON KATE ELLIS MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR TAFE AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
MEMBER FOR ADELAIDE