August 05, 2021

I'm pleased to make a contribution to the debate on this bill, the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Subsidy) Bill 2021, and the related amendment, and to highlight the vastly different approaches of Labor and the coalition to child care and early education. This should really be a bipartisan issue. All of us agree on the fundamental and important role of child care for all our children's growth and development, and for boosting economic productivity and participation. But the approaches of the coalition and Labor could not be more different, and I think they reflect an underlying philosophical difference in our two party rooms. You just have to look at the debate about this bill within the coalition party room to understand that there are dinosaurs in the coalition party room who still see early childhood education as a replacement for parenting. It is not a replacement for parenting. It is an essential measure. It is about early childhood education for our kids and it's about raising labour force productivity and participation in our workforce.

People concerned about the cost of child care should be asking themselves two questions. Firstly, is my family better off now than we were when the coalition was elected? Secondly, which party would provide more support for my family after the next election? The truth is that there can only be one answer to that second question, and that's the Labor Party. When I meet with constituents, one of the main issues that is raised with me by people from all walks of life is the exorbitant cost of child care. Childcare costs and fees are totally out of control. This is a problem created by the Liberals and one for which they have no solution.

I want to draw to the attention of the House some startling figures. Since 2013 when the coalition was elected, childcare fees have skyrocketed by 36 per cent. There is no way of getting away from this. The coalition has been in power for eight years, and on their watch cost-of-living pressures have risen dramatically, impacting young families right across Shortland, from Buff Point to Caves Beach to Cardiff and Charlestown and everywhere in between. The Prime Minister likes to pretend that his election to the Liberal leadership marks year zero and that he is not responsible for the five years of the coalition government before this. Well, he has been a senior cabinet minister since 2013 and, in fact, he was the minister responsible for early childhood education for many of the years when we saw fees skyrocketing.

Another significant factor for families to consider is that, under the Liberals' plan, the cost of child care will continue to rise. The Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment forecasts that childcare fees will increase by over four per cent every year for the next four years. This increase vastly outstrips inflation, which the childcare subsidy is pegged to. Families need to know that, under the Liberals, out-of-pocket expenses will be higher in the years to come. The economic result of the Liberals' chronic childcare increase is staggering. Data from the Productivity Commission—that well-known leftie institution—shows that 300,000 Australians are not in the labour force because of their caring responsibilities, an increase of nearly six per cent, and the number of parents saying they are not working because of the costs of child care has risen by 23 per cent, a massive increase. Australia is being held back economically by this government through their poor excuse of a childcare policy. It does not make economic sense to have policy settings in place which prevent people contributing to economic activity and opportunity. The government are stifling the potential and promise of Australia with their flawed approach to child care.

I now come back to the second question that I want my constituents to ask themselves: which party will provide more support for child care and for my family after the next election? The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has shown that 86 per cent of families will be better off under Labor's policy and six per cent will receive the same benefit. That means that one million families will be better off with child care under an Albanese Labor government—four times as many families as under the Liberals' plan. The simple message I want my constituents to know is that Labor's plan is superior to the Liberals' plan, and families will be economically better off. Put simply, Labor will provide more support for families. That is what governments should do: support people and families to have the opportunity to work, to grow within themselves, to contribute to society and to grow the economy.

Childcare policy should deliver good results for families and good results for the economy and the nation as a whole. Labor's plan is not only good for families; our policy will see a boost to GDP three times as large as under the Liberals' policy. In the truly turbulent times we are living in, we need all hands on deck and as many people as possible working to secure our economic recovery. Labor's plan will ensure that there are more workers, particularly women, working, earning and contributing to Australia's economy.

That's why sound childcare policy is so important.

Having discussed both approaches to childcare policy, I also want my constituents to consider how Australia compares with other developed, wealthy countries. The statistics, again, are damning of this tired and out-of-touch coalition government. UNICEF has recently released a report entitled Where do rich countries stand on childcare? It ranks countries on childcare policies based on affordability, access, quality and parental leave. Australians will be shocked to learn that we rank 37th out of 41 countries. For example, Mexico, Romania and Hungary all rank above Australia. We see ourselves as an advanced, prosperous and modern country, and yet we are totally failing in this fundamentally important social and economic policy. In terms of cost, UNICEF found that we are one of only eight countries where child care consumes at least a quarter of the average wage. This is a real cost-of-living issue, where families are better off if a parent doesn't work. This should not be the case, and Labor's plan will ensure that families are better off.

This bill is being debated in the context of a parliament that's much reduced because of COVID restrictions and in a period where 11 million Australians are in lockdown, including 30,000 of my constituents on the northern Central Coast. Those families that this bill goes to are being affected by that lockdown every single day. That situation has been made much worse overnight, with the information that there have been some cases at Lake Munmorah Public School in my electorate and across the border at Morisset High School. In fact, there's an exposure site at the other end of Lake Macquarie, at Target in Glendale, and, very worryingly, significant COVID fragments were found in three local sewage treatment works. This affects the families that this bill goes to; this affects their quality of life; this affects their ability to get on and earn a living; this affects their health most fundamentally. That is why I am so, so angry with the state and federal Liberal governments because of what they have done around the vaccine rollout. The failure of this government to ensure there are adequate supplies of the vaccine has left this nation exposed. It has left the electorate of Shortland exposed.

Adding to that is the insane and offensive policy decision from the New South Wales Liberal government to withdraw vaccines from my electorate of Shortland and the broader Central Coast, Lake Macquarie and Hunter area to go to Sydney on the premise of vaccinating HSC students, even though the Liberal government have made it very clear they don't have a plan. In fact, they've delayed this plan, but they're still withdrawing the vaccines right now. They're cancelling first doses, particularly for people in priority categories 1a and 1b, who this federal government committed to being vaccinated by Easter at the latest. This is offensive. It's insane. And it's insane because this decision was made even when there were active COVID cases in the northern Central Coast, in my electorate, in communities that were using the Belmont vaccination hub as their primary vaccination source. For the state government to withdraw those vaccines is abhorrent. And for the Prime Minister yesterday to throw the New South Wales Premier under the bus on that decision, while maintaining that they're still providing Pfizer doses to my electorate, was wrong. It was wrong and it was mendacious. I did a vaccine eligibility check yesterday afternoon for my electorate to see whether I could get a Pfizer dose in the seat of Shortland, and not a single GP in the seat of Shortland had an available Pfizer dose at all—not a single one. The Prime Minister was completely mendacious yesterday in question time when he claimed that the Pfizer doses were still getting to my electorate.

In summary, the state Liberal government has withdrawn much-needed Pfizer doses from their vaccine hub at Belmont, and the federal government is failing to get Pfizer doses to my GPs in Shortland. That's affecting families who are the subject of this bill right now. That's why I'm angry about what is going on here. This government is hurting families in my electorate, families that they profess to be supporting through this childcare subsidy bill right now. This demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Morrison Liberal government. They attack families through an inadequate childcare subsidy policy; they attack families through botching the vaccine rollout; they attack families through the failure of the national quarantine system; they attack families by claiming that they're maintaining adequate Pfizer supplies to the seat of Shortland, when in fact you cannot get a Pfizer appointment at a single Shortland doctor's surgery right now. They are attacking families left, right and centre.

We saw another announcement by the Prime Minister this morning that somehow they've found doses somewhere, out of thin air, that they are going to be providing to the Hunter and Lake Macquarie on the northern Central Coast. Well, I'll believe it when I see it, because every single commitment this government has made and every single target this government has claimed around the vaccine rollout they have missed by a country mile, hurting families that are the subject of this bill. As I said, 30,000 people in the seat of Shortland are already under a lockdown, and I think there's a decent chance that by the end of today the New South Wales government will be announcing a lockdown for the other 120,000 residents of Shortland.

That will affect families that are the subject of this childcare subsidy bill, and I am filled with righteous fury about that, because this likely would have been entirely avoidable if this government had done its job around the vaccine rollout, if this government had instituted a national quarantine system and if the New South Wales premier had instituted a proper lockdown of the eastern suburbs rather than a Claytons lockdown, clearly afraid to hurt her own constituents, her own backers of the Liberal Party in the wealthy eastern suburbs. And what happens? Working families and pensioners in Western Sydney and on the Central Coast are hurt because of the Liberals' two-tier strategy: that they will look after their own but will hurt families in electorates like mine.

That's the context of the debate around this bill. That's the context for this discussion about how we support early childhood education. I've ranged far and wide because this bill should be seen amongst broader support for families and the fact that families in my electorate either have had to pull their kids out of early childhood education because they were subject to the lockdown, because they were on the Central Coast, or will soon probably have to pull their kids out of early childhood education in the Lake Macquarie LGA.

I just think that this government is at sea, and it's the families of Australia that are suffering because of the government's incompetence and arrogance, and the attitude of a Prime Minister who is not fit for the job. I say that with a heavy heart, because at times of national crisis Australians' inclination is to support their leaders, to support the national cabinet, but this Prime Minister and this government are clearly not up to it. They are failing the Australian people, and they should go.