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Amendments: Family Assistance Legislation (Child Care Subsidy) Bill 2021

Estimates & Committees
Mehreen Faruqi 12 Aug 2021

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (10:35): [by video link] My understanding is that, in the bill as circulated, there's an error which means that families that earn between $70,000 and $175,000 would not receive the rate of subsidy as was announced by the minister as part of the budget. Could the minister please confirm that the government amendment which was circulated last night will address this problem?

Senator RUSTON (South Australia—Minister for Families and Social Services, Minister for Women's Safety and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:35): The amendment that is before the chamber this morning will address that issue.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (10:35): [by video link] Minister, when did the government find out about this error? Were you alerted to it by someone or did you realise it on your own?

Senator RUSTON (South Australia—Minister for Families and Social Services, Minister for Women's Safety and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:36): I'm advised that we were made aware of it yesterday morning on advice from the office of the minister.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (10:36): [by video link] Thanks for that, Minister. Really, all I can say is that the Greens will support this amendment, of course, because it was a terrible error that would undermine even the modest reform that the government has made. What an embarrassment, really, for the government that your headline childcare spend—no matter how modest it was—was so poorly drafted. This government was dragged to the table to invest something in child care, and it can't even get a very basic reform right. I think it tells you all you need to know about the government's incompetence and how much it really doesn't care about early education and learning.

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (10:53): I'm not sure that the Greens have moved their amendment yet, but I would note in that context that we encourage the government to get on with this as soon as it can, because we need increased support for child care. However, we can't support the Greens amendment, because we view it simply as a stunt, knowing that any request made by the Senate that has funding implications needs to be done by the government and supported by the government. The Greens motion therefore gives families false hope. I encourage the government to bring forward its own changes in getting that system up and running. But I place on the record that only Labor has put forward a comprehensive plan for child care that increases support, and it is simply an exercise in false hope, really, to rely on this government to deliver anything otherwise. Labor looks forward to implementing its comprehensive package after the next election.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia—Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services) (10:54): To add to my answer to Senator Faruqi's questions, I can also confirm that, since the government announced this initiative, I have been working with Minister Tudge, Services Australia and his department. We have worked very closely on the time line, but it does require very significant system changes to deliver. We have always been very cautious but very deliberate in our planning and our time frame. As Minister Ruston said, if we can bring it forward we will, but, again, it's more important that we get the system right to be able to deliver it for Australian families.

I now table a supplementary explanatory memorandum and move amendments (1) and (2) and request for an amendment (3) on government sheet PV119:

(1) Schedule 2, item 7, page 7 (lines 11 to 14), omit subclause 3A(2) of Schedule 2, substitute:

What is the applicable percentage?

(2) Subject to subclauses (4) and (5) of this clause, the individual's applicable percentage for the session of care is determined by the table in subclause 3(1), and by subclause 3(3), as modified by subclause (3) of this clause.

(2) Schedule 2, item 7, page 7 (lines 23 and 24), omit paragraph 3A(3) (d) of Schedule 2.

(3) Schedule 2, item 7, page 7 (after line 26), at the end of clause 3A of Schedule 2, add:

(4) Subclause (5) applies, and subclause (2) does not apply, if the individual's adjusted taxable income for the income year in which the CCS fortnight starts is above the lower income threshold and below the second income threshold.

(5) The individual's applicable percentage for the session of care is the lesser of 95% and the percentage worked out by:

(a) starting with the applicable percentage (the default percentage) that would apply to the individual for the session of care under item 2 of the table in subclause 3(1) and under subclause 3(2); and

(b) adding 30 percentage points to the default percentage.

Example: If the default percentage is 60%, the individual's applicable percentage for the session of care is 90%. If the default percentage is 75%, the individual's applicable percentage for the session of care is 95%.

Question agreed to.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (10:56): [by video link] I move the Greens request for an amendment (1) on sheet 1353:

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table items 2 to 4), omit the table items, substitute:

2. Schedule 1 1 July 2021 1 July 2021.
2. Schedule 2, Part 1 1 July 2021 1 July 2021.
4. Schedule 1, Part 1 Immediately after the commencement of the provisions covered by table item 3.  

 

This request for an amendment is very simple. It brings forward the start date of the package by one year to 1 July 2021. As I foreshadowed in my speech on the second reading, families need more support, and they need it urgently. During the debate on this bill, so many senators on this side of the chamber highlighted the issues with child care: how expensive it is and how difficult it is for families. There is no good reason why the government couldn't prioritise getting more money into the pockets of families who continue to be slugged with some of the highest childcare fees in the world. It is the government's responsibility to do that, not to say 'We will if we can.' It's in your control, if it is a priority for you—and it should be a priority for you.

Over the last 18 months we have seen the rules rewritten and entire government spending programs recalibrated or conjured out of nothing as the pandemic has demanded swift and substantial policy responses. In that light, it seems completely ridiculous to suggest that more than a full year is required in order to enact these changes through the existing government systems. We know that the government has said that it would like to start the scheme as soon as possible. Well, it's up to you to start it as soon as possible. It's up to you to start it now. If that is indeed the case, it's time to get a clear commitment.

Also, it's pretty bloody rich for Labor to stand here and say, 'This is a Greens stunt.' If the Senate agrees to this amendment today, it is going to send a very clear and very strong message to the government to make this change. That's what we're here for. This is not a stunt, Senator Pratt. This is actually trying to fix a problem that families and children and women have had for a very long time. I call on Labor and the crossbench senators: if you want to support childcare workers and educators, if you want to support families, women and children, then at least agree to this Greens amendment which will provide that support, however modest it might be.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia—Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services) (10:59): First of all I thank Senator Faruqi for her incredibly productive engagement on this bill and for confirming her support for its passage. However, the government will not be supporting this amendment for the reasons that I have outlined and that I understand Senator Ruston outlined. It does require significant system and software changes, for not just Services Australia but also third-party software providers, because of the interface with thousands of childcare providers.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR (Senator Chandler): The question is that the request for an amendment as moved by Senator Waters on behalf of Senator Faruqi be agreed to.

Division: NOES 25 (20 majority) AYES 5 PAIRS 0

Question negatived.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR (Senator Chandler) (11:06): The question now is that the bill as amended be agreed to, subject to a request for an amendment.

Question agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to, subject to a request.

Bill reported with amendments and a request; report adopted.

HANSARD LINK

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