Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Subsidy) Bill 2021
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (19:16, 10 August 2021): It’s great to be up here tonight to speak to this bill, the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Subsidy) Bill 2021. Let’s just get a couple of things out on the table before I start getting taunts about being a dinosaur and all that sort of stuff. I stayed at home for four years, at my choice, so I could help raise my children. I happily attended mothers groups and things like that. I want to be clear, I’m not talking about kindergarten either. I come from a long line of working mothers. Indeed, my great-great-aunt taught maths and physics at All Hallows’ School for 50 years. She had a hall named after her. My grandmother was a teacher who had eight children, four before the war and four after the war. My mother, my wife and my sisters all worked. So this is not an attack on working mothers or anything like that. However, I would like to see greater choice in child care.
One thing I think we’ve got common ground on is how expensive child care is. I would argue that one of the reasons child care is so expensive is that there is very little choice or competition and very little flexibility in the type of child care that parents can choose. The government now pays the childcare centre directly, rather than the parent, so that removes the choice the parent has. If, for example, they want to have an at-home nanny for three hours a day rather than eight hours a day, they are forced to pay a full day’s child care. This just doesn’t work for a lot of shift workers, for example. Either they might work early, from six o’clock in the morning through to two, or they might work from two through to 10 or 11 o’clock at night. So it’s very difficult to use what I’d call the formalised childcare system if you’re a childcare worker.
Likewise, if you come from a regional part of Australia where you’re out on a farm and the nearest town is 40 kilometres away, are you really going to spend half an hour to 40 minutes driving into town and then driving back to the farm, only to have to waste another hour and a half going back five or six hours later? Farmers just don’t have the time to drop off their children at child care. Why would they? I grew up on a farm and I’ve got great memories of hanging out with my dad in a big old Bedford truck when I was a child. However, having said that, I did go to kindergarten. My dad was the president of the kindergarten for four years before going on and being the president of the P&F.
My problem with this bill is that it continues the arms race whereby the more we increase childcare subsidies, the higher childcare fees go. I’m not convinced that parents and children are getting better outcomes out of it. Twenty years ago we spent, I think, about $500 million on child care. Today we spend over $10 billion. I’m not sure that parents get greater choice or greater flexibility in the type of child care that they get. The other thing I’d like to point out too is that the cost of child care for low-income earners hardly makes it worth the low-income earners going to work. I’ve got different numbers here, but it looks like it’s somewhere between $15,000 to $20,000 per child.