Federation Chamber

Dr HAINES (Indi) (11:19): High-quality, accessible child care and early education is a non-negotiable ingredient for strong communities and economies. The evidence for this is clear and uncontested. Children who access quality child care and early education are safer and healthier, they develop advanced social skills and are better placed to thrive in the education system in later years. Child care also promotes greater family cohesion and workforce participation.

When delivered in a way that understands modern families, child care opens doors for parents—and I acknowledge the member for Bass’s statement—mostly for women, to access social opportunities and higher family income through employment, training or study. Publication after publication proves that. When done right, the social and economic marginal benefits of high-quality child care far outstrips corresponding costs. With this knowledge, we should be doing all we can to expand the childcare sector and reform the childcare subsidy scheme to maximise access, especially for families who are disadvantaged and stand to benefit the most.

Unfortunately, this is not the case at present. According to the most recent ABS data, released in 2017, just under 50 per cent of the 30,000 families in my electorate of Indi accessed one day or more of child care per week. This is not enough. The studies referred to by the member for Macquarie in this motion, from the Grattan Institute, KPMG, PwC and others, including the Australian Institute of Family Studies, show that demand for affordable child care far outstrips access and supply across the nation, especially in the regions.

In 2018, 21.8 per cent of residents in the Mansfield and Murrindindi Shires, in the heart of my electorate Indi, rated access to child care as poor or very poor. That’s a whole 10 per cent more than the national average and even more when compared to our city cousins. But we don’t need statistics to tell us that children in the regions are missing out; we just need to listen to what’s being said amongst parents on the sidelines of the playgrounds or between a parent working part time and their boss when they cannot commit to more hours in the office. It’s the families themselves, who want the best for their children, that know more can be done and that they are missing out.

I have a vision for universal child care and early education in this country. I congratulate the opposition for announcing similar in their budget reply. Now is the time to turn our attention to the nuts and bolts of reform. The Grattan Institute, for example, recommends lifting the childcare subsidy to 95 per cent before tapering and removing the annual cap. Back in June, I formally costed that policy through the Parliamentary Budget Office. The PBO estimates that raising the subsidy would decrease the fiscal balance by just over $1 billion per year. That figure pales in comparison to the $11 billion per year increase in GDP that the Grattan Institute estimates will flow from increased workforce participation and induced demand in the economy—an injection on par with cutting the company tax rate to 25 per cent. When you look at the nuts and bolts, it’s a no brainer.

I’ve heard from many of the 130 childcare providers across my electorate this year, especially those who were unfairly hit by loopholes in the government’s initial economic response to the pandemic in the first half of the year. If we are earnest about building back stronger, we should also be investing in capital works for childcare facilities, like the Mansfield Kindergarten, who are desperate to expand their service delivery and meet the demand of growing families in that region, or accelerating access to vocational training and qualifications for those hit by record unemployment rates to fully resource the sector, or backing in private providers like Kiewa Valley Kids in Tangambalanga, or supporting the expansion of innovative practices that have snowballing social benefits, such as for the loneliness epidemic creeping across this nation.

In October, I was delighted to meet with Reverend John Parkes, Trisha Glass and Sarah Garneau from Little Yacks at Yackandandah at one of my Indi budget breakfast roundtables. Little Yacks run a terrific intergenerational program with the local aged-care centre. This brightens the day of children and the elderly alike through fun, relaxed and educational sessions. It’s modelled on successful programs in the Netherlands and could be rolled out right across this country if we committed to innovation and vision for this sector.

High-quality, accessible child care and early education are non-negotiable for regional communities and economies like Indi. The return on investment is massive and I am committed to working with colleagues in this place from all sides to reform the childcare subsidy scheme to ensure we can all enjoy its benefits.

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