Labor, Greens take chainsaw to your childcare benefits
With significant diversions during Federal Parliament last week one of the more contemptible political back flips in recent memory might have escaped your notice.
Without a blush, Labor - supported by the Greens in the Senate - took $700 a year from 21,000 parents to fund its reform agenda for the childcare industry.
A little explanatory background is needed.
In April this year, the Greens spokeswoman for early childhood education and care, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, expressed what many took to be genuine concern at the prospect of the government chopping back the 50 per cent Childcare Rebate (CCR).
The CCR is available to cover half of any out-of-pocket expenses associated with childcare for parents working, studying or training.
“We would be extremely concerned about any changes to the childcare rebate that would make it harder for families to access affordable (care)”, gushed Ms Hanson-Young.
Labor had used its tenuous Lower House numbers to take the knife to the rebate in November but could not get this measure passed by a guarded Senate.
For those of us working in and with the childcare sector the Greens assertions were good news. We knew then as we do now, the last thing governments should be doing is making it tougher for mums and dads to afford this vital link in the labour force chain.
So among the imponderables last week, what happened?
The legislation went back to the Senate where, without even a syllable uttered in its defence, the new block of Greens sided with Labor to cut and cap the rebate from $8,179 to $7,500 and freeze this from indexation for the next three years.
All up, even on this Government’s flaky estimates, roughly five per cent of our nation’s workers will now have to find $81m themselves over the next few years if they wish to maintain their current level of childcare.
They will have to do so under the unknown impost of a carbon tax and on top of increasing prices across every nook of family expenditure, including rising childcare fees.
Dripping with a grim incongruity, the Government’s ill-timed push of its quality assurance reforms - the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care (NQF) - is sparking fee increases around $5 to $20 a day.
I should note here, the Federal Coalition agrees in setting benchmark industry standards and improving staff qualifications. But we believe this can be achieved in a balanced and consultative manner which will avoid lumbering these dramatic introductory costs onto parents.
Despite this, Childcare Minister Kate Ellis continues to insist the cost of starting up the NQF will be no more a burden to industry or parent than 57 cents a week.
Whatever credibility the Minister may have enjoyed in the early part of her tenure in the job has now completely disappeared. Along with the accuracy of the 57 cents she quotes. The Access Economics data she quotes is over two-years-old.
The Minister knows her numbers are out of date but refuses to acknowledge it.
She also knows, with the NQF approaching, many childcare centres are now planning cuts to child numbers and struggling to find staff suitably qualified within the new rules.
Some estimates put this at a shortfall of 16,000 workers across the industry, an impossible nonsensical training equation to complete which will force some centres to simply close their doors.
But it is the Greens who have really dumped on parents here. Heavy handed childcare reform, as with the carbon tax, is unrealistic policy hitting the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sussan Ley is the Shadow Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood Learning
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