Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform)
February 27, 2017
I would like to bring down the tone of this very important debate and perhaps remind the member for Lindsay that we are the government.
It is very easy when you are in opposition to assume that everything we are doing is bad for the community.
Indeed, it is not. We are in government and that is what we intend to do.
Today I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus Savings and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017.
As we have heard outlined in this debate, this is a large package with many different elements, but the content of the package is clear.
The reform package will benefit around one million of the hardest-working families here in Australia.
It is a shame we did not hear about those from the member for Lindsay and other speakers on the other side.
These are the people who need child care in order to work and to get ahead for their families.
The government intends to match that commitment with a commitment of our own.
Family tax benefit A will be increased by $20 per fortnight for the 11,594 recipients in my electorate of Durack to help with their day-to-day costs of living.
Steps are being taken to introduce a more flexible and more adaptable childcare framework that more properly reflects the nature of the modern childcare needs in Australia.
The government is adapting the framework to reflect the changing nature of the work day, with more support being offered to cover childcare costs for those who are working longer hours each day or those who are working hours outside of the nine-to-five Monday-to-Friday framework, which the existing model does not support.
The simple fact is that parents returning to the workforce need to return with peace of mind that their children will be looked after while they are at work.
That is exactly what this package aims to do.
It provides efficiency, it provides flexibility and it reflects the expectations of the modern global workforce.
Australians are competing in a global jobs marketplace which is becoming more and more competitive every day and the government is responding to that.
This reform package is based around a simplification of what is currently a confusing and incredibly involved process that, unfortunately, many of our struggling, working Australians do not have the time or the energy to navigate.
I can recall that feeling of confusion myself when I was using childcare providers.
By simplifying the process of returning to work, we can allow our workforce to compete in that international jobs marketplace with less confusion and more certainty.
The government is in the business of making our welfare support system fair and equitable in this country.
Australians expect the government to be as responsible as we possibly can be with taxpayer funds.
That is their expectation and that is exactly what this legislation is about.
It is a package that is designed to reward the hardworking Australians who are trying to get ahead and are supporting families and their young children.
We need to strike a balance between respectful and responsible spending and a system that gives back to and supports those who are working and supporting a young family.
The main thrust of this package is, as I have stated, about simplification and flexibility.
The government, after consultation with the sector and the crossbench, has determined to not reduce the family tax benefit part B rate for single parents over the age of 60 years.
This is a demographic that is likely to be retired grandparents who have stepped in to help family members at a time of need.
That is being responsible and it accepts that a certain part of the demography needs a helping hand.
Phasing out the family tax benefit A and B end-of-year payment, which was essentially an allowance for overpayment of the family tax benefit to go towards paying down debt instead of being returned to the government, will contribute towards the childcare subsidy to allow parents to work.
It will allow parents to do what they need to do to get ahead for their family.
This change is important because it supports a strong belief of this government and of this party that the best welfare you can give someone is a job—and we have heard that a lot in this chamber, particularly from this side of the House.
By supporting parents to enter into the workforce through the child-care subsidy, we are enabling parents to continue their career advancement, continue with their studies and continue their volunteer work in the community.
This is vitally important, because it addresses what is really one of the most significant factors preventing parents, especially mothers, from re-entering the workforce: the fear that their children will not be properly cared for if they are not there.
And this is a real and tangible fear for working women—and for working men, but particularly for working mothers; I am not ashamed to say that. And it is something that I and other parents—and I see that Minister Andrews is in the House—have all experienced firsthand.
By freeing up funding for this child-care reform package through the scaling back of the Family Tax Benefit A and B end-of-year supplements, this will help to address the funding shortfall for this child-care reform package, which is the most significant of its kind.
This package will deliver benefits to one million Australian families, as I said at the start, that are most in need of our assistance. The new system will be simpler, more affordable and more flexible. It will be better targeted and provide more assistance for low- and middle-income earners.
It is a shame that those opposite have not focused on that aspect of it, rather than just simply reading the Labor Party talking notes.
For some, access to child care and affordable child care can mean the difference between working and not working. Better access to child care that suits the working needs and budgets of parents will help them increase their workforce participation, should they wish to do so.
For many, it will mean that there is actually a financial benefit to working that extra shift or that extra bit of overtime rather than the extra money just going to pay for child care—which is, sadly, the case at the moment.
The child-care subsidy will replace the current child-care benefit and child-care rebate with a single means-tested subsidy.
The subsidy will range between 85 per cent for low-income earners and 20 per cent for high-income earners.
This package is most generous to those who need the most support, and I support that 100 per cent.
This government has also taken the responsible step of repealing the energy supplement which was implemented by Labor as a scheme to buy back goodwill after the introduction of the carbon tax.
Well, since there is no carbon tax, there is no reason for an energy rebate to exist.
This will deliver nearly $1 billion in savings, which can be much better directed into other government policies, such as the NDIS Savings Fund Special Account, which is an account that has been set up to properly address the funding shortfall in the NDIS, because—and I do not need to tell you this, Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton—those opposite failed to properly fund their flagship policy when they were on this side of the chamber.
How incompetent do you have to be to not properly fund a policy platform like the NDIS—one of the most important social welfare reforms, intended to support the most vulnerable of Australians?
And yet that lot over there failed to fund it and failed to plan for it.
It beggars belief that this government is now left to find savings to fund the NDIS and we are getting criticised for it.
This decision with respect to the energy supplement was taken on the advice from the Department of Social Services functional and efficiency review, and I think this is clear evidence that we, on this side, are not playing politics; we are being sensible with the taxpayer dollar, and it is simply common-sense responsible management of our budget bottom line. And those on the opposite side must get behind this omnibus bill so that we can start to look after the most vulnerable and get them to be supported to do the work that they want to do and support their families. I commend this bill to the House.