Bass Labor MP Ross Hart rejects federal child care omnibus legislation

Simon Birmingham
Simon Birmingham

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has pointed to the rising costs of child care as proof the early childhood care system is “broken” and in need of complete reform.

Mr Birmingham called on Labor to support the federal government’s child care legislation, part of the omnibus Social Services Legislation Amendment (Omnibus and Child Care Reform) Bill 2017 to “overhaul” the system.

“In a climate of slow wage growth to have fees increasing at three times the speed of the economy demonstrates that Australia’s child care system needs to be reformed,” he said.

The Early Childhood and Child Care in Summary quarterly report, released on Sunday, showed that the cost of child care before federal government assistance rose an average 10c per hour from the March 2016 quarter to the June 2016 quarter.

Australia’s child care system needs to be reformed.

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham

Bass Labor MP Ross Hart, however, has accused the Minister of focusing on cost-of-living pressures and evading answers on the government’s “unfair” omnibus legislation.

He pointed to the legislation’s proposed cuts to family tax benefits, paid parental leave, cuts to the energy supplement and a five-week wait for Newstart as examples of a government “seriously out of touch”.

“Rather than trumpeting the government's concern to address cost of living pressures for families earning up to $175,000, this government can address the issues of real concern for ordinary hardworking families in Bass, who unfortunately earn much less than that,” Mr Hart said. 

Mr Birmingham described the government’s legislative overhaul as “the most significant reform of the child care system in 40 years” and called on Labor to support the bill when it’s introduced to the Senate in the next fortnight.

Mr Birmingham said the legislation’s hourly rate cap would help families choose child care providers and stop the rising fees.

Ross Hart

Ross Hart

“The introduction of the hourly rate cap is firstly a necessary measure to arrest incessant child care fee increases and secondly will provide Australian families with a benchmark price so they have a reference point to hold providers accountable and from which they can expect prices shouldn’t dramatically exceed,” he said.

“Families facing fee increases that results in hitting the current $7500 limit of the child care rebate faster would further benefit from our plans to remove that limit for all families earning less than $185,000.”

In a speech to the House of Representatives in February, Mr Hart commented on the impacts of the omnibus legislation to Bass families.

“Families, new mums, pensioners and young people are all in the firing line as a result of the Turnbull government's latest round of harsh cuts,” he said.

“For many Australians already struggling to make ends meet these proposed cuts are deeply concerning.”

Treasurer Peter Gutwein rejected Mr Hart’s concerns, saying that the state and federal governments were supporting families with the development of job opportunities and further investment in health and education in the north of the state.

“Because we have the budget under control, we’re investing more into health, education and protecting the vulnerable,” Mr Gutwein said.

The federal omnibus legislation is due to be returned from a Senate committee on Monday.

Meanwhile, the political focus on child care costs and the challenges of out-of-home care has prompted the Children and Young People Commissioner Mark Morrissey to issue a statement warning of the impact such debate has on children.

“While public discussion and debate about the out-of-home care system is really important, it also has the potential to do harm to individual children in care,” he said.

“Great care must be taken to ensure that where an issue is raised publicly it is done so in a way which is respectful towards the children involved and to those people who are caring for them.

“We must not lose sight of the reality that children in out of home care are living, breathing people with important needs and wishes. In all our actions … debates we must firstly ensure that we are doing no harm.”