PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra: I also rise this evening to speak against the Early Years Quality Fund Special Account Bill 2013. While the objectives of the bill may be sound, it has some deleterious consequences. The member who spoke very eloquently before me outlined many of them here this evening.
Before I go into my concerns—and I have four to outline this evening—let me say a couple of things about the objectives of the bill and also the process for getting to where we are here. First of all, the objective. Ostensibly, the objective of this bill is to support the wage increases of workers in the childcare sector. We have no problem with this objective; it is an admirable objective because, as you would probably be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, childcare workers are not paid high salaries. They are paid ordinary salaries, like many other workers in the Australian community, so we have no problem with this objective as such.
What we have difficulties with is that there is a process within the community and the legal framework that is already established for seeking legitimate wage increases. That process is through the Fair Work Commission. One can lodge claims there and people have that right to do so. We support those people with that right to lodge a claim. We submit that this would be the right process to go through in order to receive a salary increase, rather than coming into the parliament and having the parliament legislate a salary increase through a two-year special compensation package.
It is interesting to note that the union which is primarily behind this push has not lodged any formal request to the Fair Work Commission for a salary increase. Rather, the union is going to its puppet masters here in the Labor government and is getting a $300 million gift by going through this process rather than going through the process that every other Australian must go through.
Let me also say about the process, to get to where this point is with this bill,that I along with the Member for Grey, who will be speaking subsequent to me, sat in on a very brief inquiry which looked into this bill. One of the difficulties we had with this is that this bill was rushed into the parliament, rushed into an inquiry—we had one week at the most to look into this and to try to make some sensible findings—and then pushed through this parliament in the dying days of this government.
This government has known that the election will be on 14 September since the beginning of the year. If this bill was so important the government could have scheduled it properly so that it had a proper chance to be debated and considered, for a parliamentary inquiry to properly undertake an investigation, and to improve the bill should that parliamentary inquiry find ways to improve it. But the government has not done that. To the contrary: it has rushed it through in the last couple of weeks along with many other pro-union bills in order to try to get them through in the dying days of this government. That is no way to run a country. This bill is illustrative of the very poor processes which this government undertakes.
Let me go to the substance of the bill. As I said at the outset, I have four concerns in relation to this bill and the effects it will have, despite having no objection to the objectives of the bill. My first concern is in relation to equity.
The particular provisions will be of benefit to only about 40 per cent of childcare workers, while 60 per cent or more of childcare workers will miss out on this benefit. If we think that childcare workers are underpaid then surely all childcare workers should receive the salary increase rather than just 40 per cent of them. Many submissions to the public inquiry and other publicly made submissions make this exact point: that there is great inequity here that such a small section of the sector will be beneficiaries of this $300 million fund, but that the vast majority will not receive any of that funding.
My second concern relates to the fact that the bill, despite it going to have an effect of putting up salaries for at least 40 per cent of the childcare sector, has provision in it for only two years of funding.
So years one and two are covered and provide that additional salary boost for 40 per cent of childcare workers, but after that there is no funding.
Ordinarily, if we have a program that is going to be ongoing it would be legislated for in the forward estimates for four years. That is how things are ordinarily done if you are serious about making a particular measure an ongoing one. But it seems that this government’s only purpose for this bill is to get them through the election. It is to be sop to the unions to show that they care, to give them two years of funding and then to say, ‘You will look after yourself after that.’ But salaries will not come down after two years and someone else will then have to pay for those salaries—and that someone else, as the member for Herbert outlined, will be the parents. It will be the parents who have to pay for that.
So we have before us a structural fee increase in the childcare sector through this provision which will come into play in two years time if this bill goes through. That is what we have before us. It will be a further 10 per cent increase on childcare fees per day—a $10 per day increase—that parents will have to pay in two years time because the funding is only for that short period of time. Again, this government are not serious about this. If this government were honestly concerned with childcare workers’ salaries and putting them on a sustainable ongoing footing, this would be for a four-year period and it would be an ongoing program—but it is not.
My third concern—and this is perhaps my greatest concern with the bill—is that it is basically just a sop to the unions. The bill does not specify precisely that one must be a union member to be a beneficiary of the $300 million fund, but that is how it is being interpreted across the sector—and, in practice, that is what is occurring. That is understood; it is known. It was the intent of this government to do so from the get-go, and that is the primary purpose of this bill.
The primary purpose of this bill—make no bones about it—is for the Prime Minister to try to shore up the support of another union. The Prime Minister’s leadership is under significant threat in the dying days of this government. She needs to get herself through these couple of weeks so that she can be Prime Minister leading up to the election, and she thinks that she can buy off an additional union through this particular measure. It is a $300 million purchase.
And it is not just this side of the parliament who is saying this, who is using such strident language. The Australian Childcare Alliance, who represent about 60 per cent of the childcare sector in this country, have written to all members of parliament with the following words:
The Federal Government’s recent release by the Prime Minister of a Grant funded program with $300 million to be paid over a two year period to lift the wages of early childhood educators, is nothing more than a gift by the government to the United Voice Union.
That is the Australian Childcare Alliance. They are the peak body for the childcare sector in this country. They themselves are saying that this is nothing more than gift by the government to the United Voice Union—a $300 million gift.
They also outline in their letter that each new member the United Voice union will recruit as a result of this process will pay about $572 per annum. And we know that that money will then be used at election time to support the re-election of the Gillard government—or the Rudd government or the Shorten government, whichever it may be come 14 September. That is how this is working. It is taxpayers’ funds going to the union and then from the union being used to try to get the Gillard-Rudd-Shorten governments re-elected. It is an outrage—and it is such an outrage because it is not the first time this has been done.
We have in fact seen a similar pattern in the aged-care sector, where a very similar arrangement is being made to try to reunionise the aged-care sector in the dying days of this government. We have seen similar sweetheart deals in relation to the right of entry provisions which have been introduced by this government in recent weeks, which mean that any workplace in the country is in danger of a union official rocking up and entering into the lunchroom and trying to recruit members. No lunchroom is safe after the introduction of those provisions.
We have also seen it in relation to the aggressive attacks on the 457 visas which the immigration minister has unleashed over the last couple of weeks—attacking all of those terrific workers that we have in this country. Why are they doing that? They are doing it because the unions do not like the 457 visas and they are delivering for their paymasters in terms of cracking down on them.
This bill is in the same vain as all of that. It is just a sop to the unions, as the Australian Childcare Alliance has said, and as we have seen elsewhere over the last few weeks in terms of delivering for their unions in the dying days of this government purely to shore up support for Julia Gillard personally to stay in the job for another couple of weeks.
Finally, my fourth concern is in relation to the centres that are not eligible for this funding. As I said at the get-go, only about 40 per cent of centres will be eligible to receive some of this $300 million in funding and 60 per cent of centres will receive no such funding but they will be negatively impacted by this bill. Why is that? It occurs because, if the salaries go up in 40 per cent of the childcare centres, naturally there will be additional claims made by the workers in the 60 per cent who are not beneficiaries of this bill. Those childcare centres will then have two choices. They can try to keep salaries at a lower rate compared to the 40 per cent—in which case they are likely to lose workers. They will find it difficult to retain staff and they will find it difficult to attract staff, particularly at a time when there is an acute shortage.
That is one choice that they have got. They will have difficulties retaining and attracting staff.
The other option they have got is that they can put up salaries as well but knowing that that would have to be immediately passed on to their parents who use the child care centre. It is estimated by the Australian Childcare Alliance that fees would have to go up by about $10 per day. This government has already passed a myriad of regulations in relation to the child care sector which is putting fees up by 10 to 15 per cent and pricing people out of the market. This bill has the effect of putting up fees by an additional $10 per day. That will just mean that the people who are already struggling to make ends meet, already suffering from the increases in the carbon tax, are already suffering from all the other prices which are going up as a result of this government’s mismanagement and over regulatory zeal, will then have to pay higher child care fees on top of all of that.
The government was forewarned in relation to its regulations previously by the Productivity Commission that fees would have to go up 15 per cent if it went through with them. It went ahead with its regulations. We are forewarning them here, as has the Australian Childcare Alliance, that if you go ahead with his now fees will go up an additional $10 on top of that. That is what is at stake here. It is actually the affordability of child care centres. We think they need to be made more affordable, not less.