I am delighted to be the adult in the room while we talk about childcare reforms. I know that I will shortly be joined by my colleagues here, as we talk about the reforms that the Turnbull government is making to child care—the most comprehensive reforms to child care.
I will just start by giving a very brief summary of some of these reforms, and then I want to put these reforms into some context. Firstly, our reforms will benefit around one million families. So one million families will receive a benefit from the reforms that are being introduced by the Turnbull government.
The lowest income Australian families will see their subsidy rate increase from 76 per cent to 85 per cent. For those families with an income of $185,710 or less, the rebate cap of $7½ thousand will be abolished. This means that those families will not face the financial cliff that generally occurs around March or April of each year when that rebate cuts out and they are forced to fund the deficit themselves. That is a benefit to those families. We want to support women. We want to support families as they balance their family needs.
We all understand on this side of the House that child care is a very important issue. We want to debate it in a sensible and a rational manner, and that is what we are going to proceed to do today. Let us start by putting some context around this entire debate.
Central to the debate is workforce participation, and particularly female workforce participation. I have some stats that I am keen to put on the record because they are actually critical to the debate that we are having today.
The debate centres around workforce participation, because that is one of the primary reasons we need to look at providing support for child care. I have in front of me some ABS statistics for January 2017. Let me start with that figure.
Female workforce participation sits nationally at 58.5 per cent, which is somewhat less than the male participation rate. When you start to look at the series average, which is over a period of 220 months, female workforce participation averages to a lower rate of 57.3 per cent. In the late 1970s female workforce participation was sitting at around 43 per cent.
In 2017, some 40 years later, the January 2017 figure of around 58 per cent is only 15 per cent higher than the late 1970s result. So over a 40-year period there has only been around a 15 per cent increase in female workforce participation. Interestingly, there are some signs that there has been an increase in female participation for those aged 45 years and older.
This is an interesting fact in itself, which, if I have time, I will come back and talk to. The important thing for us to recognise in this debate is that one of the fundamental things that we have to do is increase female workforce participation.
The questions we need to ask really go to why do we have an issue with female participation? Why don't more women take part in the workforce? Why are there not more women out there looking for work? Child care is clearly a part of that issue, and there are two parts to that: there is the quality of the child care that is available and there is the cost.
The coalition government is dealing with both of those issues, and has done so in many ways since its election to government in 2013, and subsequent to that. We are addressing both of those, but the announcement a little while ago by the minister for education, Senator Birmingham, specifically deals with the cost issue, which is one of the focus points for today's debate.
So we are targeting the areas that are most important to women with child care—the quality and the cost of child care. We do that because we know that more women want to rejoin the workforce and they want to do that for a number of reasons.
One is that they want to support the family budget so what they can earn will contribute, will ensure that they are able to provide properly for their family.
They also want to utilise the skills they have achieved, what they have gained prior to beginning their families. They are just two very pressing reasons that women want to rejoin the workforce. You have then got the balance to that, which is: why does business need more women in the workforce?
Interestingly, particularly in my former role as the Assistant Minister for Science, I spoke to many companies who were very keen to increase female participation in the traditional male dominated fields, those who had a STEM background. I did put to them: why do you want to increase the number of women that you have, for example, in engineering jobs and the other male dominated fields as well? Their answer was actually quite simple. It was because if they were to harness the skills that were available potentially in the market, they could not exclude 50 per cent of that market so they had to increase their female participation in the workforce to make sure that they were able to attract and retain the key skills that they needed into the future.
So we know that business has a need to attract more women. I go back to saying: what are the issues that stop women from entering the workforce or re-entering the workforce or increasing their working hours? Child care is clearly a part of it.
I have dealt with the cost issue. I would like to touch on some of the quality issues. The women that I speak to, the women who are accessing child care now or who wish to access child care because it is currently unaffordable for them now, say to me that they do not just want a babysitting service.
They do not just want some where to pop their children in to be looked after while they go to work. They actually want to take their children to a centre that provides an early learning opportunity for their children. We recognise on this side of the House that 80 per cent of a child's development takes place in their first three years of life so we are very conscious of making sure that the childcare services that we are supporting, that we know that the women in the families of Australia actually need, are more aligned to early learning rather than simply babysitting services.
We also know that child care, early learning is part of lifelong learning and we have again put our money where our mouth is on this particular issue. We have put money into early learning programs such as the Let's Count program, such as the Little Scientists program.
We are targeting the kindergarten years to make sure that our young kids, our future generations, the ones that are going to be out there earning money, supporting themselves, supporting their families into their old age are part of the education highway. That starts in the early childhood years and continues through schools and, in my area, goes through vocational education and potentially onto higher education. It is so important that it we provide our young people with the skills that they need, and let's start at the early learning centres.
That is an excellent entry point. I have indicated to you very clearly today the work that the Turnbull coalition government has been doing in the area of child care. Whilst we have been working, I would say that those opposite, at best, have been thinking about what they need to do. But it is a little bit hard to follow what their plan is.
I do have a couple of quotes. I noticed that the member for Adelaide had a couple of quotes so I might just quote back some of the things that she may well be aware of. Back in June of last year, Labor's election policy said: If elected, a Shorten Labor Government will provide a boost in assistance to families from 1 January 2017 – increasing the Child Care Benefit by 15 per cent and lifting the Child Care Rebate cap from $7,500 to $10,000 per child per year.
They said that even though in 2008 the Productivity Commission said 'following Labor's increase in the rate of the child care rebate in July 2008 from 30 to 50 per cent of a family's out-of-pocket expenses, the average annual increase in long day care fees accelerated,' so Labor has clearly been out there increasing costs.
On this side of the House, does our package support families? Yes, it does. Does it support women? Yes, it does. Does it increase female workforce participation? Yes, it does. Is it fair? Yes. And what is standing in the way? It would be Labor.