Published on: May 2022
Before and After School Care Vouchers
Ms ROBYN PRESTON (Hawkesbury) (12:56:35):
That this House:
(1)Commends the Government's support for families through the provision of $500 Before and After School Care [BASC] vouchers.
(2)Notes that the $155 million program will assist families by contributing to the parent gap fee component of their session fees.
(3)Acknowledges that this program provides much needed assistance to families and will also benefit providers.
I commend the New South Wales Government for its Before and After School Care Voucher initiative, which has already been a great success. More than 190,000 vouchers have already been welcomed and downloaded by families since the program's launch in February 2022. This exciting initiatives provides $500 vouchers to parents of children aged between four and 13 years who attend a primary school in New South Wales. Pleasingly, parents fitting that eligibility criteria can receive a voucher for each of their children, which will go a long way towards covering those out-of-pocket costs for families. It is understood one of those vouchers will provide a child with about 60 free before- and after-school care sessions.
We know that by supporting parents we are also supporting providers. Many before- and after-school care providers experienced a downturn in enrolments over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as more parents worked from home and homeschooled their children. By making before- and after-school care more affordable and accessible, the New South Wales Government is demonstrating its commitment to supporting parents and children across the State and helping working families cut costs where they can. The vouchers can be used to cover the cost of the parent gap fee for vacation care sessions. Parents are eligible to apply for one voucher for each of their children until 30 September this year. I encourage all families to act now. Families also have the flexibility of using the vouchers with an eligible before- and after‑school care provider until 31 December 2022. However, voucher credit can be used for services up to 20 June 2023.
Our State Government is offering more than 70 rebates and vouchers to help families save, as part of the New South Wales Government's Savings Finder. The program has saved families about $5.8 billion since its launch in 2017. With families' work and educational habits thrown into chaos in the past two years as the world adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to provide support to parents and children as we continue to transition back to normality. The New South Wales Government recognises that need, and I commend it on its efforts to make the transition as smooth as possible.
I particularly note the value of the Before and After School Care Voucher Program regarding women's presence in the workforce. We saw that COVID‑19 had a disproportionate impact on women, and cushioning the financial blow of before‑ and after‑school care is a sure‑fire way of making sure that women do not continue to be disadvantaged. With women more likely to remain at home full‑time or work fewer days a week to care for children, the before‑ and after‑school care vouchers will directly impact women's roles in the workforce. We need to ensure that, as New South Wales moves out of the COVID‑19 pandemic, women do not get left behind. Reducing the cost of out‑of‑school‑hours care means mothers will have the opportunity to return to work and to continue investing in their careers. Furthermore, by reducing the out‑of‑pocket costs of child care, both parents will be afforded the freedom to choose when to go back to work, knowing their children will have access to safe and reliable care.
Making out‑of‑school‑hours care readily available is not only of benefit to working parents, but a big plus for children, opening up a range of social and educational activities to them. Easing the financial burden of child care also means the additional days or hours worked by a household's secondary earner—who is more often than not a woman—are not dictated by whether or not they can afford to send their child to before‑ or after‑school care. Parents have been through the ringer in the past couple of years, having to juggle working remotely, family life and homeschooling. Some parents have had to forego paid work so that they can supervise children in remote learning. So it is pleasing to note that the New South Wales Government has not turned a blind eye to those stressors. Raising a family, even without a one‑in‑100‑year event, has its challenges. But with the added pressure of a worldwide pandemic, I again commend the New South Wales Government for its investment in family life and wellbeing through this voucher program.
Families experienced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic. The Government's tailored and targeted funding response is a vote of confidence for parents returning to the workforce and children returning to full‑time in-class learning. The significant impact of the pandemic on the out‑of‑school‑hours industry has not gone unnoticed by the New South Wales Government. The program provides much‑needed stimulus to the industry. The initiative has been embraced by before‑ and after‑school care providers, with 846 providers signing up to accept the voucher. To ensure all eligible before‑ and after‑school care providers have an opportunity to benefit from the voucher program, registration is open until 20 September 2022. I encourage all out‑of‑school‑hours care providers to register for the voucher program. They should feel confident in the success of the initiative.
Payments to before- and after‑school care providers will be automatically processed by Service NSW within 14 business days of the voucher redemption process. A family's childcare subsidy entitlements will not be reduced by redeeming the $500 voucher. The voucher will cover the family's gap fee until the $500 is expended. Therefore, the voucher scheme does not undercut the benefit of the childcare subsidy and is an all‑round advantage to families. The New South Wales Government is also open to working with providers in the case of a service transfer to ensure that parents do not lose the value of the Before and After School Care [BASC] voucher initiative.
The $155 million BASC voucher program is part of the New South Wales Government's $235 million commitment to expanding access to before- and after‑school care services for families across the State. The BASC voucher program saw great success almost immediately, with more than 80 vouchers downloaded in the first six weeks after its launch. As well as helping parents, the BASC voucher program will provide a much‑needed boost to out‑of‑school‑hours care services. This is yet another example of the New South Wales Government taking charge of a challenging situation and helping to ease the burdens faced by both families and businesses.
Ms KATE WASHINGTON (Port Stephens) (13:03:27):
As the member for Hawkesbury has said, accessible and affordable before- and after‑school care is essential for local families. In my electorate of Port Stephens, and across the State, hundreds of thousands of working parents rely on these vital services in order to fully participate in the workforce so they and their families can get ahead. The motion has been written and moved by the Government to congratulate itself, which should be kept in mind. NSW Labor will not oppose the motion because we support additional assistance for local working parents and we support this particular program. But I find it strange that the Government would choose to put forward this motion on before- and after‑school care when it has spectacularly failed to deliver its own policy commitment from the 2019 election in this sector.
Only three years ago, the Government promised to open up every public primary school for before‑ and after‑school care by 2021. Did Government members not know that the Government had said that going into the last election? I did not hear any mention of it in the motion or in Government members' contributions to debate today. According to the Government's election announcement, before- and after‑school care would be made available to all parents with children in public primary schools by 2021. Yet it is 2022 and parents are still struggling to get their children into before- and after‑school care. The Government promised that public primary schools in Sydney, Newcastle, the Illawarra and on the Central Coast, as well as major regional centres, would be required to open their playgrounds, halls or classrooms for before- and after‑school care and school holiday care from 7.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
But somehow the Government has forgotten to mention that part of its policy in the motion. Three years ago it was one of the Government's centrepiece election commitments, but now it does not even rate a mention. Why? That is obvious: 2021 has come and gone and the Government has not delivered what it promised. In fact, it is getting harder and harder to get a place in before- and after‑school care. Local parents are turning down work or reducing their hours because the Government has failed to deliver on its promise. The reality is these vouchers can only be used if you are lucky enough to secure a place, otherwise you are on your own.
The Government should be focused on making more places available to hardworking parents instead of moving self‑congratulatory motions in the Legislative Assembly. We are dealing with a motion by the Government that entirely ignores its own promises, its own policy and its spectacular failure to deliver. Working parents must be rightly shaking their heads and wondering what on earth is going on in this Parliament. With the cost of living soaring, I am hearing from local families how hard it is to afford child care and out‑of‑hours care for their children. At the early voting centre in Raymond Terrace last week, young couples told me that the cost of child care and early education was an enormous issue for them. It was the biggest issue that they were thinking about when going into the polling booths.
A young mother I spoke to is considering leaving work because it is costing her more in childcare fees than she earns going to work. It is little wonder it is a struggle because, courtesy of the Morrison Government, Australia now ranks second in the world for most expensive child care. In 2018 the Morrison Government announced its childcare package with much fanfare, after an inquiry into the childcare system by the Productivity Commission. It introduced the childcare subsidy as a way of funding child care, parents rely on for out‑of‑hours care. It promised that the new scheme would be simpler and result in cheaper child care for all. What happened? Instead of delivering on that promise, the Morrison Government's big reform was a big dud. In this sector, there has been a spectacular fail from the Morrison Government and a spectacular fail from the Perrottet Government to deliver out-of‑hours care places, which is impacting families today. We should be discussing that on the floor of Parliament today, not a self‑congratulatory motion—
Ms Felicity Wilson:
Point of order: I seek clarification on whether the member for Port Stephens is speaking to the motion before the House. She keeps speaking about early childhood education, which is an entirely different age group to before- and after‑school care, and she is talking about the Morrison Government. I am not sure if the member realises that the Morrison Government is not within this building. Mr Temporary Speaker, I ask that you check whether or not the member is being relevant to the motion. I suggest that she be brought back to the motion before the House.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr David Layzell):
The member for Port Stephens may continue.
Ms KATE WASHINGTON:
What I am saying is entirely relevant to the motion before the House, which is about out‑of‑hours care. How do families pay for out‑of‑hours care? They pay for it out of their own pockets. They pay for it through the childcare subsidy, which is also part of the scheme that has been a spectacular failure in this sector for the families of New South Wales.
Ms Robyn Preston:
Point of order: I seek from the Clerks the number of the standing order? If they could advise me what the point of order is? We are talking about before- and after-school care vouchers that the New South Wales Government has issued. We are not talking about the Morrison Government and preschoolers who need support. The member is not talking to the motion. Could I have some advice from the Clerk on the standing order number for the point of order?
Ms KATE WASHINGTON:
You don't get that benefit.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr David Layzell):
The Clerk will stop the clock.
Ms KATE WASHINGTON:
You can't ask for the standing order number because you don't know it.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr David Layzell):
There is no point of order. The member for Port Stephens will continue.
Ms KATE WASHINGTON:
That point of order is entirely relevant and the interjections are designed to prevent what I am saying—that is, the Minister walked into this venture not realising that her own policy had spectacularly failed in delivering out-of-hours care places, as promised, to hardworking families across New South Wales. The Minister also spectacularly failed to mention the Morrison Government's failure to deliver a simple and accessible childcare and out-of-hours school care scheme for hardworking families across New South Wales.
Ms FELICITY WILSON (North Shore) (13:10:49):
I support the motion moved by the member for Hawkesbury. It is great that the member for Port Stephens focused on early childhood education. Unlike members opposite, I am probably one of the only people in this Chamber who utilises early childhood education every day of the week for my family. I have an intimate understanding of the childcare system, its schemes and all the Federal Government policies pertaining to the Child Care Subsidy and access to early childhood education. But that is not the point of the motion. It is not even the level of government that we are representing in this House. As the member for Port Stephens said time and again, her complaints are with a different government, in a different jurisdiction, in a different Territory, in a different city, in a different building and a different Parliament. If she had spoken about the substantive motion before her, we would have welcomed that because we want to talk about children and families, the cost of living and the challenges for families across New South Wales.
What we welcome from members opposite is support for before‑ and after‑school care and reforms to the system to increase capacity and the number of spaces. That is what we are doing, so we can take the pressure off parents and reduce the costs for families. That will produce a huge cost-of-living benefit for families across New South Wales. I do not think many people in this place would have a more intimate understanding of the day‑to-day impacts of raising a small family than I would. I acknowledge the member for Coffs Harbour, who is in the House, has young children as well. Unfortunately, to be frank, there are not enough people in this place with young families and there are not enough women in this place with families, so I think we are uniquely qualified to contribute to this motion today.
Significant work has been done on the before and after-school voucher program. This Government initiative was to make sure that we supported families in the most effective way. In recent years not only have we significantly increased the number of spaces in before and after-school care but also we have driven down the wait lists that previously existed that hampered the economic opportunity for women to return to the workforce. We have made a lasting difference to people's lives in doing that. The voucher scheme mentioned in the member for Hawkesbury's motion has considerably contributed to reducing the cost of living for families. They will help parents across New South Wales recover out-of-pocket costs.
The $155 million voucher program is part of the total $235 million before and after-school care program that has a range of funding benefits for our children and families across the State, including funds for facilities and equipment; small, remote and regional schools that are tailored to their needs; specialist teams to support principals to administer services; and for a new website and mobile app. The Department of Education understands that in particular areas of rural and remote New South Wales, as the member opposite was referring to, there has to be an approach that is not one size fits all. The department is working to identify and prioritise the needs of those families.
This Government is working with schools, services and communities in our cities, and regional and remote New South Wales, to ensure that no child or family—no matter where they live—is left behind or disadvantaged. It has worked with the PCYC to ensure that it is delivering outcomes. The vouchers available through the Service NSW app is driving down costs for families. It is just one of several successful programs that this Government has introduced for families. Other vouchers include Parents NSW, First Lap, Stay NSW, and Dine & Discover. There is only one side of the House that focuses on the cost of living for families and that is the Government side. The Liberal-Nationals are making a difference for families.
TEMPORARY SPEAKER (Mr David Layzell):
I will now leave the Chair. The House will resume at 2.15 p.m.