I rise to speak on the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill. Every industry in every region of Australia at this moment in time is struggling to find workers. Any time I walk through my community on the south side of Brisbane, I see signs in shop windows advertising positions available. When I talk to my local small businesses, almost every single conversation starts with them telling me that they are struggling to find staff. This is one of the many reasons the Albanese government's plan for cheaper child care is so important for our nation. We have parents and carers, particularly women, across Australia, who want to enter the workforce for the first time, re-enter the workforce or increase work hours. However, the financial cost of child care is one of the biggest barriers affecting them. That's thousands and thousands of skilled workers wanting to work more hours who at the moment simply can't. This Albanese government bill means around 96 per cent of families with children in early childhood education and care will be better off—96 per cent. Importantly, I stress that no families will be worse off. This is not only a much-needed and welcome cost-of-living reduction measure; it will also deliver a significant, positive productivity dividend to the Australian economy. Productivity, the ABS tells us, actually decreased to 102.3 points this year, down from 104.9 points in the first quarter.
Labor's plan means that more than one million Australian families will be better off, which will include around 8,800 families in my electorate of Moreton. Many of the families benefiting from this bill will be those with a combined income of $80,000 or less. This sensible legislation will lift the maximum childcare subsidy rate to 90 per cent for such battler families. An added benefit is that the Albanese government will also keep the higher childcare subsidy for families with multiple children aged five and under who are in care.
Childcare costs have increased by around 41 per cent over the last eight years—those dark years of the coalition government. These home-budget-crunching increases have held back parents and carers from entering and re-entering the workforce or increasing their work hours. Why? Because the money coming in from work barely covers the cost of their child's child care and, in many cases, doesn't cover it at all. Families were going backwards by going to work. That is not sustainable or logical as a society.
According to the latest ABS data, last year there were 73,000 people who wanted to work but weren't looking for work because they simply couldn't make the cost of child care work for their family budget. As I said, if they went to work, they went backwards. Can you imagine if we remove this barrier and connect or reconnect these 73,000 people, from every region in Australia, with the employment opportunities that are now out there? That's 73,000 'worker wanted' ads taken down from the shop windows of Australia. What a positive impact this would have on productivity and the Australian economy. That is why the Albanese government's cheaper childcare policy is so important.
These changes will go a long way to meet the workforce shortages that this country is facing and will allow small and local businesses especially to fill those staffing gaps that I mentioned upfront. These businesses can thrive and make our nation stronger.
A great local example of how this cheaper childcare bill will help is that of Remah, who lives in Pallara, at the southern end of my electorate. Remah has recently welcomed a new baby into her family. Congratulations, Remah, to your household. Remah told me that this cheaper childcare bill will allow her to access more hours at work, which will both benefit her family and help boost the productivity of her employer. Remah said she was right at this moment weighing up her options for a return to more hours of work, but, with the cost of child care being so high, she's not sure whether she can access the level of work that is right for her and her family. Remah added that, with the current impacts of rising inflation and interest rates, having access to a reduced bill for child care would help reduce the barriers to her accessing more hours at work, which would mean a better standard of living for her family. Remah said that being the mother of two young children was about finding that balance between work and care that would provide the best standard of living for her children while also allowing her to have a fulfilling life-work balance. Access to cheaper child care will give Remah the right balance and the right sort of control.
That is what many families with young children are currently facing—that juggling act of weighing up the family budget and the ability to access work. When parliament passes this bill, homes with young children in them will improve across the nation from July 2023.
Another story from my local area is from Matthew and his partner, who live in Annerley, in the northern part of my electorate. They have two children, aged four and two. Matthew and his partner both work full time. Matthew said that, at this moment in time, child care is one of their family's biggest expenses and that at times he and his partner have had serious conversations about the possibility of one of them having to work part time. Matthew informed me that the changes to the cost of child care will mean that they won't in the future have to have those conversations. The removal of phase 2 of the higher childcare subsidy when their eldest child turns five will also make a significant difference to Matthew's family budget.
Another example is Emma, who lives in Yeronga. Emma has a three-year-old going to child care four days a week. Like most families at the moment, Emma and her partner struggle to afford the cost of child care, and, for Emma to continue working at the level she is, they've had to sacrifice other expenses, such as swimming lessons for their daughter. Emma said the changes will be better than a pay rise for them, as the changes will free up money in their family budget. One of Emma's first priorities will be to start their daughter's swimming lessons. I should stress that swimming lessons are essential in Queensland. Emma added that the cost of child care is one of the biggest discussion topics she has with all her friends. They speak of the real-life difficulties when it comes to balancing the benefits of work and the cost of child care. Sadly, too many of Emma's friends have decided that working more hours just isn't viable for them at the present, even though they want to work more. Emma knows that the changes that the Labor government is putting forward will change these conversations for the better, and more of her friends will be able to rejoin or increase their participation in the workforce and improve their family's financial situation in these struggling timeless.
There is also a great new initiative to assist First Nations families, with the introduction of a base level of childcare subsidy entitlement of 36 hours of early learning per fortnight from July next year. Importantly, this new measure kicks in irrespective of the family's activity levels. This will see more First Nations children into early learning by boosting the hours of subsidised care available, and directly addresses target 4 of Closing the Gap. As a former teacher, I know that early learning is such an important building block in a child's educational development. The last report handed down by the Productivity Commission saw, for the first time, that development of readiness for First Nations children actually went backwards. That is shameful. We can't let this continue, and I'm confident that the introduction of the base level of childcare subsidy for First Nations families, as well as other initiatives, will see these rates of development rise again.
Another part of the bill, which I mentioned earlier and which will benefit families just like Matthew's, is the removal of phase 2 of the higher childcare subsidy for families with multiple children. Anyone who would have had two children in care under the age of five would have had their family budget impacted once one of their children reached five or left care. There would have been a reduction to the period that a family was eligible for the higher childcare subsidy. As you can imagine, this would have put a large strain on the household budget for a family like Matthew's, and extra strain right when one of their children was heading off to school.
Funnily enough, in yet another example of the sheer incompetence of the previous Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments, phase 2 changes would have had a negative impact on the Commonwealth's budget. It was estimated that the phase 2 changes would have saved the budget around $34 million over the forward estimates, but the IT changes required to implement the measure were estimated to cost around $89 million. A cost savings scheme initiated by the previous government would have cost more to implement than it saved, to the tune of some $55 million—or about one car park, to put it in useful measures—while at the same time disincentivising mothers, in particular, from remaining in work, or forcing them to reduce their hours of work, taking away the availability of skilled workers when small businesses and the economy can't afford them.
It doesn't take much to know the cost of child care for families in this country is a drag not only on the family budget but also on the Australian economy, as Treasurer Chalmers indicated in his budget speech last night. This bill is another positive economic and social step forward delivered by the Albanese government, and will be welcomed by families, including families like Remah's, Matthew's and Emma's, right across Australia. I commend this bill to the House.