Bills Digest No. 150   1997-98 Child Care Legislation Amendment Bill 1998


Numerical Index | Alphabetical Index

WARNING:
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

CONTENTS:

Passage History
Purpose
Background
Main Provisions
Endnotes
Contact Officer & Copyright Details

Passage History

Child Care Legislation Amendment Bill 1998

Date Introduced: 4 March 1998

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Health and Family Services

Commencement:Deferral of the implementation of the Child Care Payments Act 1997 is to take effect on the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent. The remaining provisions commence on a date to be proclaimed. For items 4-12 of Schedule 1 dealing with several initiatives which had been included in the Child Care Payments Act 1997, this date is expected to be 27 April 1998.

Purpose

This Bill defers the implementation of the Child Care Payments Act 1997 including the introduction of changed payment procedures for child care. The Bill implements other decisions included in the Child Care Payments Act 1997 through amendments to the Child Care Act 1972 and the Childcare Rebate Act 1993

Background

For a history of the Commonwealth Government's involvement in child care and an analysis of the provisions of the Child Care Payments Act 1997 the reader is referred to Bills Digest No. 21 1997-98, Child Care Payments Bill 1997.

The Child Care Payments Act 1997 made a number of changes to the administration of child care which were due to come into effect on 27 April 1998. These included:

  •  
  • Child Care Assistance to be paid directly to parents rather than to providers;
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  • payment of the Child Care Rebate and Child Care Assistance to be made by Centrelink, the new Commonwealth Service Delivery Agency;
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  • the placing of a limit of 7000 places a year on the number of new private child care places eligible for Child Care Assistance in 1998 and 1999;
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  • the placing of a limit of 20 hours a week on access to Child Care Assistance for purposes not related to work, study or training;
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  • the introduction of immunisation as a requirement for eligibility for Child Care Assistance and the Child Care Rebate; and
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  • the introduction of new confidentiality requirements to protect personal and other child care information.

On 23 January 1998 the Minister for Family Services, Hon Warwick Smith MP, announced that the Government had decided not to go ahead with the proposed changes to the way in which child care payments were to be made.(1) The changes would have seen payments of Child Care Assistance being made directly to parents rather than to providers, with parents keeping records of their use of child care. In addition, parents would have had responsibility to notify Centrelink of any changes to their circumstances or to their use of child care provider.

According to press reports, child care operators have been concerned about the possible changes to their income which the proposed new system might bring, and they wished to retain the existing payment procedures.(2)

In his press release, the Minister stated that '[p]ayments will continue to be made directly to child care services, with services continuing to calculate parents' child care entitlements'.(3) Mr Smith explained that payments of Child Care Assistance will continue to be made by the Department of Health and Family Services, and payment of the Child Care Rebate will continue to be paid by Medicare. He anticipated that Centrelink will take over the payment of Child Care Assistance later in 1998 with no change to the current payment procedures.

Both in his press release, and in his Second Reading Speech on 4 March 1998, the Minister referred to the introduction in 1999 of a child care card or "smartcard" technology which might enable both Child Care Assistance and the Child Care Rebate to be paid by Centrelink. In an answer to a question on notice in the Senate, the Minister for Social Security, Senator the Hon. Jocelyn Newman, said on 4 March 1998 (the same day as this Bill was introduced) that:

The Department of Social Security and Centrelink are together investigating opportunities for improved service delivery through the use of new technology including the potential for using smartcard technology. However, no decision to adopt such technology has been made either by the Department or Centrelink.(4)

While deferring changes to the way in which Child Care Assistance is paid, the Government is seeking to implement, through this Bill, the other initiatives which were included in the Child Care Payments Act 1997. Three of these decisions - the cap of 20 hours for non-work related child care, the limit of 7000 new long day care places in 1998 and 1999, and the immunisation requirement - were taken in the context of the 1997-98 Budget. The confidentiality provisions were recommended by the Law Reform Commission in its review of child care legislation.(5)

Main Provisions

Amendments to the Child Care Act 1972

Items 4-6 deal with the limit which is to be placed on the number of new places approved in 1998 and 1999. This limit is to be introduced through new arrangements for planning approvals. Item 4 lists the things that the operator of an eligible child care service must do in order to maintain his or her approval. These provisions are the same as those contained in the Child Care Payments Act 1997 and include at (b) and (c) the requirement that operators must hold an allocation of places and must not exceed that allocation.

Item 5 has the effect of extending the Minister's powers to make guidelines to include the allocation of child care places. This will allow the implementation of the 1997-98 Budget decision to limit new child care places to 7000 a year in 1998 and 1999. The effect of Item 6 is to make it clear that the limit of 7000 places per annum does not apply after 31 December 1999.

Item 6 also adds three new sections to the Child Care Act 1972 (the Principal Act). Proposed section 4E deals with penalties for breaching any conditions of approval. Proposed section 4F sets out the procedure which the Secretary must follow before imposing a sanction, and proposed section 4G makes decisions to implement conditions or sanctions appealable to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Items 7-10 deal with the limit of 20 hours' child care for non-work related purposes. The wording of these items reflect that of the Child Care Payments Act 1997.

Item 12 inserts a proposed section 12G in the Principal Act which specifies the immunisation requirements for payment of Child Care Assistance. These requirements and exemptions are the same as those set out in the Child Care Payments Act 1997. For further information on the immunisation requirement, the reader is referred to pages 10 and 11 of Bills Digest No. 21 1997-98, Child Care Payments Bill 1997.

The amendments contained in Items 4-12 come into effect on a day to be fixed by Proclamation. According to the Explanatory Memorandum this is expected to be 27 April 1998.(6)

The effect of Item 13 is to introduce confidentiality provisions into the Child Care Act 1972. The proposed sections 12J to 12V are identical to the confidentiality provisions in sections 230 to 242 of the Child Care Payments Act 1997 and make unauthorised access to or use of the protected information an offence punishable by imprisonment of up to 2 years.

Item 14 and 15 put in place powers which will allow the transfer of payment of Child Care Assistance from the Department of Health and Family Services to Centrelink. Item 15 also allows the Secretary to delegate power to the operator of a child care centre who will have to verify a child's immunisation status.

The amendments in Items 13-15 will come into effect on a day to be fixed by Proclamation.

Amendments to the Child Care Payments Act 1997

The effect of Items 16 and 17 is to defer the implementation of the Child Care Payments Act 1997 for up to two years. These amendments come into effect on the day this Act receives Royal Assent.

Amendments to the Child Care Payments (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Act 1997

Items 18 - 24 are a series of technical amendments required as a result of this Bill.

Amendments to the Childcare Rebate Act 1993

Items 25 and 26 insert a requirement that children are immunised in order to receive the Child Care Rebate. The provision in Item 26 is modelled on section 81 of the Child Care Payments Act 1997.

Endnotes

  1. Administration arrangements for child care payments, Hon Warwick Smith MP, Minister for Family Services, Media release, WS3/98, 23 January 1998.
  2.  
  3. 'Child-care reform delay', Australian Financial Review, 24 January 1998, 7, 'Child-care chaos predicted', The Age, 2 February 1998, 4.
  4.  
  5. Administrative arrangements for child care payments, op.cit.
  6.  
  7. Senate, Debates, 4 March 1998, 306.
  8.  
  9. Law Reform Commission, Child care for kids: review of legislation administered by Department of Human Services and Health, (Report No. 70 Interim), Law Reform Commission, Sydney, 1994, 140.
  10.  
  11. Explanatory Memorandum, Child Care Legislation Amendment Bill 1998, 1.

 

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Rosemary Bell
11 March 1998
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This paper has been prepared for general distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament. While great care is taken to ensure that the paper is accurate and balanced, the paper is written using information publicly available at the time of production. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Information and Research Services (IRS). Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion. Readers are reminded that the paper is not an official parliamentary or Australian government document.

IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members
and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1328-8091
Commonwealth of Australia 1998

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1998.



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