Family Environment

In Australia, monetary and facilitative support is provided to families in order to ensure that the rights of children are protected and their best interests preserved. In seeking to advance the livelihoods of children in Australia, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) has recommended that the Australian government:

  • Commence a systemic evaluation of existing measures which support all family types and children; and assess the relationship of certain factors (such as ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status and geographic location) to the rates of children place in out-of-home care.
  • Use the findings of such an evaluation to guide the development of appropriate measures to support families and strengthen current programmes of family support, including availability and affordability of quality child care facilities, adequacy of family assistance payments and adequacy of the paid parental leave entitlement.
  • Article 5: Governments should respect the rights and responsibilities of families to guide their children so they can learn to use their rights properly
  • Article 18: Governments should help parents by providing institutions, facilities and services to support them. Governments should take all appropriate measures to ensure children of working parents have the right to benefit from childcare services and facilities for which they are eligible.
  • Article 27: Children have a right to a standard of living good enough to meet their needs. The government should help families who cannot afford to provide this.

Positive developments

NATIONAL: Productivity Commission Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning

The Australian government has announced the establishment of a Productivity Commission Inquiry into Child Care and Early Childhood Learning, tasked with assessing how the current child care system can be made more flexible, affordable and accessible. [1]

The Report is expected by October 2014.The issues paper which has been released points to an investigation of the contribution that affordable access to childcare could have on female workforce participation; consideration of the types of care required; consideration of the needs of vulnerable families and geographical isolated families; specific international models of care; and recommendations as to funding requirements; amongst other issues. [2]

While this Commission Inquiry is a positive step towards prioritising early childhood care and education as recommended by the CRC, the government must ensure that the principles of overall child development and parental capacity strengthening are also taken into account during the implementation of the inquiry ’s findings.

NATIONAL: Further funding of the Family Support Program

On 1 August 2013 the government announced an ongoing funding commitment of almost $1.5 billion for the Family Support Program over four years. [3]

Part of the Family Support Program is the ‘Family and Relationship Service’ which provides relationship counseling for families and broader parental support in raising children.

The funding aims to promote longer contracts to service providers, allow for greater training and certainty for staff, improve collaboration and integration of services, streamline reporting and maintain a focus on prevention and early intervention in vulnerable families. [4]

Continuation of funding is important for service providers to continue to provide high quality support and for families to receive the assistance they need. Continued commitment to funding effective programs is a positive governmental response and should be reproduced across the sector.

NATIONAL: Plan to extend Paid Parental Leave scheme to 6 months

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated his intention to pursue an extension of the current Paid Parental Leave scheme, as promised in the lead up to the 2013 election. [5] Under the new policy, mothers would be eligible for full parental leave up to a period of 6 months, paid according to their actual wage. [6]

As stated by the policy document itself, this scheme would be consistent with WHO’s guidelines for exclusively breastfeeding and allow working mothers to exclusively breastfeed their children until they reach 6 months of age before returning to work. [7]

However, a number of MPs have stated their opposition to the policy as a result of economic concerns, [8] while the Opposition and public policy experts have labelled the policy as ‘unfair’ due to the increased amount available for high wage earners. [9]

NATIONAL: Funding for Universal Access to Early Childhood Education initiative

On 19 April 2013, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed a new National Partnership Agreement on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education.

Under this Agreement the Australian Government will contribute an additional $655million over 18 months to the states and territories to support universal access to early education for young children, given that it is state and territory governments which are responsible for the provision of preschool education. [10]

This funding is intended to provide all children with the opportunity to access a quality, early childhood education program, delivered by a degree qualified early childhood teacher, for 600 hours a year, in the year before full-time schooling. [11]

However, this funding does not provide any payments directly to families, and it remains the family’s choice as to whether their child will attend preschool. Therefore a concern exists that disadvantaged families may not benefit from this funding or may not send their children to preschool, as there is likely to still be a cost involved. [12]

Developments requiring attention

NATIONAL: Partial improvements in child care affordability, accessibility and quality

A recent report on child care in Australia showed an improvement in child care affordability for families in recent years. Since 2004/2005 out of pocket costs of child care for families have decreased across all income levels, [13] while rates of children accessing approved child care has increased by 30% in the past 8 years. [14] As a result of the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate schemes, the Australian government is meeting approximately 70% of average long day childcare costs for a family earning $70,000 per year. [15]

Availability of child care has also be shown to increase in the government’s latest report, with the number of outside school hours care centres increasing from 7,410 in 2009 to 8,413 in 2012. [16] Long day care numbers have also increased, and the government provides an online search tool for child care centres with vacancies on its ‘My Child’ website. [17]

However, there remain problems with availability particularly in highly populated areas, such as Melbourne and Sydney. While applauding the progress made by the Labor government, MP Kate Ellis conceded that “unacceptable shortages in many highly populated centres” remains. [18] Parents and industry groups have repeatedly called for greater availability and affordability of child care, in order to encourage women back into the workforce. [19] Chairman of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia Carol Schwartz AM has stated that the approach of the previous government was “inappropriate” in addressing child care issues and called on governments to support alternative methods to child care including live-in nannies. [20]

Furthermore, attention is required in order to ensure all child care centres in Australia are providing quality child care. According to the latest report, 22.9% of child care centres currently exceed the national quality standard and 33.2% meet the standard. However, 43.6% of child care centres still do not meet the standards, although they are currently working towards doing so. [21] This high number of centres not meeting the standards provided by the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care is an issue which requires further redress by the government in order to meet the CRC’s expectations.

Although the previous federal government established an Early Years Quality Fund to support the implementation of the Framework, on 28 September 2013 the Assistant Minister for Education, The Hon Sussan Leys, announced a review into the funding. In the ensuing independent report, the implementation and funding of the Fund was criticised as insufficient to support the policies’ aims, and inequitable in its application across workers in the sector. [22] The Fund therefore requires review to ensure that highly trained, qualified staff are recruited and retained within the sector, in order to meet the recommendations of the CRC.

Areas lacking progress

NATIONAL: Failure to evaluate the current welfare system as recommended by the CRC

The major recommendation of the CRC’s Concluding Observations in relation to family environment issues was that the Australian government undertake a systemic evaluation into the effectiveness of existing measures for families. After undertaking such an examination the government would then be in a position to take appropriate measures to better strengthen current family support programs, consider the adequacy of family assistance payments and the adequacy of the paid parental leave scheme.

However, although the government has recently announced initiatives such as the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, it has not extended evaluation to the broader welfare and family support system.

The only recent examination of the adequacy of the Australian welfare system was undertaken by the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee in its ‘Inquiry into the Adequacy of the Allowance Payment System for Jobseekers and Others…’ This inquiry focused predominantly on the adequacy of return-to-work based payments and requirements to access such payments. Although the Committee noted the high rates of families where neither parent was working full time (approximately 1 in 10 families), [23] it did not address whether the payments made to those families were adequate. Instead it considered the success of strategies aimed at encouraging those non-working parents into the workforce.

In March 2013 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed concern that the total support package available to parents is not sufficient to satisfy:

  • minimum essential levels of social security;
  • the minimum requirements of the right to an adequate standard of living in Australia; and
  • the right to non-discrimination. [24]

The Australian government must make the undertaking of the evaluation recommended by the CRC a first priority in the future.

Negative developments

NATIONAL: Federal government policy removing the Schoolkids Bonus

The Schoolkids Bonus scheme was established in 2013 by the previous Labor federal government, replacing the Education Tax Refund and removed the need to provide costings and receipts. Under the scheme, eligible families automatically receive an annual cash payment of $410 for primary school children and $820 for secondary school children in two installments. [25] The new Schoolkids Bonus assists families and students with education related costs, such as school fees, uniforms, books and sports, music or other lessons. This was a positive and supportive mechanism for families to ensure a high standard of living and family environment for school-aged children.

However, the incoming Coalition government has stated its intention to scrap the scheme once the Mineral Resources Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013 (Cth) is passed through Parliament. [26] This is likely to have a negative impact on parents and their ability to adequately support their children in many cases.

NATIONAL: Federal government policy reducing baby bonus for second and subsequent children

The government has amended the ‘baby bonus’ policy, reducing the amount payable to families for their second and subsequent children from $5000 to $3000.

Although the Bill faced opposition in Parliament, described as “further erosion of assistance to families”, [27] it passed and came into effect in July 2013.

This reduction in welfare support provided to families with new children has the potential to undermine the quality of living of families and the ability of parents to provide for their children at an adequate level. This decrease further indicates the lacking support provided to families by the government, and must be remedies.

  • The Australian government immediately commence a systemic evaluation into the existing measures which support families and assess the relationship of certain factors to the rates of children in out-of-home care.
  • The findings of such a report be utilised to strengthen current measures of family support, and to ensure that the current family assistance payments and paid parental leave systems are adequate in that regard.
  • The government prioritise child care affordability, availability and quality and take action in order to ensure quality care and education for young children.
  1. The Hon Tony Abbott, The Hon Joe Hockey, The Hon Sussan Ley, ‘Government announces Productivity Commission inquiry to focus on more flexible, affordable and accessible child care’ (Joint Media Release, 17 November 2013) (online) at (accessed 27 November 2013)
  2. Productivity Commission, Childcare and Early Childhood Learning: Issues Paper (2013)
  3. Australian Government Department of Social Services, ‘Family Support Program’ updated 27 September 2013 at (accessed 1 October 2013)
  4. Australian Government Department of Social Services, ‘Family Support Program Future Directions’ updated 27 September 2013 at (accessed 1 October 2013)
  5. Jaqueline Maley, ‘Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme to begin July 2015’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 2013, (accessed 1 October 2013); Michaela Whitbourn and Lucille Keen, ‘Coalition’s paid parental leave scheme unfair: experts’ Financial Review, 19 August 2013, (accessed 1 October 2013)
  6. Up to a maximum amount of $75,000, see The Liberal Party, ‘The Coalition’s Policy for Paid Parental Leave’ (August 2013) online at (accessed 1 October 2013) p.3
  7. The Liberal Party, ‘The Coalition’s Policy for Paid Parental Leave’ (August 2013) online at (accessed 1 October 2013) p.4
  8. Lauren Wilson, ‘Dennis Jensen ‘deeply troubled’ by Tony Abbott’s parental leave scheme’, The Australian, 17 September 2013, (accessed 1 October 2013)
  9. Katie Cassidy, ‘Labor targets Coalition’s ‘unfair’ paid parental leave scheme; Abbott says Rudd ‘doesn’t get it’ ABC News Online, 20 August 2013,–scheme/4899454 (accessed 1 October 2013)
  10. Australian Government, ‘Universal Access to early childhood education’ (accessed 1 October 2013)  
  11. Australian Government, ‘Universal Access to early childhood education’ (accessed 1 October 2013)  
  12. The government website states that while early childhood education is free or low cost in some states, “It will be up to states and territories and providers to determine what cost, if any, will be passed on to parents for early childhood education” (Australian Government, ‘Universal Access to early childhood education’ (accessed 1 October 2013))
  13. Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Child Care in Australia (2013)  p.8
  14. Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Child Care in Australia (2013)  p.10
  15. Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Child Care in Australia (2013)  p.1
  16. Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Child Care in Australia (2013)  p.17
  17. See for further information
  18. The Hon Kate Ellis MP, ‘Child care in Australia booming: report’ (Media Release, 4 August 2013) at (accessed 1 October 2013)
  19. Rebecca Nash, ‘Industry group backs parents’ call for more, and more affordable, childcare’ ABC News (2 August 2013) (accessed 1 October 2013)
  20. Joanna Mather, ‘Top women break ranks on Abbott’, Financial Review (20 August 2013) at (accessed 21 October 2013)
  21. Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Child Care in Australia (2013)  p.4
  22. PriceWaterhouseCoopers on behalf of the Department of Education, Ministerial review of the Early Years Quality Fund: Final Report (2013) x
  23. The Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee, Inquiry into the adequacy of the allowance payment system for jobseekers and others, the appropriateness of the allowance payment system as a support into work and the impact of the changing nature of the labour market (November 2012) p.60
  24. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Social Security Legislation Amendment (Fair Incentives to Work) Act 2012 Final Report (March 2013) p. 30  (accessed on 12 December 2013)
  25. Australian Government Department of Social Services, ‘Schoolkids Bonus’, updated 27 September 2013 at (accessed 1 October 2013)
  26. Australian Government, Department of Social Services, ‘Schoolkids Bonus’, (updated 18 November 2013) (online) at (accessed 27 November 2013)
  27. Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 (Cth) Second Reading Speech, Senator Madigan (12:54)
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