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Photo: Members of the Nick Xenophon Team. L-R: Skye Kakoschke-Moore, Stirling Griff, Rebekha Sharkie, Nick Xenophon.

Childcare bill edges closer to approval

The government was hoping to make legislating more efficient with its recent Omnibus Bill, which included changes to childcare funding, family subsidies and paid parental leave, but things didn’t go to plan. The bill failed to muster enough votes to pass.

However, things are looking up. After initially blocking it, the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) has indicated it may support the childcare fragment of the bill, pending its segmentation.

The government may have no choice but to accept this. Crossbenchers hold the balance of power in the Senate, as the government has only a slim majority. This means any legislation it puts forward needs the support of at least 7 out of 11 crossbenchers, if Labor and the Greens veto it, which they often do.

The NXT party includes three senators, one of whom is member for Mayo and early learning spokesperson Rebekha Sharkie.

Explaining her party’s Omnibus Bill position, she said in a statement to Early Learning Review: “In our discussions [with the government], we have raised some issues we have had with the package, especially its impact on vulnerable and low income families. These conversations have been encouraging. We want to see assurances from the government that Indigenous programs and mobile childcare initiatives will not lose funding under this new package.

“If the government seriously wants to see the bill passed, it will allow the legislation to be debated as a standalone bill, not tied to welfare cuts and changes to Paid Parental Leave.”

NXT’s shifting position will be music to the ears of many parents and early learning providers. Organisations like Goodstart Early Learning can’t wait for childcare funding relief. Advocacy manager John Cherry says he’s hopeful this will come by the end of March.

Like most of the crossbenchers, he believes childcare can be funded without cutting welfare benefits.

“We believe that the child care package … has already been paid for through other budget savings,” he says.

“Families have been waiting a long time for the government to deliver on its package and want the parliament to just get on with it.”

Like NXT, One Nation, which holds four Senate seats, has suggested it won’t support the bill in its current form.

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