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Will minor parties come to the childcare table?

It’s finally springtime. This is when tulips and daffodils blossom – along with parliamentary bills.

That means it’s time for childcare reform, provided the Senate plays along. The education minister, Simon Birmingham, promised that, upon his return, childcare reforms would be top of the legislation agenda.

The winds of change blew in last week, when the social services minister, Christian Porter, reintroduced a welfare cuts bill that would create savings to pay for the government’s Jobs for Families Childcare Package.

Both this bill and the childcare package were introduced in the previous Parliament. But because of Labor and the Greens’ opposition to pruning welfare handouts to fund childcare, the bills were hindered, then lapsed.

Now, with the welfare bill’s reintroduction, a divided Senate could again block its passing and, given the disapproval of Labor and the Greens, it will be up to minor parties to decide its fate. So, what do the two largest minor parties: One Nation and Nick Xenophon Team, want for our youngest citizens?

One Nation has been uncharacteristically silent when it comes to this issue. Party leader Pauline Hanson has yet to vlog about it, and requests for information from the party have gone unanswered.

Xenophon seems to be on Labor’s side in terms of the childcare rebate. Like Labor, his party wants to increase the rebate from $7500 to $10,000 a year, per child, indexed to inflation. The government, in contrast, intends only to increase the rebate by indexing it to inflation.

Whether Xenophon supports welfare cuts to fund childcare remains to be seen. While his party appears to be on the childcare fence, individual senators, such as Bob Day of Family First and David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats, are outwardly opposed to the government’s childcare proposals.

Day scorned the government’s ultimatum – welfare cuts for childcare funding – as “kindergarten stuff”. Leyonhjelm was more diplomatic. He cautioned the government not to rely on his support to pass its bills.

Meanwhile, the Justice Party, fronted by former shock jock Derryn Hinch, seems to have little concern about whether the bills’ pass or not. A spokesperson indicated that the party does not even have a childcare policy.

Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie did not respond to a request for comment.

The government needs nine additional votes for the bills to pass. With support from the Greens, Labor, Day and Leyonhjelm looking unlikely, the childcare reform merry-go-round may continue to slowly revolve, going nowhere.

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