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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 6542


Mrs MOYLAN (Minister for Family Services)(8.06 p.m.) —The operational subsidy is currently paid on a non means tested basis to community centres, even though they currently provide only 30 per cent of all centre based care. Community based centres cater for about 70,000 families. Operational subsidy has never been paid to private centres, despite the fact that they provide 70 per cent of centre based care, catering for more than 220,000 Australian families.

Importantly, all special or high cost services provided by community child-care centres are also provided by the private child-care sector. Accordingly, there is no justification to continue with the differential in government assistance between the two sectors, clearly prejudicing one group of parents. The removal of the untargeted operational subsidy from community child-care centres removes a significant inequity in government assistance that currently exists between families using the different facilities.

The member for Barton (Mr McClelland) implied that the private sector is not subject to the same standards as the community based sector. Quality is assured in both sectors through the state and territory licensing regulations and the Commonwealth government's quality improvement and accreditation system. The member for Brisbane (Mr Bevis) can reassure constituents that the government is committed to maintaining accreditation and to extending it to outside school hours care and, in particular, to family day care, which is a very flexible option.

Operational subsidy has been retained in family day care and in occasional care. I heard one of the members opposite saying that we are going to cut all of the subsidies to all child-care services. The fact is that we will be spending $5 billion in this term of government on child-care services. We will be retaining operational subsidy for the family day care program, for occasional care, for outside school hours care, for the multifunctional services and the multifunctional Aboriginal children's services. These services are crucial to meeting the diverse needs of Australian families.

Importantly for family day care, the operational subsidy fund is a central coordinating unit which monitors quality and supports carers. The government also provides training and support for family day carers to provide good quality care in the home environment and to family day care coordination units to assist them to provide quality care.

The private sector cares for almost twice as many babies, almost twice as many special needs children and more children from low income families than the community based long day care sector. Even though the private sector provides these services, their fees, on an average, are only $4 a week higher than the community based centres, and of course they operate without the operational subsidy.

Savings have been directed and we have been very responsible on this. I heard the member for Jagajaga (Ms Macklin) quoting from letters, but I have to say that we have spoken, along with my department, to many of the community based sectors—some of the big groups operating community based long day care—and they are working constructively with us in a responsible manner to ensure that they maintain a high standard of care and that fees are not unduly affected by this measure.

We have done this in a responsible way. We have allowed plenty of time for restructuring to take place. We have directed much of the savings from this measure into other areas. Over the next four years $10.9 million will be provided to fund new places in rural and remote areas. After all, these are the parents in our community who have been most affected by the economic conditions brought about by the former government. These are people who have suffered drought, who have suffered economic hardship and who also have not been, under the former government, receiving very much assistance at all in terms of child-care facilities.

We will provide $10 million per year, and $31 million has been set aside to support the inclusion of children with high level and additional needs, particularly those children who have disabilities. We have set aside $8.3 million over the two years to enable community centres to obtain financial and management advice on options to help them restructure their services. We will also provide $4 million per annum to ensure that families in areas of economic disadvantage will maintain access to child care.

This has been a responsible measure. We have not pulled the rug out from under them, as the former government was intending to do. We have done it in a responsible and restructured manner, allowing plenty of time for this restructuring to take place without disadvantage to the families who care to use, and choose to use, the community based centres. (Time expired)