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Tuesday, 23 September 1997
Page: 8218

Mr BRADFORD(8.38 p.m.) —I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a contribution. It has been a long time since the parliament has been full when I have made a speech and I am a little overcome. In fact, it is actually worse than that because I was planning to be sitting here quietly for half an hour listening while the member for Jagajaga (Ms Macklin) spoke, making some notes to take the opportunity to rebut the arguments that she put forward. But I am not going to have that opportunity now, so I am a little embarrassed by that.

I was rather disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) took the opportunity that he did to obviously flout the standing orders or at least the spirit of the standing orders. The matters may well be matters that he may wish to raise in this House. He, when he was leader of the House, frequently pulled us into line on those sorts of matters when we were in opposition, so he knows that there are many facilities available to him to pursue the matters that he wishes to pursue. I do not deny that he might wish to pursue them but I believe that the Leader of the House (Mr Reith) was absolutely right in making the point that the Leader of the Opposition was flouting the rules and he should have done better.

The other matter that I understood was that the government was concerned to have this bill passed through the House this evening. There was a suggestion that members might keep their speeches short. I have not been told whether that is still to be the case or not but that was my understanding. Perhaps the whip might let me know as I make my remarks whether they need to be curtailed earlier than the 20 minutes that the time shows that I have allotted.

The fact is that the child care industry has grown largely unchecked because in recent years it has been underpinned by government largess. It is an industry that has grown because of the system which allowed it to grow. Something had to be done about it; something had to be done to bring that growth into perspective and to make sure that the problems that existed in it were fixed. I understand that the problems are exacerbated in south-east Queensland. I understand that in some other parts of Australia the problems are not as bad as they are in south-east Queensland. But I can tell you that we have a serious problem in the child care industry in south-east Queensland.

The child care industry is now a multibillion dollar industry, accounting for .5 per cent of GDP, with government providing 60 per cent of the costs. That amounts to $1.5 billion that the government is putting into child care. Let us examine the question of why. In recent years, debate about early childhood has become complicated and confusing. But there is no doubt in my mind—and I would have been interested to see whether this was an issue the member for Jagajaga might have taken up—that parent involvement gives children the best start in life whilst it also brings deep satisfaction to their parents.

I recently read a book by Dr Peter Cook entitled Early Child Care—Infants and Nations at Risk. One paragraph from that book rather sums up my philosophy on child care. Dr Cook says:

It should be obvious that it goes against nature for mothers to be put under pressure to hand over their infants and toddlers to unrelated strangers for most of their waking hours.

The Howard government is committed to giving families a real choice about how their children are cared for—and I mean real choice. This legislation that we have before us is entirely consistent with actions that this government has already taken to ensure that parents do get a real choice about the sort of care that their children receive.

It is also consistent with the economic imperatives that this government faced when it came into government. I do not need to remind the House tonight that there were very serious economic problems faced by this government when it took office, problems which it inherited from the previous government. Expenditure on child care in that regard, like expenditure in many other areas, had to be reigned in. Already actions have been taken to limit child care assistance to 50 hours a week. There have been situations where exemptions can be gained from that particular limitation. Indeed, I think most people would regard 50 hours child care a week as being very generous. A number of other measures have already been implemented.

I would have been interested to know what the member for Jagajaga was saying about the bill in respect of the 20-hour limitation which is being imposed on non-working parents' access to child care.

Ms Macklin —What was your pre-election promise?

Mr BRADFORD —I assume that the opposition is supporting the 20-hour limitation. If it is not, it easily will be accused of being absolutely hypocritical on that issue, having when it was in government proposed a 12-hour limit to access.

Ms Macklin —That's right.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. N.B. Reid) —Order! The honourable member for Jagajaga.

Mr BRADFORD —I am not sure whether I would be excited about staying around now to listen to what the member for Jagajaga has to say. But if she had spoken before me in the chamber this evening, I would have been interested in listening to her.

Mr McMullan —You might learn something.

Mr BRADFORD —I doubt very much that I would learn anything. But I would be interested to know whether the opposition is supporting the 20-hour limit. I assume they will be supporting the 20-hour limit. If they do not, they will look a tad hypocritical, having attempted when in government to impose a 12-hour limit on the access of non-working parents to child care.

The government in this legislation also imposes a limit of 7,000 on the number of new private child-care places eligible for child-care assistance in the two years 1998 and 1999. Once again, I have to assume that the opposition will support that limitation. Again, I would find it rather inconceivable if they were not to, even if they were only half-aware of what the child-care industry is about—and particularly considering the problems existing in the child-care industry, as I was saying, in south-east Queensland.

In south-east Queensland, child care has grown to the point where there child-care centres on almost every corner. In fact, they are a bit like corner stores; they have just sprung up everywhere. We now have an excess supply situation that is threatening the viability of existing child-care centres. So I am very pleased that this legislation proposes that 7,000 limitation for the years 1998 and 1999. Also, I need to foreshadow that I think there will be a need to give consideration to extending that limitation beyond those two particular years.

There have been—and I am sure the member for Jagajaga would have gone into some detail about this—some concerns expressed, and in my view quite rightly and justifiably, by the industry about the complication or complexity of the changes and also about some of the particular impacts of the changes on the industry in south-east Queensland. I need to say—and the members opposite have detected quite correctly that I would be consistent with the line that I have put throughout the eight years that I have been in this place—that I am not a great supporter of the child-care industry. I am not a fan of the child-care industry by any means. I am in that quaint group in this place and outside that believes parent care is good for kids. I believe that parent care is the best care that money can buy for kids. Especially—and the member for Jagajaga will collapse when I say this—I believe mother care happens to be important to kids as well.

Parents should be able to choose the care that they want for their children. I noticed that during my opening remarks there was much mirth opposite when I made those sorts of statements because, of course, my pro-child or pro-family views—and they are views that are shared by a large number of my colleagues here—are offensive to extreme feminists. I notice that Eva Cox, for instance, is one who said that women not back in the work force by the time their child is one-year-old are bludgers. That would describe, unfortunately, a very large number of women who choose not to return to work so soon—and my wife is one of them. That description is offensive to a large number of women.

The debate about child care was hijacked for many years by the extreme feminists who dominated the previous government's policy making in this area, and the result was unchecked growth of an industry almost completely underpinned by government largess. As I said, it has risen almost exponentially over the years and it is now costing us $1.5 billion.

This government was elected with a mandate to fix up the problems in many areas, and child care is only one of those areas which has needed attention. I am pleased that this legislation is consistent with our underlying objective in this particular area—that is, to provide real choice for families; to enable families to make choices about the child care which best suits them. I would be interested to hear what members of the opposition have to say about this issue of choice. They have always been in favour of choice. But, essentially, they want to give families Hobson's choice, or their choice. The choice was that you could make any choice you like, as long as—

Ms Macklin —Back in the kitchen!

Mr BRADFORD —That is the sort of inane interjection I would expect from the member for Jagajaga. She does herself no service by identifying with the very few people who have driven this debate for so long. This legislation is part of the process of fixing up the problems that you created. You let this debate be hijacked all along by an ideological position that essentially downgraded the importance of families and which did not take into account the best interests of children. I can understand why you are sensitive about that. If I were in your position, I would be sensitive about it too. But the fact is that that is what you allowed to occur, that is what this debate will be about and that is what this legislation is about—fixing up the mess that you particularly left us.

In the minute that I really ought only to take, I will refer to the immunisation requirements in this particular legislation. I want to put on record my concerns about this. I understand that there is, I think, within the community a good deal of support for it. But, once again, my position on this issue would be that parents should have a choice about this particular matter. I do not believe that they do have a real choice about this issue. The act provides that children attending child care be fully immunised before any child-care assistance is payable.

According to the act, parents can become conscientious objectors, but a strict test applies to that particular position being taken, and it is not certain yet exactly what the requirements will be. I understand that in part they would have to be counselled by a doctor, who presumably would tell them about the risks of not vaccinating, but not necessarily the risks of vaccinating. I will finish off.

Mr Crean —You have five minutes to go! Are you going to defend this fraud?

Mr BRADFORD —We have been asked to curtail our remarks a little in the interests of getting through this debate tonight. Unfortunately for you people, I think we will achieve that objective.

Eva Cox was right when she spoke about this immunisation requirement. It irks me to say that she is right about anything, but she is right when she says that this adds what is essentially a health measure to already complicated arrangements that are in place for claiming child care. As she says, it will impact heavily on the poor.

I need to put those remarks on record. I know they are not consistent with the government or opposition positions, but I feel strongly that it is a matter of choice for parents. Seeing it is something that I subscribe to very strongly, then I think it should apply to the choice of whether your children are immunised or not. I have chosen to immunise mine. I am not against immunisation, but I have some concerns about the obligatory or the compulsory nature of this requirement.

Child care is important. I assume there would be general agreement on that. In fact, nothing could be more important. Let us decide and be sure in this debate that this legislation is consistent, as I believe it is, with really finding what is best for children. There has been too much of the dog wagging the tail in the child-care debate for too long. The debate has been hijacked, as I said, by those who have an agenda other than finding out what is best for children. I believe this legislation is broadly consistent with that very desirable objective.

Mrs Sullivan —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Standing order 227 says:

Any amendment may be moved to any part of the bill, provided it is within the title or relevant to the subject matter of the bill . . .

Now that I have had the opportunity of looking at a copy of the amendment that was moved by the Leader of the Opposition, it is my view that under the standing orders and procedure of this House this amendment is out of order and should not be proceeded with.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. N.B. Reid) —I thank the member for Moncrieff. I now have had the opportunity to see and examine the terms of the amendment. While it makes a valiant attempt to be relevant, the second reading amendment is out of order. The question therefore is that this bill be now read a second time.

Mr Crean —Mr Deputy Speaker, are you seriously ruling that our amendment is out of order?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! You have not got the call.

Mr Crean —I seek the call.


Mr Crean —Are you ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Is this a point of order?

Mr Crean —Mr Deputy Speaker, on a point of order, I am asking whether you are ruling that our amendment is out of order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I am indeed.

Mr Crean —Then I will move dissent from your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker.