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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11867

Ms O'BYRNE (9:40 AM) —In many ways we are lucky folk in Tasmania, and we are still very traditional in some of our ways. One of those traditional values is the obligation which our older citizens feel that they as grandparents should take on in looking after their grandchildren. They do a wonderful job in this regard, and I want to take this brief moment to recognise the outstanding contribution they make not only to their own families but also, as a result, to the nation as a whole. I guess it is one of the purest and most genuine forms of volunteerism. Of course, the grandparents themselves would not regard it as such. They see it as a duty and an obligation, an expression of their love for their family. But the reality is that they could easily choose not to do it, and for each and every grandparent who decides to take on a child-caring role we must be grateful.

But those wonderful Australians need a break sometimes and we must also provide for those situations where there are no grandparents or where they are unable to act in this role on a regular basis. Towards the end of January I had the good fortune, together with some of my colleagues on this side of the House, to meet with a dedicated band of child-care service directors in my electorate. They too are doing a fabulous job in preparing our youngest Australians for the lives that lie ahead of them. They are also conscious of the extraordinary responsibility with which they are entrusted, a responsibility which all of us in this place should share. As one director so challengingly put it, `When you get into power, don't forget how important our little people are.' I, for one, have not let that ball go through to the keeper since I have been here, and I pledge not to do so now or after the election. I know that is a value shared by many of my colleagues.

In my electorate, virtually every child-care place was taken well before the start of the school year. Centres have waiting lists of some 150 families and yet still receive on average an additional five calls a day from new families. Many centres have taken the action of closing off their waiting lists, so it is impossible to identify how long those lists would be. Parents have contacted my office saying that they have had to forgo work opportunities because they have not been able to identify, source and access responsible regulated child care.

The return to school this week has highlighted yet another crisis—the shortage of places in our out-of-school hours care program. The program simply does not have enough places to cater for the number of families and children that need this very valuable level of care. We asked the directors why the unmet need is not being taken up by the private sector—we have very few private sector facilities in Tasmania. The answer we got was that the start-up cost is so significant. For example, a 20-place facility in Scottsdale, which is a regional town in my electorate, cost $240,000. One private owner-director said that she was unable to take anything out of her new child-care business for two years. The group has also expressed concern about the risk of investment. During our meeting we were told that we do not value our children enough; that we are not preparing them properly for their formal learning phase. Not one of us in this place should find this acceptable. We must all accept responsibility for the future of our children.