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Monday, 26 February 2007
Page: 58

Mr CADMAN (4:07 PM) —This government is absolutely committed to the wellbeing of child care of all types, whether it be preschool, long day care, family day care or any of the multiplicity of childcare services available in this country. This government has worked with the states to provide an extensive and comprehensive service. In fact, at the COAG meeting in July—less than a year ago—it was agreed that the four priorities for human capital reform were early childhood, diabetes, literacy and numeracy and child care, which form part of a national reform agenda announced on 10 February 2006. Senior officials are to complete specific reform proposals for COAG’s consideration. In many of the proposals put forward by the honourable member for Adelaide today, it is absolutely critical that the states come along and agree and endorse the process, but there is no mention of COAG and a cooperative approach. It is all about a Commonwealth takeover.

The suggestion is that the Commonwealth completely take over all preschool services in Australia. I do not know how, from a Commonwealth perspective, we could ever run that. I do not know about your electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker Somlyay, but I cannot imagine a public servant from Canberra going to Maleny, Nambour, Palmwoods or any place like that in your wonderful district and having a look at some of the preschool centres and judging whether they are operating effectively. The program that has been established by this government is an accreditation scheme that is administered by the states and funded in a cooperative manner.

We have heard the Australian Labor Party say today that they are the only ones who can work with the states. This government is working with the states. It is drawing up initiatives in cooperation with the states to cover all types of early childhood services. The national agenda for early childhood is an evidence based policy framework for early childhood—from the antenatal period up to age 6—covering the whole spectrum and all the services that involves. The motion moved by the member for Adelaide will reward the states—particularly New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland—that have neglected their responsibilities for funding preschool services.

According to the Report of government services 2007, the national rate of preschool participation in 2006 was 85.7 per cent. Again we have the problem of New South Wales not performing, not delivering and not living up to its promises. New South Wales continues to have the lowest participation rate at around 60 per cent compared with the national average of 85.7 per cent. According to the childcare census of 2004 across Australia, 45 per cent of Australian government approved LDC centres provide an in-house preschool program run by qualified early childhood teachers.

There is little information about the quality of these services, and it is up to the state governments to bring them into line or to modify them in line with their goals. It is not something that can be done from Canberra. It is not something that should be a takeover, as is proposed by the member’s motion. These proposals would involve the assets of third parties, including state governments and non-government schools of all types. I do not know how you are going to put that in place and say, ‘We want to involve your assets. This is our plan and we are going to involve ourselves in what you are doing.’

The call to eliminate TAFE childcare fees is again something for the state governments. No state government invests as much in or cares as much about TAFE and encourages skills, trades and others in technical and further education than this government. In nominal terms, funding has increased from $878 million in 1995-96 to an estimated $1,269 million in 2006-07. Those increases are directed to child care in part and to the training of childcare and preschool teachers.