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Wednesday, 14 May 1997
Page: 3353

Senator LUNDY(4.46 p.m.) —I rise also to speak on this matter of public importance. Before I start my contribution I would like to refute a number of the claims made by Senator Newman in her address on this matter, particularly her claim that her government is actually increasing funding for child care.

Senator Newman can quite clearly state that, on the books, every year there is an increase in the columns. But what Senator Newman does not inform this chamber and the Australian public is that those increases do not reflect the anticipated growth in child care. So what we are seeing in real terms is a decline in funding for child-care services in Australia. The $841 million cut over the last two budgets represents the absolute magnitude of the gap between the growth in child-care services the need for support of Australian families, and what this government is prepared to offer them.

Another point I would like to make is that Senator Newman brags that there are no changes to eligibility in this year's budget. Well of course there are not because they were all made last year. All of the changes to eligibility were put in last year, whether it was with respect to child-care assistance and having two or more children in care or whether it was with respect to the rebate. So, yes, Senator, you can stand up and say, `Isn't this wonderful. No changes to eligibility this year,' but it is because you put those things in place last year.

I am also very interested and quite relieved in some way to hear the senator bragging about savings coming from managing future growth. I think that is an acknowledgment of exactly what this government is doing. They say `managing future growth'. That is a euphemism for restricting future growth, and I will return to that point later.

As a general comment, it is very interesting to look at a snapshot of what Labor did with child care up to the election last year. Child-care places grew from 46,000 to 300,000 places nationally during the time Labor was in government. That was not just because Labor thought child care was a great idea—I think it is a great idea as a working parent— but it was in response to a need of families in Australia. It was not something that Labor just drove because we thought it was a good idea; it was something in response to the needs of working families.

But this government does not operate like that. It does not look at Australian society and see what the needs of Australians are. It has a social model in its head. Its social model for the working family is that it likes to see one of those parents—be it the man or the woman, Senator Ellison—in the home looking after young children. What we have now is a government that is prepared to impose its social ideal on Australian society instead of responding to the needs, the demographics and the changes in the working patterns of Australian families who, for one reason or another, choose to both work or, in the case of single parent families, have to work to survive.

The standard that we set as a party did recognise those changes in employment. Unlike the coalition, we know that the average Australian is already doing it really hard as a result of the child-care cuts last year. Growth in child care over the last six years has been 18 per cent. This growth has not been recognised by this government in its effort to impose its social ideal on Australian working families with children in care.

The social outcomes of Labor's efforts in responding to community needs were not only the higher participation in the work force but also a service that provided what parents were looking for—that was, guaranteed quality and an affordable and accessible service. I find it so amusing, Senator Newman, that, when we were talking last year about the $500 million budget cuts to child care when you were cutting operational subsidies for community based child care, you stood up and argued and said, `Let the market decide,' or words to that effect.

Your line last year, Senator Newman, and the line of this government was: the market must decide where the centres are needed. And this year we see a complete turnaround on that position. Suddenly it is no longer: let the market decide on where the private centres can be built and the services that they provide. Suddenly, this year, the government has changed its tune completely and has said that unsustainable growth in child subsidisation is something that must be controlled. So instead of letting the market decide, this government has switched tracks completely and said, `We will impose restrictions on the growth of private centres. We will control where they are built. We will control the numbers of places they provide to the community with subsidisation.'

Here we have a free market government turning the tables when it suits them to impose a social model that they choose and which they seek to put on Australian working families. That is a model that we all know dates back to the 1950s. There is nothing this government could say or do to move away from that position because the hypocrisy of their policy approach on child care has now been exposed.

I would also like to take the opportunity to say that in a mere 14 months the landscape for child care has changed completely and dramatically. To refresh the memories of my senatorial colleagues, let us have a look at what happened last year. Community long day care operational subsidies were cut, forcing parents in only a matter of weeks to be paying $20 or so a week more for each child in care.

The rebate and child-care assistance maximum limit froze for two years, so again it is not recognising any growth and squeezing a few extra dollars out of the child care budget. Child-care assistance was restricted to 50 hours per week and the child-care cash rebate is now means tested—that came in earlier this year. There was also that little bit on the side that offered tax rebates to families with a child under five staying at home with a parent.

So the social outcomes that we have seen over the last 14 months or so as a result of last year's budget are that women—or one of the working parents—have been forced out of work and care has become a commodity. No longer is care an essential service that needs to be provided in response to a community demand. Care is now a commodity under this government—a commodity to be controlled, a commodity to be manipulated and to be used to allow this government to make Australian families conform to their retrograde social ideals. I do not believe that is acceptable in any way, shape or form.

As to the sweeteners attached in this year's budget, we have heard about the out of school hours care—although the operational subsidy has been cut to that—play group funding and so forth. Sure, they are all good, but it is all about restricting choice in some areas and then making it look good, putting a bit of sugar on top, in the other areas.

The other thing about this year's budget—(Time expired)