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Tuesday, 31 March 1998
Page: 1599


Senator NEAL (3:06 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Senator Herron) to a question without notice asked by Senator Neal today, relating to child care.

This government has certainly created chaos in the child care arena. Despite the fact that Senator Herron seems to be incapable of appreciating that this is the case, certainly the rest of the community, families and women who have to take advantage of child care are very well aware of it.

You might have noted that this government has a history of refusing to acknowledge that they have problems. You might recall what occurred with nursing homes and what is happening now in the health system. This government believes that, if they consistently deny that there are any difficulties, that in fact there are none. But the community is a lot smarter than you. What Senator Herron and the government are saying is completely contrary to every piece of evidence that is available.

Three surveys have been done. On each occasion the minister has said that they are not to be taken seriously. He said that with the National Council of Community Based Children's Services, when they did a survey. He said that the New South Wales Council of Social Service survey should not be taken seriously. He said the Queensland Child Care Coalition survey should not be taken seriously. But these surveys all say very much the same thing, and when a number of surveys and people in the community are saying the same thing, that child care is in chaos, then I really think it would be worthwhile for this government to start listening. What they are saying is all the same; they are saying that child-care costs are going up all around Australia—they are going up between $11 and $25 a week per child.

The surveys are also saying that parents can no longer afford child care. The parents are being forced to either leave the work force or, alternatively, risk their children by putting them in unlicensed care. They are also saying that parents are being forced to expect a lower level of service because of the cuts the child-care centres are having to impose. They are having to reduce the number of trained staff; they are having to reduce the equipment that is available to them.

All round, child-care centres are doing it tough. The refusal of this government and Senator Herron to recognise that is not going to make the problem go away because, on the twentieth of this month, the inquiry being conducted by the Senate community affairs committee indicated that the concern about the chaos in child care is not limited to three surveys. We have now received 850 submissions from child-care centres, from parents and from community groups that, once again, say the same thing: the changes that have taken place as a result of this government's policy are a disaster; they are causing chaos all around Australia for parents and their families. In this day and age, it is pretty difficult to raise a family. With the increased costs being introduced by this government, it is not just pretty difficult, but if you are also trying to meet the cost of child care then, for many people, it really is impossible.

I have to say that I was quite surprised to receive, as one of the submissions received by the community affairs committee, a submission by Catherine Cusack. Catherine Cusack I have known for many years and she is a very thoughtful and considered person. But I suppose it also interesting that Catherine Cusack is an adviser to Peter Collins, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales. Catherine Cusack was very forthright about what she thought about the policies of this government in child care and the damage that is being done by the policies of this government to parents and their families. I would just like to read a small part of her submission, but I am sure most of the people in the Senate would like to hear much more of it. It is available and I hope that you will take the opportunity. She says:

During the period from 7 April to 1 July 1997, the costs of my child care for two children increased by $93.55.

(Time expired)