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Thursday, 14 May 1998
Page: 2847

Senator GIBBS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Family Services, Senator Herron. Can the minister confirm that expenditure on child-care assistance in 1997-98 was about $100 million less than anticipated in last year's budget? Does the government admit that this is because parents cannot afford formal care and instead are leaving paid work or putting their children into backyard care?

Senator HERRON (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —I thank Senator Gibbs for her question because once again she raises the same Labor misinformation program. No, Senator Gibbs, I do not believe the statement that you have just made. The government has allocated $4.9 billion over four years to child care. There will be an extra 83,000 places over four years.

It is interesting that you sit next to Senator Crowley. She was the minister responsible for the unbridled overdevelopment of private day care centres which got totally out of control. They were built in the wrong places. Evidence was given before a Senate inquiry that there were 16 child-care centres within one kilometre of each other. That occurred under the Labor government. So I dispute that statement, Senator Gibbs. As I have said, there will be an extra 83,000 places over four years. Currently, there are 493,880 families using formal child care—that is, 599,920 children.

Some $1.2 billion has been allocated to child care this year—an increase of 18 per cent since Labor's last year in office. We get this bleating—these complaints—from Labor that we are forcing women out. That is not true. The ABS Labor force figures show that the total participation rate for females with dependent children under 15 years of age has remained relatively stable since January 1996 at around 59 per cent.

Where are these women who are being chased out of the work force? They are not. The same percentage are in work now as under Labor. It has been the same figure since January 1996. In seasonally adjusted terms, participation rates for women with children have remained at a constant level of 59 per cent over the same period. The same misinformation program is going on. The Labor Party is running a scare campaign.

They have nothing else to go on after the tremendous budget that was delivered the other day. Inflation is the lowest it has been for 30 years. Housing interest rates are the lowest they have been in 28 years. Small business interest rates are the lowest they have been in 30 years. The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been for eight years. Senator Cook was talking about the current account deficit. I looked it up. Under the Labor Party it averaged 4.8 per cent of gross domestic product. In our first year in government it was 3.5 per cent.

They are getting back to the old scare campaign about child-care centres because they have not got a feather to fly with in relation to the budget. You will remember, Madam President, the scare campaign and the misinformation campaign conducted by the Labor Party before the budget was brought down. They are going back to it because they have nothing else to talk about. They are dredging up the old stories about child-care centres which are completely untrue. Senator Gibbs knows that they are completely untrue. If she does not she should talk to Senator Crowley. I will drag out the Crowley file. Let us have the Crowley file and we will produce the statements that Senator Crowley made.

Senator Faulkner —`Senator Crowley file' to you.

Senator HERRON —The `Senator Crowley file', as Senator Faulkner says. My apologies. She should talk to the senator sitting next to her and she will get the truth of the matter.

Senator GIBBS —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Madam President, maybe you could refer the minister to budget paper No. 4 this year. Can the minister confirm that the estimates of spending on child-care assistance for the outyears imply a further cut to child-care budgets of nearly $300 million in the next three years in addition to the $800 million already cut?

Senator HERRON (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) —At times I start getting concerned about the ability of the Labor Party to read budget papers. I am sure my colleague Senator Kemp would be happy to explain the budget papers to Senator Gibbs. It is obvious that Senator Gibbs has not got the faintest idea about those budget papers. I have already stated in answer to her previous question that an extra $4.9 billion will be spent over the next four years. That means an extra 83,000 places over the next four years.

They make these allegations about various cuts. I know they have difficulty with the budget, as I have said before. I can understand why they had a $10.3 billion deficit in their last year in office. They cannot add up. They can subtract. They know how to spend. That is why we faced the debacle of a $10.3 billion deficit when we took over government. (Time expired)