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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 796

Ms JAKOBSEN(1.51) —I am very interested in the comments of honourable members opposite in terms of a particular aspect of this motion. Point number four calls on the Government to continue its efforts to provide adequate child care facilities throughout Australia. Both the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan) and the honourable member for Bass (Mr Smith) have intimated that this need has not been heeded by the Government. I object to that statement and strenuously deny it. The Government has a proud record in the area of the provision of child care services. We have done more for child care in the last three and a half years than have all previous governments since Federation. That is not a claim that many governments can make. We recognise the importance of child care for the social development of children and the need to enable women to participate more fully in the community at whatever level they desire. As my colleague, the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) indicated earlier, we have increased the number of long day care places from 42,000 in June 1982 to 85,000 in June 1986-and the figure would have increased since. Since April 1983 we have approved the provision of some 37,600 new places-16,400 centre-based care places. 15,000 family day care places, 6,100 outside school hours care places and 60 occasional care places. There are actually very many more child care places in my electorate than there were before the Government took office. We have had new child care centres in areas such as Duncraig and Carine. There is a new centre going up in Whitfords-an occasional care centre that will have 28 places and cater on an occasional care basis for up to 280 children per week. A new child care centre is currently being built in Padbury. Also another centre in Kingsley is on the drawing board and a community committee has recently been appointed. My area of concern is, of course, that of the electorate of Cowan in the northern suburbs of Perth. It is one of the fastest growing areas in Australia and is bordered by the electorate of the honourable member for Moore (Mr Blanchard). That is also a very fast-growing area. Obviously, governments have a great deal of difficulty keeping up with the provision of services in areas of such great growth, but this Government has made a tremendous commitment to the provision of child care, in particular, in that area.

By June 1988, as the honourable member for Melbourne also indicated-I think it bears repeating in the context of the criticism that we have just received-the Government will have established over 60,000 new places, taking the total to some 106,000, or 152 per cent more than were available when the Hawke Government came to office. As a result of our initiatives an additional 85,000 children will now have access to Government funded child care services. In addition to these achievements, we have increasingly emphasised the provision of improved access to children's services, especially on the part of disadvantaged groups. For instance, we have implemented a policy of needs-based planning for children's services so that new centres and additional places will be located in areas of highest need. That is what I meant before when I was talking about my electorate: Because it is such a growth area, it does have priority for the provision of these child care places. We have also introduced a fairer and more generous system of income-related fee relief, at an annual cost of some $75m, so that low and middle income families can afford to use child care. We have allocated substantial additional funding to enable special services to be provided for children with disabilities. Also, we have provided services for ethnic and Aboriginal children.

Let me draw a comparison. In the last year of the Fraser Government only $65m was spent on child care. However, in 1985-86 alone, we spent $165m on children's services and have set aside some $195m for child care in this financial year. This is an expenditure increase of somewhere near 200 per cent in only four years. Some people are not aware that it costs approximately $100 per week to provide centre-based child care for each child. The Government subsidy is, of course, less than half of this, averaging about $38 per week per child, and fee relief can be as high as $90 per week in cases of need.

In 1983, when this Government was elected, child care was available for 4 per cent of Australian children. By 1988, after the dramatic expansion of child care under our Government, 16 per cent of children whose parents work will have access to child care.

The child care and supervision of pre-school children, in particular, is a time-consuming and resource-sapping responsibility for thousands of parents in Australia, most of whom are women in this instance. Child care services to assist families are therefore a need even in families where both partners are not in the paid work force. This point was emphasised by non-working women at a National Agenda for Women meeting which was held in my electorate last year. Women who attended that meeting came from all over the northern suburbs to draw their views to the attention of the Minister for Education and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women (Senator Ryan). My colleague the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards) was also involved in organising this very successful gathering which showed the Government's true belief in getting the women's opinions, which is more than one can say for the Opposition under any circumstances.

As most members on this side of the House are aware, the National Agenda for Women was a consulting mechanism designed to ensure that women were able to make a substantial contribution to Australia's development, whether they work or whether they are in the home. Although the 130 women who attended this meeting in Girrawheen had a variety of needs, a significant number of those present raised the availability of child care as a pressing need. I emphasise that this demand was being made by women across the spectrum. Very many people forget that women need child care in order to attend even to simple things like going to a dentist or a doctor.

A study of the needs of women in the northern suburbs of Perth was carried out last year with the assistance of a community employment program grant. An unemployed women's research group did the study. The study also raised child care as one of the services to which women in the home desperately required access. The Whitfords Family Centre in my electorate has also been working for the provision of occasional care in the Padbury-Whitfords area for some time, and I am very pleased that this was agreed to by Senator Grimes, the then Minister responsible for funding. In my electorate, child care is currently provided in a number of ways.

One of the most interesting ways is the family day care service, which most honourable members here, I am sure, would be aware of. Family day care centres conducted by an agency on behalf of the Wanneroo City Council and the Commonwealth Government work through a system of having a woman care for children other than her own, but as well as her own, in her own home. The family care centre ensures that approved carers are the sort of people who are capable of looking after other people's children, and that the environment in which the caring takes place is suitable and safe.

As I indicated before, the number of day care centres in my electorate has increased dramatically in the last three to four years. Since I entered Parliament, a centre has been opened at the Carine Technical College to enable students to have access to child care. A further centre has almost been completed in Padbury. Funding has also been approved for the establishment of a care centre in Kingsley. In addition to these particular projects and facilities there are also a number of established services in the areas of Balga, Girrawheen and Koondoola in the southern part of my electorate. Out-of-school child care centres also cater for local demand in a number of suburbs.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! It is now 2 p.m. In accordance with standing order 104 as amended for this session, the time allotted for precedence of General Business has expired. The honourable member for Cowan will have leave to continue her speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day under General Business for the next day of sitting.