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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7984

Mrs MIRABELLA (3:40 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth. I refer the minister to her remarks in the press that families will have to share in the burden of increased costs for child care due to the government’s reforms. Minister, where will Australian families find the extra money to pay for increased childcare costs in a climate of job uncertainty and rising interest rates?

Ms KATE ELLIS (Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth and Minister for Sport) —I thank the shadow minister for her question. I say to her, and indeed the entire House, that this government is absolutely unapologetic about being committed to accessible, affordable and quality early childhood education and child care. We have shown that in action time and time again. We showed that when we committed over $16 billion for the next four years to this area, which I might add is over $1 billion more than those opposite managed to do when they were in government. We also showed it when we increased the Child Care Rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent, providing a much needed added assistance to thousands of Australian families. And we are showing it because we are dedicated to pursuing a quality reform agenda.

We know that it is really important to Australian parents that they are assured of the standard of care that their children are getting when they drop them off. We also know, from the recent Child care choices report, which the shadow minister has referred to numerous times, that most parents using child care said that one of their top priorities was quality reform, particularly staff-to-child ratios. When we are pursuing quality reform, that is about looking at staff-to-child ratios. It is also about looking at the qualifications of staff members and aiding parents with a quality rating system so that they can make the right decisions for their own families.

We have been absolutely upfront about the fact that there are cost implications in these decisions. In fact, we have been so upfront about this that we engaged in a public consultation process where we put out four different costed options so that the community, parents and stakeholders in the childcare community could come and talk to us. In what is a little bit embarrassing for the shadow minister, when we first came out and did this, her criticism was that we were overconsulting and that we should not get out there and talk to parents. Yet it is interesting to note that when she was asked on the doors this morning, ‘What is your alternative? What would the opposition be doing?’ her response was, ‘We would go out and consult. We would go out and talk to parents about what it is they want.’

We have spoken to almost 2,000 people around the country as part of our public consultation. We have had over 800 people undertake online surveys about the proposed changes.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on the relevance rule. I refer you to page 553 of the Practice, which says that there is a basic requirement that the answer must maintain a link to the substance of the question, which this answer does not. I ask you to rule the minister out of order or to come back to the question.

The SPEAKER —The minister is responding to the question.

Ms KATE ELLIS —It is important to consider that any cost implications would be offset by the government’s 50 per cent Child Care Rebate, which means that the government would effectively foot the bill for half of any increases.

I think it is also important to clarify here that reports in the media today, which include a cost of $125 per child, are an inaccurate reflection of the consultation costs which the government has put out. It is also important to say that no final decisions have been made on this, because we have committed to making these decisions in partnership with the Australian community, which is what we continue to do. While those opposite can flip-flop about whether they want to consult or whether they do not want to consult, on this side of the House we are committed to getting on with the job of supplying quality, affordable, accessible child care to the some 800,000 Australian families who use it.