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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 3502

Mr BANDT (7:40 PM) —Child care is a matter that is of crucial importance to the Greens, and it was a matter of pivotal importance in my electorate of Melbourne during the recent federal election campaign. Many people in the electorate were acutely aware that the government had reneged on its promise to build the additional 222 community childcare centres and were somewhat taken aback by the rationale given for not building those centres—namely, vacancy rates in cities like Melbourne were around the 92 per cent rate. Before and during my election campaign, I received a number of representations from parents in the area who were keen to get their children into quality child care who said that the figure simply did not reflect the reality. We conducted a survey of all the centres in my electorate and found that the actual availability, especially for zero to two-year-olds in community centres, was somewhere in the order of 11 or 12 per cent and that, across the board, it was not that much higher. There is clearly a demand for affordable, quality child care. One of the things that was particularly notable about the survey that we conducted and the feedback that we got from parents was that they were voting with their feet. Even when there were vacancies with private providers, they preferred their children to be in community centres. One of the reasons for that is the quality child care that is provided by community and not-for-profit centres. These centres are also the hubs of the community, where people are involved in running the organisations and looking after their children.

The bringing in of the ABC Learning Centres under the GoodStart model will not make an appreciable difference to either vacancy rates or fees in my electorate. The figures ultimately do not change and the vacancy rates hover somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent. The average time on the waiting list is well over a year and sometimes closer to 18 months. There are particular pockets in the electorate—areas like Flemington and Kensington—where, at the same time that the councils and the state government are projecting massive growth in the number of young families, there is no provision of corresponding planned investment in quality child care.

The Greens are supportive of moves to increase quality in child care, and we have made our position clear in that respect. Also, we understand that the government is making the argument that that somehow needs to be funded, but it is with quite some hesitation that we approach the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Child Care Budget Measures) Bill 2010 and look at the methods that are being used to find savings. Having said that, there are a number of amendments that we will be seeking to this bill. In accordance with the agreement that the Australian Greens have with the Labor Party that assisted in the formation of this government, I will be supporting the passage of this bill through this House, but that is without prejudice to our right to move amendments and vote as is needed in the Senate. One of the key amendments that has been circulated in my name, although I will not be moving it here, is an issue that we will be pursuing in the Senate, which is to ensure that parents receive payments fortnightly—something that will make a significant difference. Ultimately, the answer to this question is a significantly higher level of investment in our community and not-for-profit council run childcare centres. They are doing a fantastic job and getting parents to vote with their feet by moving their children into them—as the long waiting lists attest.

In the meantime, until the government gets back on track and starts building those 222 centres that were promised and that are needed, I urge the government to examine a short-term solution of an injection of funds to allow existing community childcare centres to expand. That would go a long way to alleviating some of the crisis and allow for greater quality childcare places to be provided. Some relatively small capital grants would go a long way for many existing community childcare centres who have the staff and the infrastructure. I know there are a number in my electorate who are in this position. If they had the funds to build one or two more rooms and employ some more staff, community needs would largely be met. I will be supporting the passage of the bill here, but that is without prejudice to our rights to move amendments in the Senate.