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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3373

Senator CROWLEY —Has the Minister for Community Services received the report of the Australian Early Childhood Association on the standards of child care in Australia? If so, can the Minister say what, if any, of the recommendations in that report the Government will be responding to? Does the report lay to rest the criticism made earlier this year of the Government regarding child care centres? Could the Minister elaborate on where we are with regard to the target for child care places?

Senator GRIMES —I did receive the report of the AECA-the Australian Early Childhood Association-which looked, at our request, at the standards of child care in the various States. It is a very interesting and comprehensive report which I think will be very useful throughout Australia, particularly for some of the State governments which have the licensing role in this area and which therefore apply many of the standards. The interesting part of the report was that, in asking an open-ended question of all child care centres, surprisingly, only a very few centres made reference to difficulties with funding. In light of the kerfuffle that went on earlier this year and at the end of last year about changes to funding, this indicates, of course, that the whole system has settled down.

There are about 13 recommendations and most are to do with assisting organisations with better financial management and assisting them to cope better with the managerial decisions they have to make. We will look at these recommendations very closely and, I am sure, respond to them very positively. Other recommendations concern the number of qualified staff. We will have to discuss those with the States. There are a couple of recommendations which directly concern staffing which are not new recommendations. They are recommendations I have seen previously. I think the kindest thing to say about them is that they have a touch of the ambit about them. For instance, one is that there should be a co-ordinator, who does not take part in direct child care, in any child care centre which has more than 30 children. I would have thought that if the system were such that an organisation needed a co-ordinator to do more than an hour's administrative work per child, the problem is with the system. I would certainly look at the system rather than at spending another $12.5m to provide co-ordinators in that area and perhaps having to raise the fees by $3.

Another claim, which is one that we frequently hear, is that child care workers should have two hours relief time every week so that they can either read or think. I would not mind a couple of hours off every week in which to think. That claim is always justified by the fact that teachers have preparation time. I am the first to concede that teachers need preparation time. But I also have strong views on the quantity of so-called preparation time that teachers have. I will not go into that now because I will start getting letters from members of the lunatic fringe of the New South Wales Teachers Federation. I do not like that, because they are unkind to me.

Senator Georges —They will not only be from the lunatic fringe.

Senator GRIMES —I do not like it, Senator, because they say unkind things about me and because my staff is appalled by the lack of literacy exhibited in the letters. I suppose, having said that, I will get the letters anyhow, so I had better say that they can write the letters because it will make them feel good, but I will not answer them, and that will make me feel good.

We will consider those two claims. But our greatest concern is to provide children's services places, provide access to people who need it, and provide the high standard that we have already provided. We will certainly look at claims of that type, but I cannot hold out any hope that we will satisfy them.