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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2074

Senator MINCHIN (3.23 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley), to a question asked by Senator Minchin this day, relating to the home child care allowance.

The minister would not answer my question at all and sought to divert attention from it by launching an attack on me. So I will have to answer the question for her. The minister has refused to address a public meeting on the issue of the Childcare Rebate Act and the home child-care allowance and has now apparently arranged an alternative function. She has refused to nominate somebody else to represent the government's position on this issue.

  Senator Lees and I will speak in relation to our parties' positions, but the minister has refused to nominate anybody to represent the Labor government. The minister is treating with contempt those mothers who choose to stay at home to care for their children. She is simply not prepared to defend her government's policies on the issue of caring for children, whether externally or in the home. She is not prepared to front a group of several hundred people who are extremely concerned about this government's policies on this issue. The government treats mothers at home very differently from mothers who put their children in child care. This is causing unbelievable anger and anxiety in the community. The minister is refusing to deal with or front the issue.

  Mrs Carroll's campaign has engendered an unbelievable response. I will be tabling tomorrow a petition with over 9,000 signatures on it from people from all over Australia who are upset with current government policy. There have been thousands of calls to my office alone about this issue. There will be a rally in Adelaide and rallies around Australia on this issue. The government ignores this issue at its peril.

  Mrs Carroll does regard Senator Crowley's personal treatment of her as contemptuous and rude. Senator Crowley did threaten Mrs Carroll over the home child-care allowance bill and suggested that mothers who stayed at home ought to be thankful that this bill had been introduced, although all it does is convert the DSR into a home child-care allowance and add a paltry $2.88 a week. It is ridiculous to compare that with the situation with the Child Care Rebate Act.

  That is why these people are so incensed. They are very upset that under the Child Care Rebate Act there is a non-means tested $61.20 a week paid to a mother of two children who puts her children in child care, but a mother of two who stays at home to look after her children gets a very heavily means-tested $30 a week. The discrimination is as blatant as that. The government is placing twice the value on children who are put in external child care as those who are cared for at home. That is the nub of the issue and that is why people are incensed.

  The minister referred to my position. I think this raises a very important issue about the role of senators and the role of parliamentarians. My position on the child-care rebate is utterly irrelevant with regard to my responsibility to bring forward to the Senate the genuine concerns of thousands of people about a particular issue. We do have a responsibility to enable expressions of community concern to be brought to the attention of the Senate regardless of our particular positions on the issue. To suggest otherwise is nonsense. To suggest that whether or not I support the Child Care Rebate Act would influence the question of whether I table these petitions is nonsense. If everybody in the Senate supported the Child Care Rebate Act, the thousands of people out there who are concerned about it would never have an opportunity to put their views to the Senate.

  The opposition in the Senate—including myself—were opposed to the Child Care Rebate Act in its original form. We sought to have it amended to provide for means testing. It is ridiculous that this child-care rebate will be paid regardless of income, that this money will be paid out of general revenue to millionaires, regardless of their means, whereas the home child-care allowance starts cutting out if a mother earns more than $282 a year. So we did oppose that element of the Child Care Rebate Act. We still believe it is wrong. We strongly believe the government's treatment of children, be they in external child care or at home, should be equal.