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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2118

Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (6.00 p.m.) —I wish to address the Auditor-General's report No. 42 of 1993-94: efficiency audit: mind the children: the management of the children's services: Department of Human Services and Health. Child care has been claimed by this government as something dear to its heart but in reality it has involved many unpleasant and unnecessary interferences by the government. This was evident late last year with its highly criticised and intrusive national accreditation scheme for child-care centres.

  The minister was embarrassed when her assessment of implementation was 88c, and industry, which had to actually implement it, arrived at between $30 and $70 per place, depending upon the state. I use this as an example of things being very wrong in the government's handling of child care, which is confirmed by the Auditor-General's report. There are many important issues raised by this report.  The report points out major shortcomings and gross inefficiencies in the operations of the department, and reports of promises of more expenditure by the department on child care and child growth strategies are confused and inappropriate.

  Nearly $2 billion has been spent by the department over the last seven years. The report points out that of the 1988 quota of 30,000 extra places only 27,000 have been created. Worse still, four years after the 1990 election promise to create an extra 50,000 places, only 5,000 places have been created. The money is there but the places are not. The number of new places has only now reached the level promised in 1988. The report identifies totally ineffective Commonwealth-state relations. The department has not been able to come up with satisfactory arrangements for the states. The inability to reach agreement has put the whole 50,000 new places strategy down the drain. It is a damning indictment of the Commonwealth department in its coordinating role and a greater loss to the community's child-care needs.

  The report identifies that private for-profit LDC centres accounted for most of the recent growth. It states:

Estimates are made of the likely private sector growth which is factored into the targets for meeting work-related demands by the year 2001 . . . at present there are no methods to influence growth in areas which are already well supplied. In most areas, planning data is not made available to private services, even on a user-pays basis, to enable them to locate their services in areas with a high level of assessed needs.

The potential of the private sector contribution is being ignored and planning projections are not reaching the private sector providers of child care in the future.

  It is the same with planning. The report wants a higher rate of payment for under three-year-olds. Despite the crying need for special planning and consideration for the increasing demand for child care for under three-year-olds, this area has not been addressed in the government's policy. The private sector has repeatedly suggested increasing the number of places for under three-year-olds. To date, the department has not picked this up which is clearly confirmed by this report.

  This report highlights many areas of confusion in the department. It concerns me greatly. It has involved taxpayers' expenditure of almost $1 billion a year, and it is all about children, the nation's most precious resource. This report shows the government department to be lacking in planning strategies. The report should be studied closely by the department so that Australian families can get good value for their child-care tax dollar.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.