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Australian Confederation of Child Care, Royal Pines Resort, 23 May 1997: address

Mr Martin Kemp, President Australian Confederation of Child Care, Mr Eddy Groves, President Queensland Professional Child Care Centres Association Executive officers - Australian Confederation of Child Care and the Queensland Professional Child Care Centres Association,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

This Government will spend $4.8 billion on child care over the next four years.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a major commitment to Australian families.

Child care is and will continue to be, a key plank in our commitment to improving the wellbeing of families in Australia.

The 1997 Budget outlines the second stage of our reform agenda.

It contains a package of initiatives which address many of the key concerns about the current child care system - from the needs of children and their parents to the requirements of providers and Government.

First, let me emphasise, there are no changes in this Budget that reduce the levels of Childcare Assistance or Childcare Cash Rebate for working families.

I have been greatly concerned that, despite the growth in child care over the last few years, many families needing care to balance their work and family responsibilities, either cannot access care appropriate to their needs or cannot find care at all.

The child care measures announced in the 1997 Budget address these concerns, ensuring that child care better reflects the demands of families needing care, in a manner that is sustainable for all Australians.

These measures have not been developed in isolation. The National Planning Framework consultations have ensured that, for the first time, child care professionals, parents and other interested parties, have been given the opportunity to work with the Government to build a better child care system.

The issues you have raised and the suggestions you have offered have been instrumental in moulding the Government's vision for child care into the future.

Our commitment to ensuring that families have fair and equitable access to subsidised child care is clearly evident in the three major reforms outlined in this years' Budget, namely:

. reforms to school age funding, which will dramatically improve affordability of care for around 70,000 Australian families using outside school hours care services;

. the introduction of a planning system, which will influence the growth and location of new services; and

. the introduction of a 20 hour limit on access to Childcare Assistance for families using care for non-work related reasons, which will improve the targeting of Childcare Assistance to families with work related needs.

Outside School Hours Care, under Labor, was the Cinderella of the child care sector. Meagre Government assistance to parents in comparison with the long day care sector has generated affordability problems for many low and middle income families.

Before the last election the Coalition indicated that we would redress this anomaly - the 1997 Budget delivers on this commitment.

From 1 January 1998, operational subsidy and Childcare Assistance for Outside School Hours Care services and Childcare Assistance for school age children in child care centres and Family Day Care, will be redirected to a new school age Childcare Assistance.

This measure will significantly improve affordability for over 70,000 low and middle income families using Outside School Hours Care services. The existing 73 cents per hour for very low income families will be replaced with a new maximum hourly benefit of $1.62 and access to Childcare Assistance will be extended to the same income cut-offs as apply in the long day care sector.

For the first time, the same Childcare Assistance ceiling will apply whether a school age child is in a centre, Family Day Care or Outside School Hours Care service.

I am sure you will agree that these changes will significantly benefit parents and improve care options for children.

We have ensured that the new school age system will not affect school age children currently in centres and Family Day Care - they will retain their current benefits after 1 January 1998 while they continue to use the same service.

I am very pleased to say that improved affordability will ensure that the Outside School Hours Care sector remains viable. However, the biggest winners are parents, with around 51,000 families becoming eligible to receive Childcare Assistance for the first time and a further 19,000 families expected to receive increased assistance.

Our new school age system means that Cinderella will finally be able to shake off her rags.

Under Labor, child care was unplanned and unchecked. Labor's lack of vision resulted in inequities for families arising from uneven distribution and access to child care and threatened the viability of many child care services.

Many of you here today would be aware of, or experienced, these pressures.

We did not create this problem, but we have accepted the responsibility to fix it.

This Budget will for the first time, introduce a comprehensive approach to planning which will ensure that all new services are located in areas where demand for work related child care is highest. The Coalition's National Planning System will guide the location and growth of new services into the future.

Currently, potential providers have very limited access to information about child care to inform their investment decisions. Under the National Planning System, the relative need for child care in each planning area will be assessed using key demographic and supply information. This information will include population and employment data, local research undertaken by planning committees and local government planning information.

Areas which require additional child care places to meet work related needs, will be ranked according to need and this information will be widely distributed to current and prospective child care providers, banks, investment adviser networks and State and local governments.

Work on this has already begun. Earlier this week the Queensland office of my Department conducted a post Budget information session for the financial services sector which was attended by representatives of many of the country's leading banks and investment groups.

By working with such networks we will be able to encourage investors to locate in areas where demand for work related child care has not already been met.

Over the next two years, 1998 and 1999, we will ensure a guaranteed slowing in growth by reducing the number of new private sector places eligible for Childcare Assistance to 7,000 per annum.

This limit will enable us to meet current growth in labour market participation of parents (in particular, women) with young children while improving access to child care for families in areas with little or no care by directing services into these areas.

Parents' ability to find appropriate care for their children has likewise been hampered by a lack of available information.

We will meet this need through the National Child Care Information Strategy - a plan which will ensure that parents have the necessary information to make the best decision about the care of their child.

Initiatives such as a new hotline information service will enable families to quickly access information on the availability of care in their region. A comprehensive, nationally consistent service such as this is a first for the child care profession.

This initiative will benefit both parents and providers and I look forward to announcing the successful tender in the next few weeks.

The Government's commitment to rectifying supply issues has been warmly welcomed by the industry and community alike. In an unprecedented move the Shadow Minister, Ms Macklin, also indicated support for the thrust of the Government's package, recognising the need for controls.

Labor's failure to introduce a planning system when in Government was the principal reason why the Democrats and then Coalition Opposition rejected Labor's 12 hour limit on Childcare - Assistance for families using care for non-work related reasons.

Labor' s attempt to direct services to areas where demand for work related child care had not been met through a limit on non-work related care was crude and unworkable.

A non-work related care limit is no substitute for directing and managing growth. In contrast, we believe that by introducing such a limit, in conjunction with the development of a planning system, services will be protected from the vagaries of new centres opening on their door step while at the same time child care places will be freed up to cater for unmet demand.

It is estimated that the 20 hour limit on child care assistance for non-work related care will improve access for an additional 17,000 children.

Many peak child care and other organisations supported the introduction of a limit on non- - work related care during the National Planning Framework consultations. Importantly, 75% of families interviewed as part of the consultations, approved of a limit.

The 20 hour limit is fair and equitable.

It recognises that time out for parents is vital and it allows children to access the developmental opportunities offered by child care.

It is more realistic and generous than Labor's proposed 12 hour limit or the 8 hours suggested by EPAC.

Exemptions will be provided to assist families in crisis, children at risk of abuse or neglect and, a limited number of services where they are the sole provider of care in their area.

I would remind you that under the Childcare Cash Rebate Act, 'work' is defined broadly to include a person:

. in paid work;

. looking for work, studying, training;

. receiving a DSS carer pension;

. receiving domiciliary nursing care benefit; or

. who is deemed to have recognised work or work related commitments.

Placing a limit on access to Childcare Assistance will improve the targeting of Childcare Assistance to parents who work, study, train or are seeking work, while at the same time ensuring that families outside the workforce have reasonable access to taxpayer subsidised care.

How much access families using care for non-work related reasons will have to subsidised care will depend largely on centres' charging practices.

- Our 20 hour limit recognises that families using care for non-work related reasons use on average only 14 hours of care per week.

Over the last year I have become increasingly concerned at the disparity that exists between the hours families use for child care and the hours for which they are charged. This discrepancy became increasingly evident during debate on the 50 hours measure.

It is particularly worrying that many low income families are charged for hours that they do not use and which they cannot afford. A solution that meets the needs of parents, service providers and Government must be found and the new Childcare Advisory Council will be required to present options to me in the 1999-2000 Budget context.

While the input of all child care groups will be welcome, such involvement must be based on reason and fact.

I will not tolerate the debate becoming clouded by idle threats and irresponsible scare campaigns.

It is with great sadness and disappointment that I have witnessed families' distress and anxiety caused by the distribution of inaccurate information about Budget measures.

I would urge all of you at all times to consider what is in the best interest of families.

You are at the forefront of delivering services to families. You have a key role to play in ensuring the welfare of children and families is safeguarded.

This is not achieved when inaccurate speculation is circulated or key information is omitted.

Families have a right to all the information required to develop an informed opinion.

I invite all of you to work with the Government to improve our child care system so that it better meets the needs of Australian families. Unlike the previous Labor Government we have shown a willingness to listen to families and providers and to be guided by their views.

Last Budget I announced that child care payments would be paid to families from I January 1998. I also indicated that the Departments of Health and Family Services and Social Security would develop this measure in consultation with industry and parents.

In response to the views received, we announced in this years' Budget that from I January 1998, payments will be made two weeks in advance to services.

From I January 1999, payments will be made to families, two weeks in arrears, in conjunction with the introduction of a new Childcare Card - using smartcard technology, which will ensure that child care subsidies can only be spent on child care.

This is a key example of the way in which positive consultation and communication can effect an outcome that meets the needs of both providers and the Government.

- It is an example of the co-operative relationship I am keen to pursue.

Developing and maintaining good working partnerships between Government and the child care profession is essential if we are to ensure that child care is responsive to the needs of children and their families.

The measures outlined in the 1997 Budget are the result of child care groups and other interested parties working with the Government to assist us to develop a sustainable child care sector that provides accessible, affordable and high quality child care to Australian families.

Our Budget measures manage and contain growth both in terms of places and expenditure to ensure that families, in particular families requiring care for work-related purposes, can access care where and when they need it.

There are many challenges ahead. I hope that we will be able to work together to make the child care sector more accessible and responsive to the changing needs of Australian families.

Thank you.