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Election 2O04: Opposition Leader announces $1.6 billion childcare policy.

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Monday 27 September 2004

Election 2O04: Opposition Leader announces $1.6 billion childcare policy


MARK COLVIN: It's the toddler war as the election campaign turns to a bat tle between John Howard and Mark Latham over childcare policy. 


The Labor leader has made a flying visit to Perth, to announce his $1.6 billion childcare policy, just one day after the Prime Minister unveiled his $1-billion package. 


Labor is fighting hard to retain three marginal seats in the west, and Mr Latham chose a childcare centre in the electorate of Hasluck, which Labor holds by just 1.8 per cent, to reveal his early childhood plan. 


Surrounded by children, Mr Latham declared that it was the most fun he'd had since he was last home. 


Alexandra Kirk reports from Perth. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: It's serious politicking trying to outbid the Prime Minister on childcare, but Mark Latham clearly enjoyed himself playing with children in the sandpit, cutting out gingerbread men shapes, and reading a story. 


MARK LATHAM: What are we doing here? Making sandcastles? 


KID: We're burying our feet. 


MARK LATHAM: Oh. We're burying our feet. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: One child deciding to apply a small gag to the Labor leader's mouth at the Wirrabirra Child Care Centre on Perth's eastern outskirts. 


MARK LATHAM: I'm going to have to say bye bye. People have been trying to do that for years. It won't work, I'm telling you. I can't be gagged. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Latham unveiled a $1.6-billion package, pledging to ensure every Australian child gets a head start in life. The centrepiece is one free day of childcare each week for all three and four year olds eligible for the childcare benefit - about half a million children. 


Mark Latham says a typical family will save more than $20 a week. There'd be another 14,500 new childcare places, both long day care and out of school hours places. 


MARK LATHAM: Well, if you look at, say, a couple called Joseph and Anna. They've got two children, they use 25 hours per week long day care, so that's a very typical scenario. The typical family in Australia uses, in this case, two and a half days a week. They've got one child aged four, they have a combined income of $55,000, again they're in middle Australia. They currently pay $55 a week in gap fees. Under our childcare free day they gain $22. Under the Coalition's 30 per cent rebate they get $15 a week. 


So the typical family type in Australia is ahead by $7. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Mark Latham concedes families who use childcare five days a week will be better off under the Coalition's package. 


MARK LATHAM: We're matching up to the real life Australian circumstances, where invariably, the vast majority of cases, the second parent is in the workforce on a part time basis. 


This has been the extraordinary explosion in part time and casual work in Australia, and our policy is designed to match up to that circumstance. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: There'd be extra money for the States to reduce preschool fees, expand preschool hours, and boost early childhood development, plus more money for parenting education, and home visits for new parents. 


Mark Latham says it's time childcare and preschool years were considered part of the education system. 


MARK LATHAM: In so many respects this has been the missing link in our system of life long learning in Australia. The traditional thinking that learning starts with the beginning of the school years, of course, ignores the fact that from nought to four, these are the formative years, the years of brain development, language development, the little personalities and minds racing. We neglect the full potential of our children if we don't have a comprehensive national plan for early childhood development. 


We want childcare to be more than child minding - that's an important function, it's an important part of the work and family arguments, the labour market arguments - but for the young ones themselves, it's an opportunity to start the formal learning process in life, and that's an opportunity that's too good to miss, an opportunity we've got to take for their benefit, an opportunity we've got to take as a nation. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Labor says John Howard's childcare rebate is worthless if parents can't find a childcare place and that one free day of childcare is much better than the Coalition's plan. 


MARK LATHAM: Money matters, we all know that as parents, but what really matters, what's really in your heart, the thing that you're really desperate for in life, is the great start for the children. And if you've got the emphasis on learning and early childhood development and reading books and developing their personalities, their minds, their brains, their potential, their intelligence in life, that's the thing that every parent wants. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mark Latham says his early childhood development plan is fully costed and fully funded, with more savings to be identified later in the campaign, again warning against the Government's big spending strategy. 


MARK LATHAM: They said prior to the last Federal election there'd be no deficits, and they bobbed up straight away with a deficit in the budget accounts. So he's got bad form. He's on a spendathon. He did it prior to the last election, the budget bobbed into deficit, and if he keeps it up in this election, it's bound to be in deficit under the Coalition, but certainly not under Labor. 


MARK COLVIN: Mark Latham ending Alexandra Kirk's report.