|Title||CHILD CARE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1996
Senator DENMAN(1.28 p.m.) âI rise to speak to the Child Care Legislation Amendment Bill 1996. The primary justification for the abolition of the operational subsidy for community based child care is to encourage services to become more efficient and cost competitive with the private sector. Taking that into consideration, and when I have visited community based long day care centres located in the townships of Tasmania, I have always been vigilant about any inefficiencies in a particular long day care service. Not on any occasion, to date, have I, after visiting and speaking to the dedicated coordinators, committee members, staff, volunteers and parents, come away with the view that a particular centre does not do its utmost to provide a service second to none.
Services such as the Ulverstone Child Care CentreâI know the Ulverstone Child Care Centre very well because it is where my office is situatedâepitomise the picture that was presented to the committee of despair and unhappiness on the part of centre operators faced with the abolition of the operational subsidy. The Ulverstone centre, established 22 years ago, is licensed to care for 56 children. It is currently providing a quality service to approximately 200 children from families living within the town and outlying areas, with some families travelling up to 40 kilometres for care.
The present fee charged is only just affordable to parents, due to the fact that the area remains economically depressedâand I think Senator O'Brien touched on that. Many of the parents work in rural industries on a seasonable basis. Many are undergoing retraining or studying, or they are looking for work. Almost 50 per cent of parents utilising the centre are in receipt of the maximum child-care assistance. Many other parents receive child-care assistance at a very high level.
In recognition of the clients they serve, the committee, in conjunction with the local government, has always been conscious of operational costs and has ensured that staffing, which makes up 80 per cent of the budget, has been as flexible and yet as workable as possible. They roster their staff on and off at times when it suits the people who leave their children there. The centre has maintained a commitment to those families in the district and to ensuring that they remain receptive to the wants and the needs of the parents. The operational subsidy has been central to the maintaining of a high quality child-care service to these many parents.
The centre has operated, year in and year out, as a break-even proposition, with no money being set aside or invested but, rather, with money being pumped back in to provide, for example, much needed care in the district for children under the age of two. I understand there are only limited places in family day care for those two years old and under. The committee has advised that a fee increase for parents of between $22 to $24 a week is expected with the loss of the operational subsidy. Care for children under two will probably go altogether. A private centre has just opened in the town and it does not care for children under two either.
Since this debate began, that scenario at Ulverstone has been repeated to me from Circular Head Child Care Centre, which is in the far north-west of Tasmania, to the Rosebery Centre on the west coast, from the Children's Playhouse at Ravenswood in Launceston to the Blackmans Bay Centre in the south of Hobart. East, west, south and northâall of Tasmania's community based long day care centres are up in arms about this bill.
The unhappiness being experienced by the hardworking staff and volunteers is well-founded. They fear that, with this measure, an option will be taken away from some parents and others will have to suffice with poorer quality child care. In many respects what is so irksome for staff and volunteers is the knowledge that, with the loss of operational subsidy, they have to wind back the level of service that they have striven so hard to achieve over the years in ensuring that they remained the No. 1 long day care centre in their region.
They cannot come to terms with this measure as many have heard the Minister for Family Services (Mrs Moylan) state, in justifying the abolition of the operational subsidy, that 70 per cent of long day care places are provided by the private sector and 30 per cent by the community based sector. That is not the case in Tasmania, where the reverse is true. Seventy-three per cent of child care in my state is community based; the remainder is so-called private. However, a number of these private services are not, in fact, true private or operated for profit services as they are sponsored by schools or hospitals. So operators of centres in Tasmania are saying to me that the level playing field argument of the economic rationalists has no relevance.
Many in Tasmania see the abolition of the subsidy, which was introduced with no prior consultation, as a national measure mooted by the National Commission of Audit with no regard to what may have been the position in Tasmania. There has been no effort by the government to explain to the centres and parents in Tasmania why they have to become more cost competitive when there are so few private players, except in places like Sandy Bay.
Tasmania is getting the rough end of the stick on this matter, at a time when parents cannot afford the impost of a fee increase, let alone the dismantling of a system that was working perfectly well. An argument may be raised with regard to the cost-competitiveness of long day care centres in Melbourne or Sydney, but the economics arguments do not hold water in Tasmania. There would not be too many economic rationalists in Tasmania. I have not yet heard any speak. I appeal to the government to look very carefully at the Tasmanian situation and take into account that, as I have already stated, our percentage figures are very different from those in the rest of Australia.