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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15755

Mr HUNT (3:14 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the government's commitment to assisting families with their childcare costs? How has the government's commitment to helping children with special needs, such as Tom McGann in my electorate of Flinders, been strengthened?

The SPEAKER —The member for Flinders has been in the House long enough to know that the inclusion of names in a question is outside the standing orders unless necessary to authenticate the question. I do not believe in this instance any more meaning was given to the question by the inclusion of the name.

Mr HUNT —Will I rephrase the last part?

The SPEAKER —The question stands. I am sure the question is understood by the minister. I simply indicate the impropriety of including the name.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Sydney!

Mr ANTHONY (Minister for Children and Youth Affairs) —I would like to thank the member for Flinders for his question. It was a very good question. I know he has a passionate interest in young families in his electorate, like all members do on this side of the House. Why shouldn't he, because of the unprecedented amount of assistance that we have given families, particularly through childcare benefits and family tax payments? I am happy to announce today that, on 7 July this year, there will be a three per cent increase in payments to the family tax benefit and the childcare benefit, in line with the CPI. This three per cent increase will benefit more than two million Australian families and directly assist more than 3.5 million children. The total amount that they will be receiving will be around $13 billion—the combined amount of FTB and CCB. Of course, specifically in answer to his question, over 530,000 families will be recipients of the childcare benefit, and 760,000 children will get an increase in their childcare benefit. What that actually means is that the maximum assistance rates to families on full-time care for one child will go from $133 to $137, for two children from $278 to $286 and for three children from around $434 to $447. On this side of the House, we are interested in helping Australian families. We are pleased with that increase, but of course we never hear that acknowledged by the opposition.

The other interesting point to note, in answer to the member for Flinders, is that since we have been in government the rate of fee increase in child care has been half what it was when the ALP was last in power—a 4.7 per cent increase since 1996, compared to 8.5 per cent under the previous Labor government. Considering that the CPI has gone up 12 per cent since we have been in power, a 4.7 per cent increase in child-care payments obviously makes child care far more affordable. To give another example, the average long day care weekly fee for 50 hours of care is $186. If you are on the maximum rate of child care—50 hours per week—the gap fee you will be paying is $1 per hour. You will pay $1 per hour on a maximum rate. Child care is far more affordable today than it has ever been before.

The member also asked about—and I will not mention the individual person, but he is obviously interested in special needs—that allocation that we are giving to children who may have a disability. I notice another member nodding his head. The Special Needs Subsidy Scheme was introduced by the coalition in 1997 to enable childcare services to employ additional child-care workers, undertake training and purchase equipment to assist and integrate those children with special needs. Over 8,000 children have benefited from that scheme since 1997. I am very happy that the coalition government in the last budget allocated an additional $25.8 million over four years to help those special children with needs. That will help 1,200 children with the highest support needs, and it will also cover the current unmet demand.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Gellibrand!

Mr ANTHONY —I am happy to say that ACOSS has welcomed this along with the child-care sector, and all we get are interjections from the opposition. Aren't you happy about that? I would have thought you would be.

The SPEAKER —The minister will address his questions through the chair.

Mr ANTHONY —Mr Speaker, again, the commitment of the coalition is $8 billion over the next four years. We are interested in helping Australian families, and it is the coalition government that is forging ahead in helping families.