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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 629

Mr DANBY (10:45 AM) —An early learning and childcare centre will be built in Port Melbourne, the second of the two childcare centres promised by the government at the election. Victoria and the City of Port Phillip are experiencing a once-in-a-generation baby boom, with 1,287 babies born in the City of Port Phillip in 2007—a 28 per cent increase in births over the previous five-year period.

During the 2007 election campaign, Labor promised to establish up to 260 early learning and childcare centres to address unmet demand around the country. We are fulfilling that promise. Port Melbourne is lucky to be nominated as one of the 38 priority sites in the first round of funding.

A $4 million centre will be built in Liardet Street. There will be long day care places and access to maternal and child health services. This joint government initiative demonstrates the positive outcomes that governments can achieve when they work together. Funding for the centre has been provided by the Australian government, $1.6 million; the Victoria government, $1.2 million; and the Port Phillip council, $1.7 million. It is wonderful.

But now many in Melbourne Ports are rightfully worried about the fate of the two ABC Learning Centres in South Melbourne and East St Kilda. Despite having an occupancy rate of 75 per cent, due to the mismanagement of ABC Learning they are both considered by those people who have looked at them to be unviable. A report in Australian this week gives an account of the scandalous way in which the nation’s now defunct largest childcare provider ran its business. The article says that many of the 241 ABC Learning Centres classified as unviable have rents that are far too high. One centre on the outskirts of Brisbane catering for 150 children was paying $700,000 a year in rent. One of the bidders for the Brisbane centre said that some of the rents are nonsensical. Some of them have 100 per cent occupancy but they are not running at profit.

About 80 of the 241 failing ABC centres are owned by the Australian Education Trust, which is in turn owned by Austock—a company in which ABC founder Eddy Groves has a four per cent stake. The chairman of Austock is Bill Bessemer, a founder director of ABC Learning. ABC Learning paid Austock a total of $48.3 million in commissions, corporate services and management fees between ABC’s float in 2001 and 2006. ABC Learning, Mr Groves and Austock have a lot to answer for. Their mismanagement and, I dare say, greed are likely to leave thousands of children in my electorate and in other electorates without care. I call on the liquidator to make these centres with large occupancies viable. All members, whether they are in opposition or in government, should put pressure on the liquidator and the owners to do this—lower the rents so these failing centres can continue to exist and provide child care to children right across the country.