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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12229

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (19:42): I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this motion of the member for Farrer, who will be addressing the chamber in the near future. I speak in favour of this motion as child care provides an important service to our society. It allows children to interact with their peers and become more independent from a young age. It gives parents flexible options with regard to working and family arrangements. It is vital that child care is easily accessible and affordable.

However, child care is becoming more and more expensive for families with a myriad of changes implemented by state Labor governments putting increased pressure on both this sector and on the families it supports. In my home state of Queensland proposed changes to DECKAS, the Department of Education Community Kindergarten Assistance Scheme, found that the arrangements have caused the largest provider in the state, C&K, to advise their affiliates that they will need to increase their prices, with most now looking at charging $25 to $28 a day. This is a sharp increase in the current daily out-of-pocket expense and may well price many families out of early education altogether.

These increases are not restricted to Queensland alone, with changes to the staff-to-children ratio regulations, introduced by the New South Wales Labor government, in anticipation of proposed national reforms. This has resulted in some Sydneysiders paying up to $100 per day for child care. There have also been reports of families on waiting lists at centres for up to two years. One report states that 40 per cent of families believe that child care is so expensive that it is not worth them working, but only 12 per cent have said that they do not need it.

The industry is already struggling and it is clear that the government has not considered the full implications of this cut to occasional child care. The Gaythorne Community Kindergarten and Limited Hours Care has written to both Minister Kate Ellis and me regarding the effects that this cut will have on their centre. The centre is community based and is a not-for-profit organisation which over the years has adapted to the needs of families in the Gaythorne area and the surrounding suburbs by taking the initiative and providing an invaluable service. It was clear from the pages upon pages of support letters and endorsements that accompanied their submission to me that the Gaythorne Community Kindergarten and Limited Hours Care is not only needed but also highly valued by the local community. This was also clear earlier this year when I visited the centre with the Hon. Sussan Ley, our shadow minister and member for Farrer, who is getting out and around Australia and talking to the real people who will be affected by this government's proposal.

The implications of the budget cut to occasional-care child care would see the service lost to the families of Gaythorne. It would mean that children would lose the socialisation that is vital to their development and happiness. It would also see the seven staff the centre employs, and their families, face uncertainty about their future. It would also affect the children of families who are already on the long waiting list to attend the centre. In short, the impact of this budget cut, which has only come about due to this government's reckless financial mismanagement, means that Australian families and Australian children are being put at a disadvantage at a critical point in their lives. The minister's own website states:

The government has an ambitious agenda to improve the quality, affordability and accessibility of child care because the research is clear that a child's experience in the early years sets the course for the rest of their life.

Given that these are the words on the minister's own website, I am confused as to how the minister believes that her actions in cutting funding for occasional-care child care match up with this stated aim. When stakeholders around the country are saying that this funding cut is detrimental to the industry and families, how is access and affordability being achieved?

This government has clearly failed the childcare industry. After the big promises of the 2007 federal election, we have heard little in terms of child care other than backflips, such as the scrapping of building 222 new childcare centres, and indeed threats, such as the freezing and eventual cut of the childcare rebate. The uproar with which this latter proposal was met saw the government backflip on this as well. We have seen reform in the industry in terms of staff ratios cause a huge amount of uncertainty for this sector, with most feedback stating that these changes will dramatically increase costs, again reducing accessibility to child care.

Before us today we have a motion which acknowledges the ill-thought-out process of cutting the occasional-care childcare funding. When it comes to child care, it seems that this government is struggling to get anything right. I urge every responsible member of parliament to support their communities and to support this motion.