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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12235

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (20:25): I commend the motion put forward by the member for Farrer. It is an issue that I have spoken about several times on behalf of the people of Gippsland, who have raised very real concerns about the future of the Take a Break funding as it applies to neighbourhood houses in my own electorate. I would urge those opposite who say we are trying to score political points or grandstand on this issue to start listening to the people who are writing to us—and we are forwarding those representations on to the minister—to understand just how serious the situation is. If they are trying to understand why they are languishing with a primary vote in the opinion polls under 30 per cent, it could be because they have turned a deaf ear to the complaints of people in regional Australia. This very issue highlights the hypocrisy of this government. It claims to care about regional families and then cuts funding to a program that, in many cases, provides the only form of child care in small country towns in electorates such as mine of Gippsland.

This program that we are referring to in the motion used to be funded by the federal government in the order of 70 per cent with the state government of Victoria providing 30 per cent of the funding for the Take a Break program. It is a very aptly named program because it provides a little bit of respite, particularly for mums in regional communities. It is support for mums who may then have the opportunity to take on some part-time work or just simply do the grocery shopping or have a little bit of time to themselves while their children are in a good care environment.

The federal government's budget for this program was $12.6 million over four years. We are talking about a miserable $12.6 million over four years, and this program was doing enormous good throughout regional communities. It is a highly efficient program, and the member for Farrer referred to that. It really is a community asset right across Victoria. It really should not be this hard for us to provide occasional care in these communities.

I would like to refer to some comments made in relation to this issue by the Victorian Neighbourhood House Network and Angela Savage, the executive officer, who described the Take a Break program, or TAB, as follows:

TAB funding is critical to the continued provision of affordable occasional childcare for communities serviced by Neighbourhood Houses, particularly those in rural and regional areas. The cessation of TAB funding will have an impact on over 9,000 children and their families , many of whom already experience some form of disadvantage, causing a decrease in childcare services and/or an increase in childcare costs …

These impacts will be most acute where there are no other childcare services at all, and also in areas where there is no alternative occasional childcare service.

As I said, I have written to the minister in relation to this issue. I also tabled a petition with more than 1,000 signatures which were collected in Gippsland. It came from towns like Swifts Creek, a small town in my electorate, Paynesville, Heyfield, Gormandale and Mallacoota. These all have very well-run occasional care programs. The very real threat is that by the end of this year none of these programs will exist in my community.

I remind this government that it is not what you say but what you do that really matters. In this House in May this year the minister said:

The Australian government recognises that child care is an essential enabler of workforce participation, most particularly for Australian women.

At a time when employers are crying out for workers then it is essential that we are supporting parents who want to return to work to be able to participate confidently.

We had a program that worked and now this federal government and this minister are refusing to listen to the people of regional Victoria who just want the funding to be guaranteed for the future so that they have the security of being able to have a little bit of respite or to take on a bit of work to assist the family budget. This government really must follow up the type of rhetoric that the minister has espoused here in this chamber. She must follow up this hollow rhetoric with action. She should reinstate the funding and restore confidence in regional communities that someone in Canberra is actually listening to them.

The member for Farrer mentioned the number of letters she has received on this topic. I have one here from only a matter of days ago. It is an email that was sent to me on Friday by a lady named Traci from Heyfield. Traci describes herself as a 34-year-old mother with three children under five. I will just quote from her email. It says:

For the first time in a long time I have been able to have a couple of hours to myself once a week because of the take a break program. My youngest 18 months and my 3 year old have started going to the occasional program on Tuesdays. I cannot begin to explain what it feels like to have a couple of hours off to myself (with those couple of hours I do an exercise program run by the community resource centre then I go grocery shopping without screaming children, occasionally get my much needed hair done). This program is so important to our isolated community. My husband works away 2 weeks at a time so those couple of hours for me are so crucial for my independence and sanity. I believe a lot of other mums are in the same situation regarding children and the take a break program.

Traci goes on to say—and by the way this is the only service in the town of Heyfield:

… cutting this service will hurt us all, all us mums who are trying to find ourselves again, trying to get back on our feet. Whether it's an education course and exercise program for trying to get into shape or an hour to ourselves, mums with very young children need this program.

Please don't take the funding from this much needed service. It's an amazing centre with amazing staff that truly care …

Thank you for listening.

I simply ask the question: is anyone listening on the other side of the House?