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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9262

Senator GIBBS —My question is to Senator Newman, the Minister for Family and Community Services. It concerns a report published last month by the Queensland Child Care Coalition based on a survey of 28 per cent of that state's child-care services which, between them, cater for some 40,000 children. Is the minister aware that the survey found that between July 1998 and March 1999 no fewer than 7,393 children were removed from child-care? Is the minister also aware that child-care costs were the main reason parents nominated for withdrawing their children from care, or reducing their hours? In her normal form, the minister has blamed the media, she has blamed the opposition for scaremongering and she has blamed previous Labor governments. When will she take her responsibilities for child-care seriously and properly tackle the child-care affordability problem?

Senator NEWMAN (Family and Community Services; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —The claims that have been made by the opposition certainly of fee increases of 20 per cent since 1995 are exaggerated. They are based only on the small and more expensive community sector. Contrary to Labor's claims, the community sector represents only around 30 per cent of children in long day care centres and, as I have said before, fees are set by child-care operators and not by the government. In fact, the rate of fee increases for centres has halved under this government to four per cent per annum compared to the rate of increase of fees under Labor of 8½ per cent per annum. That might be food for thought.

The government of course contributes significantly to the child-care costs of low and middle income families. For low income families with two children in full-time care, government assistance is around 70 per cent or $12,400 of the average fee in centres and around 80 per cent of the average fee in family day care. Labor conveniently ignores the fact that, of low income families receiving the maximum rate of child-care assistance, 49 per cent, or 86,700, use private centres while 42 per cent, or 29,900, use community based child-care centres.

I give all of that information because that is the background to the question about a survey which was conducted in Queensland, which I would have some concerns about but I do not have the details of it in front of me today. But I do know that of all the areas of Australia that are suffering as a result of the lack of planning by the previous government, it is south eastern Queensland that is suffering the most. I believe most of the people who came to see the ALP today would recognise that is the area where there is a serious oversupply. It has lead to problems for operators and problems for parents. I put the blame for that squarely where it should rest, and that is with the previous government which was not concerned to see to it that areas of greatest need were encouraged to have child-care places and not areas where there were already plenty of places.

Senator GIBBS —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister also aware that the survey found a continued shift to informal, unregulated backyard care and warned of a return of the latchkey child syndrome? If this government's child-care system is in good shape, as the minister constantly claims, why are parents consistently saying that they cannot afford high quality care?

Senator NEWMAN (Family and Community Services; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —They are finding the fees expensive, but I have told you that the rate of increase of fees has been considerably less under this government than it was under the previous government. And the government does not set them. Here is this claim again that the government or somebody is forcing families out of formal care. There is no evidence that children are being pulled out of formal child care. I will tell you why, Senator. The child-care rebate figures show that the proportion of families claiming for informal care has fallen from eight per cent to six per cent since its introduction in 1994 and, in fact, the number of children using child care has increased significantly from 460,300 in 1994-95 to 544,700 in 1996-97.