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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9269

Senator CHRIS EVANS (3:04 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Family and Community Services (Senator Newman), to questions without notice asked today.

Senator Hill —You did that yesterday.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —For Senator Hill's information, we actually asked different questions today and got different answers. I wish to concentrate on the question of government funding to child care. Again today, the minister tried to use what are basically misleading statistics to justify the government's position on child care. I think it is about time the government came clean on what is happening with child care in Australia. The Howard government's cuts to child-care funding are beginning to come home to roost. We are beginning to get the statistical information that displays what impact the cuts made in the first couple of Howard budgets to child-care funding have been on child care in Australia.

The minister likes to quote statistics that are based on comparisons with 1994-95. She released a report only last month which used statistics that were more than 12 months out of date, because they were the last available statistics that failed to show the picture of what was occurring in Australian child care.

What we do know is that child-care funding is falling, child-care places are falling and the number of child-care centres are falling. These are not opposition statistics; these statistics I am using today are from the minister's own department. What we do know for the record is that actual expenditure on child care in 1996-97 was $1,066 million, that actual expenditure on child care in 1997-98 was $999 million and that the department's last estimate was that expenditure in 1998-99 was $989 million. So the department's figures disprove what the minister again tried to claim in the chamber today: that expenditure on child care was rising. Federal government expenditure on child care in Australia is falling, and the government's own statistics show that.

Senator Knowles —That is not true. You know that is not true.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Senator Knowles, I am happy to debate the statistics with you any day, because you refuse to use the latest information.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, address the chair and, Senator Knowles, cease interjecting.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —The government released the final budget outcome papers for 1998-99 last week. They show that there was a $0.2 billion underspend on Newstart and child-care assistance. I have not been able to get the breakdown on those figures as to how much of that is child-care assistance, but they are consistent with the department's earlier figures, which show that the real expenditure on child-care funding in Australia by the federal government has fallen in the last three years. On each year it has been less: $1,066 million to $999 million to $989 million. For the minister to come in here again and claim that child-care funding is going up is just not true. It is misleading the Senate; it is misleading the Australian public. There is a drop in funding to child care because of the cuts made by this government to child-care funding and because of the squeeze they put on child-care assistance when they froze it for two years.

Senator Hill interjecting

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I know she said that it increased, Senator Hill, and she misled the Senate, because it has not. Your own figures prove that it has not. I am not quoting ALP figures. I am quoting the government department budget figures—your own budget figures.

Senator Calvert —Madam Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I thought that accusing another senator of misleading the Senate is out of order unless it can be proved.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I just proved it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The use of the word `misleading' has been used quite frequently before. It is unparliamentary to say `deliberately misleading'.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I am happy to be guided by you, Madam Deputy President. What I know is that the figures of the minister's own department prove that child-care expenditure in Australia has fallen in each of the last three years—the department's own figures. I have quoted the figures. I will be interested to see if any senators opposite use actual expenditure. I suspect they will use budget expenditure—estimates. Now that we have the actual expenditure we know it is falling. The other thing we know is that Australian families know it is falling, because they are feeling the pressure. They know that the gap between the assistance and the payments they have to make for child care is widening. They know that the cost to them of child care has increased because of the government's cutbacks. They know, because they are feeling the pressure. In particular, families with more than one child in child care are finding it just too expensive to afford child care because of the government's cutbacks.

That is putting stress on families. It is making women make decisions about leaving the work force or reducing their hours. It is putting stress on grandparents and other relatives who are forced to care for children because people cannot afford formal care. The number of children, the number of centres and the expenditure on child care are all falling, and it is all proved by Department of Family and Community Services figures. The minister keeps on trying to use budget figures that were produced last year, but actual expenditure has fallen. The numbers in care have fallen. The number of centres has fallen. Yet the minister refuses to address the problems confronting child care in this country. It is putting real pressure on Australian families. (Time expired)