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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 6527

Mr MARTIN(5.18 p.m.) —Like all of us on this side of the parliament, I speak in absolute opposition to the proposition which this uncaring government has brought before the people of Australia today. The Child Care Legislation Amendment Bill 1996 is nothing but philosophically driven claptrap. To suggest that people in this day and age, particularly women, should be denied access to affordable child care is akin to suggesting to people they have no legitimate right to take a role in the work force if they are women, that they have no legitimate right to seek some opportunities for respite care for their kids or that this might be some sort of a rort to the system.

All the words that I used there are the sorts of words we hear time and time again from this government. This government says, `If you have used some R&D grants in the past, it's a rort now and we're going to cut those out. If in some way you have access to concessions to promote tourism overseas, it's a rort and we're going to cut that back.'

In respect of child care, they are suggesting that, because they believe saving $118.4 million over three years is an appropriate way to attack child care, they are going to put in place this legislation. This legislation will, firstly, discontinue the operational subsidy to community based long day care centres to take effect from 1 July next year and, secondly, amend the Childcare Rebate Act 1993 to reduce the child-care cash rebate from 30 per cent to 20 per cent for families with a taxable income in the current year lower than the family income cut-off for part A of the family tax initiative, which is currently $70,000 per annum for a family with one child.

That is the basis of this government's attack on child care. Yet you have to wonder whether the Minister for Family Services (Mrs Moylan), the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) or any of these ministers on the other side who are part of this government have actually ever been to a long day care centre or have ever been to a community based child-care centre. Have they ever been there and spoken to the people who use the facility?

They sit here in this parliament, point the finger at us and say, `The Labor Party is out of touch.' They say that the Labor Party has forgotten what the average, ordinary battlers of Australia want. I can tell you: the average, ordinary battlers of Wollongong—the average, ordinary battlers of the Illawarra—who utilise child-care facilities have long memories. They have very, very long memories. This issue, which is raging in Illawarra, will come back at some stage in the future and bite this government where it hurts most. It is incredible to think that in some way opportunities should be denied people to access community based child-care centres.

These are non-profit organisations. These are organisations that often are run by the local councils or by community groups. In the case of the Illawarra, the Illawarra Children's Services Action Group runs a number of these. You have the Bulli Children's Centre. You have a range of others—at Corrimal, the Western Suburbs Child Care Centre. They are all generally under the auspices of the Wollongong City Council, the Illawarra Children's Services Action Group or some other organisation that is community based.

You ask the mothers, the trained staff at these child-care centres, and the fathers as well: why do you put your kids in child care? All sorts of reasons come out. They tell you, for example, `I happen to be a single mother because I am divorced, and I need the opportunity to have my children looked after in child care occasionally so that I can go to university, so I can improve myself, so I can get a better job in the work force to look after my family.'

You hear of two-income families who are at the lower end of the scale—two incomes are a necessity for some of these people. They put their kids in child care not only because they want an opportunity for them to mix with children of their own age but also because it is actually an economic necessity.

You ask people why their children are in child care, and they will tell you it is because they believe that their children get an enormous socialisation experience, they mix with kids of their own age, they relate to one another and it is part of their social development. Yet those on the other side of this chamber think that that is all nonsense. In hard dollars and cents facts, they say, `We are going to slash into child care.' Hang the consequences. Do not worry about what the people want. Do not worry about the fact that these people, over a long period of time, have come to believe that child care is a right in our society and have looked to governments—particularly federal governments; Labor governments—to sustain that belief. We certainly did that.

It is rather instructional to go out and talk to some of these people in child-care centres around Australia. I certainly have done so in my electorate. In fact, not at my behest but certainly with my support, a number of petitions have been generated by parents, and by the children themselves, of the child-care centres in the Illawarra. I would like to take the opportunity to read from a couple of them.

The people of Wollongong are very creative. I wish I could share this particular drawing and petition with the people of Australia.

Mr Hollis —Table it; table it.

Mr MARTIN —I am going to table all these petitions through the correct channels. The member for Throsby, like me, has been fighting untiringly for child-care centres in the Illawarra.

We have a petition from Carly Chapman, of 38 William Street, Bulli, aged nine. She has drawn here what certainly looks like John Howard saying, `Well, if you can't afford it, stay at home.' That seems to be the Prime Minister's attitude—if you can't afford it, stay at home. Another petition has a letter which reads:

Dear John Howard,

How come you made a ridiculous budget? Some mothers like my mum have 4 children in care while she goes to uni. She pays silly amounts just for long day care and occasional care.

It is signed:

Emily Chapman (11)

P.S. You may not have kids but others have.

We know that the Prime Minister has kids.

Mr Hollis —Well, you have kids.

Mr MARTIN —The member for Throsby draws to the House's attention my own circumstances. Sure, I have four kids, and all of my children at various times have been through child-care centres. If I do say so myself, it has not done them any harm whatsoever, because each of the centres that my children attended were centres which were appropriately accredited.

This is again one of the issues which we are concerned about here—eliminating the accreditation of child-care centres so that any fly-by-nighter can set themselves up as a child-care centre. If you are a caring parent, are you going to want to dump them off at places like that? I think not. There is another petition from Christopher McCaughtrie, of 61 Asquith Street, Austinmer—these people have gone to a lot of trouble—which says:

Please find attached a little note from our son Christopher, who would be devastated if he was taken out of his preschool/longday care centre and away from his playmates.

This is a real possibility given the rising cost of childcare.

And, in the hand of Christopher McCaughtrie, `I love my friends at school.' He signed it himself, and he has also got a stick drawing—but a tremendous drawing—of some of his friends who attend that child-care centre.

Here we have one from Catherine Dening. I think it really gets to the heart of one of the issues. I am pleased that the minister has come into the chamber now. I would actually like to give her these petitions. I will get them to her eventually so that she can read them for herself. Catherine Dening, of 23 High Street, Thirroul, writes:

My brother needs Day Care because he was born with a disability and doesn't deserve to miss out on the opportunities I had and neither does anyone else. He needs all the help he can get and you don't have any right to take this help away from him.

Dead set right, Minister. Here is another one:

If your proposals go ahead my children will not be able to attend preschool due to the increases in fees.

Listen to what the people are saying to you, Minister. You come over here, lecture this side of the parliament and say that we do not go out into the community and listen to what people want. Here is a whole stack of petitions from people—from children, from parents. They have got the message for you and I tell you what, I am going to deliver it to you. Kellie Thicknesse writes:

Then I will not be able to study at tech and work part-time. The children will be who loses out the most. At preschool they get to interact with other children, play with a greater variety of children. They learn how to write, share and be independent. They get to spend time away from their parents and smaller baby brothers and sisters.

Again, that is an important element in raising families these days. Here is a great line:

`The faces behind community based Long-Day Care! Betrayed by the Liberal Government!

Dead set right. These petitions, which I will be lodging with the clerk in the most appropriate manner—I hope they find their way to the minister's attention; I hope she has a look at them and passes them on to the Prime Minister—reflect the anger, the frustration and the sheer concern that people in the Illawarra have about this government's decisions to slash $118 million in the name of fiscal responsibility from people who need these facilities.

I urge the government to reconsider what I consider to be one of the most appalling decisions of this budget. It is not right. It is not Australian. The Prime Minister likes to talk about battlers, about being Australian and all the rest of it. I have to tell you, this is definitely not right, Minister. This is an absolute outrage. You should do something about it.