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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19917

Mr SCIACCA (4:40 PM) —There has been much talk of late about the struggle of parents to balance their family lives and their work commitments. It is a juggling act that is getting harder as this government's cuts to health care and education mean that parents are expected to find more and more money just to ensure that their children have access to basic services. If the rumours are true and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is about to cut crucial operational funding from family day care schemes around the country, parenting is going to become even harder. The $67 million a year allocated for family day care operational funding barely makes a dent in the Commonwealth coffers, but it is a major resource for providers. If operational funding is taken away, the consequences for family day care schemes and the many Australian families who rely on them will be dire.

Family day care schemes are renowned for being able to provide quality care on a shoestring. But how are they to continue to survive without operational support? The Bayside Family Day Care Scheme has an annual budget of just over $313,000. When $183,000 is withdrawn from operational funding you can see why the prospect of losing this support is of such concern. People who work in family day care estimate that the cost of care would be increased by up to $40 a week and parents, particularly women from lower income families, would be forced out of work due to the lack of availability of affordable, flexible care for their children. Family day care needs more support from government, not less. The flexibility it offers and the strong personal bonds that develop between carers and the families they assist mean that this service meets an important need in our community. That is why 126,000 children across Australia are in family day care. That is why excellent services like the family day care schemes at Wynnum and Bayside have 150 and 205 children respectively on their waiting lists.

As my constituent Joanne discovered, the service that family day care provides cannot be duplicated by private childcare centres that are required to turn a profit, open their doors only during set hours and tend to offer only limited places to children under two due to the higher supervisory requirements for this age group. Joanne's three children have been waiting for a family day care place for 17 months now. But the family day care schemes in the Wynnum-Manly district are subject to such high demand that she has had to try to make do with alternative services while she waits for a vacancy. The first difference Joanne noticed was that, although she receives a 99 per cent child-care rebate, she needed to find an extra $97 a week to get her children into a private childcare centre.

However, more concerning was the absence of the strong friendship and genuine affection her children had shared with their family day care mum. When Joanne was expecting her second child, her family day care mum looked after her eldest overnight while she was in hospital. She was there again looking after the children when Joanne was in the ambulance in labour with her third child. The children and the family as a whole enjoyed spending quality time with their family day care mum, so much so that she became like part of the family. She was always willing to step in to help, even at odd hours or at short notice.

The stark contrast to this and the nature of the care offered at private child care centres was really brought home when Joanne's son, who has always experienced problems with his hips, was laid up after a recent operation. When he had been with his family day care mum, she offered the additional care and supervision he needed while in a cast, without blinking an eyelid. But this time around, even though Joanne had advised the child care centre of her child's condition and given them ample notice of when he would be returning to the centre after his operation, she was stunned to receive a call the day before she was due back at work advising that the centre was not equipped to provide adequate care for her son and that until he was fully recovered he would not be able to return. Joanne was forced to ring around her circle of friends and beg their help to care for her son during the day so that she could keep her job. She would never have been put in that position had there been sufficient places in family day care for her children.

Cuts to family day care operational funding will do nothing to improve access to child care. On the contrary, they will undermine the quality and quantity of care that family day care schemes provide. Family day care schemes provide vital assistance to young working families. I urge the minister to retain operational funding for family day care as part of broadband funding.

I close with the observation that there is another addition to the seemingly endless list of government ministers that have visited or are about to visit the Redlands Shire in my electorate, which after the redistribution is a fairly good Liberal seat, at the behest of the would-be candidate, one Andrew Laming. Minister Anthony will be attending a forum at the Alexandra Hills Hotel on 25 September. While the forum itself is a thinly veiled political exercise, what a wonderful opportunity it presents to the many young families in Bowman to tell the responsible minister at first-hand how his policies are impacting on their ability to earn a decent wage to provide for their children. I encourage them to go up there and let him know in person.