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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 11217

Mr CHEESEMAN (3:18 PM) —My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. What is the government doing to ensure continuity of childcare services for Australian families following the announcement of ABC Learning going into voluntary administration and the banking syndicate’s appointment of a receiver?

Ms GILLARD (Acting Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. Receiving regular updates about ABC Learning has been something that members on both sides of the House have been anxious to do because they want to keep their constituents informed as to what is happening. I have updated the House on a number of occasions about the situation with ABC Learning, and I seek to provide some additional advice today.

As members of parliament are aware, on Thursday, 6 November ABC Learning moved into voluntary administration, and within a matter of hours a receiver was appointed. I announced very quickly a $22 million funding package to provide certainty for affected parents to ensure that childcare centres remained open till 31 December 2008 to give both the receiver and insolvency practitioners, which we now have embedded and working with the receiver, time to work through this difficult situation so that mums and dads know that their childcare centre would be open and providing care for them.

We also immediately moved to create a dedicated information hotline and to ensure that up-to-date information was available on the pages of the website. I can inform the House that we have had 800 calls to the dedicated hotline—the number is 1802003—and there have been 92,000 page views on the website.

Since I last had the opportunity to speak to the House about these matters, regrettably another company with commercial links to ABC Learning, CFK Childcare Centres Ltd, has moved into voluntary administration, and a receiver has now also been appointed to that company. The receiver is Ferrier Hodgson, and my department is in close contact with them. CFK centres continue to operate, providing care as usual for the mums and dads who rely on CFK to provide that care. CFK, of course, is predominantly a New South Wales based company. CFK’s receiver has not approached the Australian government for financial assistance—I stress that: it has not approached the Australian government for financial assistance—and I think it should be noted that obviously ABC Learning was in a unique situation given its size, its share of the market, its national coverage and the potential social and economic costs that would be created if many centres closed suddenly.

Also, since the time I have had an opportunity to update the House in relation to these matters, people may have seen reported in the media that another company associated with ABC Learning—in this case, 123 Careers, a labour hire company—has also gone into voluntary administration.

I want to stress to members of the House and members of the public generally that, whilst we have faced this situation with ABC Learning, and now with companies with commercial ties to ABC Learning, it is important to note that the childcare sector as a whole has been both stable and viable. That is, there are childcare centres around this country—some of them on a for-profit basis, some of them on a not-for-profit basis—that are perfectly stable, viable childcare centres that are here today and will be here in five or 10 years time providing care to children.

Obviously our highest priority in relation to the ABC Learning situation continues to be to provide continuity of care for the children of mums and dads so that they know that child care is available for them. We will provide as much information as possible to mums and dads as soon as it is available and can be given to them. The government will continue work in that regard. We know the receiver is working very hard indeed. We have expert staff working alongside the receiver. Everybody’s aim is to get further information to mums and dads as soon as possible.

Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.