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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6072

Ms LEY (Farrer) (10:41): As I have said, I think the House is wasting its time on the substance of this bill and I do hope that members will support the coalition's amendments. The minister is quite right—it is not 25 centres in total; it is six providers. However, if you think of the number of centres those six providers might have—I am not sure if the minister has that information; her department should certainly have it although they have not provided it to me—that in fact makes the numbers of centres affected quite substantial. If each provider had 25 centres, you can imagine what reach this would have into the childcare sector.

It simply is not the case that the department or the government would not be able to extend the reach of this bill, and I want to mention a couple of other aspects that illustrate the power of the secretary to seek information. Certainly the operator maybe asked for information, but there is also a person who at any time during the year is entitled to seek 15 per cent or more of the dividends. Imagine that person suddenly having to jump through a series of hoops in relation to a facility that they are perhaps only distantly related to. There is a person who at any time during the financial year is owed a debt by the operator, or a person with whom the operator acts or is accustomed to act in concert—and so it goes on. This bill imposes this requirement on not just the operator but a range of organisations, bodies, actors, that in some ways might be quite distantly connected with the operator, certainly in a business sense. They may be close in a personal sense; I do not know. They would also be required to provide information, but what if they do not want to provide that information? What if that information relates to activities that have done nothing to do with the business? According to my reading of this bill, they would still have to give their total financial picture to the department.

I know that we can always be accused of scaremongering, and I know that in a perfect world of course we are not going to have people acting outside the bounds of legislation, but our responsibility is to look at what the legislation empowers people to do and assume that, if it allows for something, then at some stage it may happen. If there is a scoop-up clause that says 'whatever other information may be deemed necessary', it is reasonable to assume that at some stage that clause might be initiated and that officials of the department would be chasing the sort of information that I have described. I come back to the amendments we are moving. There are differences between the coalition and the government on the provision of private child care generally, but on this bill let us put them to one side and say: 'If we accept that you want to do this and spend an initial sum of $1.9 million, which will no doubt escalate over time, on this activity, then please confine your questions to financial data such as we have listed.' The financial data that is in our amendments is quite exclusive. Do not ask for anything else. You will get all the information that you need from what is specifically listed in these amendments.

Remember that there is also a provision in this bill for the department to seek an audit if it finds a problem. We are not touching that provision at all, so it is incorrect for the government to suggest that we would be going soft on anyone who might, for whatever reason, fall through the cracks. As I have said, I do not believe that will ever happen. We are not even suggesting that the audit activity be limited. Leave the audit activity as it is, leave the bill as it is, but when you require information restrict it only to what we have listed in our amendments.