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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 72

Senator FIFIELD (2:49 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Family and Community Services. Will the minister inform the Senate of what the government is doing to support parent access to quality child care and further advise if there are any alternative policies?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I thank Senator Fifield for his question. Supporting parents who access child care are an important part of the Australian government’s commitment to assist families to balance work and family. The government continues to spend, and has spent, more on child care than any Labor government ever did. The Howard government will spend over $8 billion over this and the next three financial years to support child care, an average of over $2½ thousand per child per annum in assistance to families using child care. The government’s commitment will be significantly boosted with additional assistance of $1.1 billion for the child-care tax rebate.

Further assistance to people caring for children that has most probably not received the publicity that it deserves is the assistance to grandparent carers. Grandparents who have sole responsibility for their grandchildren are now being assisted if they are in training or if they are in work by receiving 50 hours of free child care. This is in recognition of the role that grandparents are playing in situations where their grandchildren are in their custody or care.

Child-care benefits assist over 700,000 families a year who are using approved child care. Those benefits provide around 70 per cent of the total cost of full-time long day care for low-income families paying average fees. Looking at the record to see how that increase in funding has been reflected in outcomes in child-care places and services, the number of places and services has increased substantially since we came to office. Child-care places have increased by 83 per cent. Outside school hours care has gone up by a record 277 per cent. That is an amazing increase, from 71,000 places to 270,000 places, since we have been in government. Family day care places have increased by 27 per cent and child-care services have increased by 28 per cent, from just under 8,000 to over 10,000.

I want to remind people that the Australian government does not cap the number of long day care places. That is something that is not clearly understood. If a parent puts a child into child care which is approved and registered, the CCB operates for long day care places. The government is committed to ensuring services provide quality outcomes for children. In order to be eligible for child-care benefits and other funding, the support services must comply with all state regulations. In addition to the record number of places and record amount of funding this government has provided for child care, it recently announced over $20 million more in funding to help support child-care centres. Around $10 million of this has been allocated to child-care centres in rural, remote and Indigenous communities across Australia. I am announcing today that another $10 million will be used to help community based and not-for-profit type services to provide quality child care in a healthy and safe environment.

It always seems that where the states fall down, where they drop the ball, the Commonwealth has got to step in. This $10 million will help community based and not-for-profit type services to carry out urgent work to meet health and safety and licensing regulations—regulations for which the states and territories are responsible. It is important to remind those on the other side of the Senate that their state and territory colleagues have responsibility for the regulation of health and safety and the licensing of child-care centres. We all know that the state and territory governments are collecting unprecedented amounts of revenue from the GST, from stamp duty and from land taxes and gambling, and it should concern those on the other side of the chamber as much as it does the coalition that some states and territories do not have adequate regulations in place for some forms of child care. I have called on the state and territory ministers to address this issue among other issues. (Time expired)