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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9267


Ms CAMPBELL (7:50 PM) —Can there be anything more important that we do as a government than ensuring that we give our children the best start in the world? The key to this I believe is child care. Sometimes I fear that we use words to the point where they somehow lose their meaning, but let us reflect for a moment on child care, not only what it is but what those two words actually mean.

We have an obligation not only as parents or as politicians but as a wider community to care for our children. This is something about which I am passionate. It is something to which I am pleased to say the Rudd government has already indicated it too is committed. As a government we recognise that critical to a thriving, healthy and, above all, caring childcare sector are training, education and, of course, staff. We also recognise that there is a critical skills shortage in this area, as there is across many other industries.

I would like to take this opportunity to add my support to the Big Steps in Childcare campaign being run by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. The LHMU knows all too well the stress and strain under which workers in the childcare sector suffer. To this end Christie Goss from my home state of Tasmania was part of a delegation to present some 2,000 letters to the Hon. Maxine McKew, Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Childcare. I would like to congratulate her on her efforts and thank the LHMU for this campaign.

I myself have been involved in the childcare sector. I was on the board of Stewart Child Care in Launceston and also on the board of the Early Years Parents and Friends. I was also an LHMU organiser, looking after the childcare sector in Launceston. My experience, however, is nothing when compared with those whose days are spent looking after precious children. I will, if I may, share with you the story of one such worker, Jannette Mathieson. This impressive young woman has worked in child care for seven years, after discovering at age 19 what she describes as exactly what she wanted to do professionally. I can inform the House that Ms Mathieson is studying at university so that she can actually leave child care. This is not something which she wants to do but something she feels she has to do because of the conditions in child care. Disturbingly, she says that she does not know one co-worker who would leave their own child in care under the current conditions. That is truly a damning indictment of the industry and something which we simply must address.

Ms Mathieson describes the strain placed on workers and children under the current ratios. She says that, in a room with five babies or 10 two- and three-year-olds, providers are barely able to attend to the physical needs of children, let alone the emotional requirements. These are our children, and you know what? We owe them more. While recognition is important and financial recompense vital, workers tell me that they would swap all of that to have the ratios improved, so distressing is it currently.

The Big Steps campaign is seeking lower provider-to-children ratios, better wages to assist with attracting and retaining quality staff, opportunities for ongoing training and development, and recognition of the invaluable role which staff play in childcare centres. These are by no means unreasonable demands. Surely this should be the very least that childcare professionals should expect. Up to 60 per cent of workers leave the childcare sector each year because of low pay and comparably low status. A full-time childcare diploma holder earns just $19 an hour—is it any wonder that they are seeking better recognition in other careers? Our children cannot afford to lose people like Jannette Mathieson, and yet they are.

The Rudd government, I am pleased to say, recognises issues surrounding staffing. That is why over the next four years we will invest more than $126 million to train and retain a high-quality early childhood education workforce. This will support around 8,000 childcare workers to gain a qualification by removing TAFE fees for childcare diplomas and advanced diplomas from 2009. There will be additional university places for early childhood teachers and a reduction in HECS debt for early childhood teachers working in regional and remote areas. Our commitment is this: the National Early Years Workforce Strategy will help build a highly skilled and capable workforce, which is critical to delivering the education revolution.

As a government we have an obligation to the youngest among us to make the right decisions on their behalf, to take the proper and necessary actions to ensure that their lives are the very best that they can possibly be. To the early childcare teachers and providers, I say thank you, and I offer my continuing support for the wonderful and tireless work of the LHMU on your behalf. It may be a cliche, but children are our future and we owe them the absolute best.