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Wednesday, 21 August 1985
Page: 84

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Minister for Community Services. Is the Minister aware of the campaign of misinformation being orchestrated in South Australia by the Liberal Opposition members regarding cuts in child care? Is he aware of a letter sent to parents of children in kindergartens in Adelaide stating that kindergartgen fees would rise by $65 a term? Can the Minister explain yet again what are the facts about child care funding and the difference between child care and pre-school education so that parents in South Australia can be freed from the scare tactics and misinformation purveyed by the Opposition?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, I am aware of the campaign referred to by Senator Crowley. I assume that we heard what was a continuation of that campaign this morning in notices of motion given by Senator Messner. What has happened in South Australia is that Liberal members of parliament have taken it upon themselves to write to parents of children in child care centres and pre-schools in South Australia telling them that as a result of actions of the Federal Government their fees will rise by $65 a term or, as in a couple of cases which have been drawn to my attention, by $36 a week. These figures come from the imaginations of the people who wrote them, assisted, I dare say, by some of their Federal colleagues. We have done two things in child care. The first thing we have done--

Senator Button —Senator Messner looks very guilty to me.

Senator GRIMES —He is always guilty. The first thing we have done is stop the pre-school grants to the States. We announced that in the May economic statement. Those grants had been diminishing as a result of inflation. They had stayed the same in nominal figures since 1978, I believe. The States were under notice that whichever government was in power those grants would eventually cease. As a result of their cessation States such as Tasmania, Victoria and, I believe, Western Australia have announced that they will pick up the deficit. I believe that States as enlightened as South Australia will probably do the same thing when their Budgets come down, or one hopes that they will. If any State does not do so it will indicate that it puts a low priority on pre-schools, not that the Commonwealth does.

As for the cuts to the overall children's services program for child care centres and children's services generally, we have stated that towards the end of next month, or early in October, we will announce changes to the funding of child care centres in this country, the result of which will be that some people, particularly those on high incomes, will have to make a greater contribution to child care. The reason we will do this is that child care is, of course, an expanding area, and despite the fact that we have managed to increase the number of children in subsidised child care from 4 per cent to 7 1/2 per cent we still have a long way to go. There is no open-ended budget in this area any more than there is in any other. Also, under the existing system we pay the same subsidy to people earning $50,000, $60,000 or $100,000 a year as we pay to people earning $25,000 a year, and that is quite clearly unfair. The increase in costs will be distributed to the high income earners. Figures such as $36 a week and $65 a term are not on my desk and not before the group which is organising proposals for change at the moment. They come from the imaginations of politicians on the opposite side. They come from some vested interests which are doing very well out of the existing child care arrangements. We will not be pushed back from making those changes by such campaigns. I believe that as a result of the changes--

Senator Messner —All people want to know is what is happening.

Senator GRIMES —People want to know what is happening but they do not want letters from you and your colleagues asserting outrageous changes when you have no knowledge at all.

Senator Messner —You will not tell us what is happening.

Senator GRIMES —You remind me-

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister will address his remarks through the Chair.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Messner reminds me of, I think, Mr Kremlin in Sybil who was described as `profound in his ignorance, he has but one idea and that is false'. That is Senator Messner's capacity in this area. That is Senator Messner's problem in this area. If he and his colleagues want to indulge in scare tactics such as this, let the people who are receiving the letters from them know that those letters are the results of their imaginations and contain nothing but lies.