Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2505

Senator COATES(6.27) —I support the Child Care Amendment Bill 1985, which was introduced by the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), and reject the Opposition's amendment and its policy, which would introduce a high degree of inequity into the taxation system and the system of provision of child care. That is quite apart from the enormous additional costs that the Opposition's policy would involve. It would require something like $350m extra for the tax deductibility provision and an extra $400m or so for the income splitting arrangement. This comes from the Opposition which claims that the Government is not reducing expenditure sufficiently.

I acknowledge that there have been misunderstandings about the effects of the new child care policy because full details of the way in which it will affect individual centres take time to calculate and advise. I note that the Opposition has picked up this general complaint in the first part of its amendment, which says:

. . . the Bill may place at risk the standards of provision of child care;

I reject that that is the effect of this policy or the aim of the Government. The objections have concentrated on the reduction in operational subsidy-that is, the amount paid across the board, regardless of the means or ability to pay of parents. People forget that there will also be grants for approved services operating for additional hours, a factor that has not been taken into account by some centres that are worried about their funding. In addition, there will be continuation of additional grants for equipment, supplementary service grants to meet special needs and assistance for training. The point that has been ignored most, or at least has not been emphasised enough, is the very large increase in fee relief payments to low and moderate income families. These have the effect of reducing the fees otherwise payable by parents. The notional fee will rise but the actual fee will be brought down, in most cases close to that which is being paid at present. More people will qualify for fee relief. The changes will increase the equity of the arrangements since the proportion of grants made on a flat rate basis will be decreased. Higher income earners will pay more, but most people will pay only a little more, so child care will still be affordable and that is the Government's policy.

It was acknowledged that savings had to be made. This was primarily and initially a savings exercise arising out of the May economic statement which affected all portfolios. But the prime burden of those savings will fall on those families with a greater ability to pay and that is how the burden should be spread. At the same time as being a savings exercise, this has been a rationalisation, a simplification which makes the funding system fairer. The result is that some people will pay less because of the changes in the Bill. Let me emphasise that the savings are less than they were originally intended to be. They were to be $30m in a full year; they are now to be only a $10m reduction in a full year.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator COATES —Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, I emphasised that the savings arising from the May economic statement affecting child care are less than they would have been. The savings were to be $30m in a full year; now, they are to be only $10m in a full year. If there are complaints about the effect of cuts worth $10m, think of what it would have been like if the cuts of $30m had been proceeded with. I think the Minister for Community Services, Senator Grimes, should be congratulated for achieving a less drastic result. I remind honourable senators about the pressures to reduce outlays. This $10m was part of an approximate $1,200m reduction in outlays announced in May. The response from the Opposition has been that the cuts were not big enough. The Opposition and the business community have kept on pressing for more and more slashing of Government expenditures. I would ask child care interest groups to ponder on what would have been left of the program if the Opposition were in a position to have its way. There would be less money available and it would be distributed in a totally inequitable way. Certainly, there would not be the commitment this Government has made to expand the number of available places by 20,000 over the next three years. On top of the major expansion of child care places already provided over the past two or three years that is a commitment of which we are proud.

The main thing that we must do is to increase access to good quality child care. The percentage of children who can take advantage of child care, despite our advances, is still very small. It is not as small as Senator Peter Baume complained of, but it is still a minor proportion of the population, and even after the increase of 20,000 places it will still be quite small. Concentrating on providing more places so that not so many children miss out must be the Government's priority. There is a great unmet demand in the community. The main complaint in the community is that places are not available. Some are lucky; some miss out. The extra 20,000 places will be very welcome, will go some way towards satisfying the community's needs, and will provide plenty of employment openings for those who are training in the child care area.

The question of standards is another area of concern to everyone. That has been referred to in the Opposition's second reading amendment. The Government wants child care centres to provide top quality service and to be staffed by well-qualified people. I point out that centres will not be approved for Commonwealth funding unless they are staffed properly, but the precise standards are a matter for the States to prescribe. I would prefer nationally imposed uniformity, just as I would prefer all sorts of matters to which the States jealously cling to be Federal responsibilities, but the real constitutional world does not allow for that.

Of necessity, I have spoken briefly on this Child Care Amendment Bill. I will conclude by asking for recognition of the massive achievements in child care by this Government so far. It has provided expenditure growth in this area which is far ahead of most other programs. I ask also for recognition of the worthwhile, welcome and firm commitments for the future. I support the Child Care Amendment Bill.