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Friday, 29 November 1985
Page: 2601

Senator ROBERTSON —Can the Minister for Community Services inform the Senate about the situation in Darwin where some child care centres have announced that they will refuse to open today?

Senator GRIMES —I have been informed that after an appeal from some centre employees in Darwin, three child care centres were given the endorsement of the association up there to close their centres today so that they could strike against the Child Care Amendment Act which passed through this Parliament today. The participants in this strike apparently were to have a meeting at 11 o'clock this morning and they gave some indication to me and my office yesterday that they intended to close for one day a week and that they aimed to involve other centres in Darwin and Alice Springs in this particular protest.

I am very much in favour of people having the right to withdraw their labour and strike, but this seems to me to be a particularly useless and disruptive form of protest. Certainly it does not affect me or my Department unless, of course, the employees of those centres intend to continue paying themselves while they are on strike. We will check up on that. What the action is doing is disrupting children's routines and in many cases it will disrupt parents' work patterns and their capacity to work, to no purpose whatsoever. I would have thought that these people, who claim that their main argument with the Government at the moment is about the quality of care, could think of a better way of registering their protest, even if they want to march around with signs saying `Grimes is grim', which is the sort of thing they have been doing in some places. I think that they should find a better form of protest than this.

The new Child Care Amendment Act has been passed and is in operation. Those centres, which between them have received hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' funds in the past and will continue to do so in the future, have some responsibility to deliver the services for which they have had money paid over and for which the people who work in those centres receive a good income from the public purse. Neither the Australian Early Childhood Association nor, surprisingly, the National Association of Community-based Child Care is supporting the strike. I trust that it will soon dawn on those who are making this protest that they can better contribute to the quality of child care in the Northern Territory by working co-operatively with the Territory Government, the Federal Government and local governments in the area to realise the standards of staffing and the quality of service that are necessary to provide child care at those standards which are expected under Commonwealth funded services.

I accept that people have a right to withdraw their labour, but I believe that in this case the withdrawal of labour is a particularly useless form of protest. I hope that those people are also withdrawing their incomes for the days they take off.

Senator ROBERTSON —I have a supplementary question.

Senator Chaney —I rise on a point of order. I believe that the length of answers given by Senator Grimes during this Question Time has been quite extraordinary. I ask you, Mr Deputy President, to ask him to be a little more to the point and to give a chance for some questions to be asked.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I repeat the exhortation given many times by the President: Ministers are asked to keep their answers to questions relevant and brief.

Senator ROBERTSON —I ask the Minister whether he has any evidence to show whether the protest was engineered by those who own the child care centres or those who work in them.

Senator GRIMES —I understand that the centres are community funded, so they are not owned by anyone in particular. Therefore, it seems likely to me that the protest was engineered by the directors or the people who are employed in those centres. I think that is unfortunate but, as I said-I do not want to keep Senator Chaney waiting too long to ask his next question-I will find out the details of how the dispute started, what happened at the meeting and what is likely to happen in the future. We will ensure as much as possible that the people who expect us to provide funds for those people to supply the services will get the services that they need and deserve.