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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 24

Senator BOSWELL —I direct my question to the Minister for Family Services. Independent accountants commissioned by the state child care associations of Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales to implement the government's child care accreditation scheme put the cost increases per week for child care at $18 in Queensland, $35 in Victoria and $69 in New South Wales. As the government has not refuted these costs, will the government absorb the costs, reduce the number of places available in child care, or will this additional cost be passed on to the parents? I seek leave to table the independent costings.

  Leave granted.

Senator CROWLEY —I am very pleased that Senator Boswell wants to table that information because it will at last give the government an opportunity to see it. We have had terrible difficulty getting hold of the private claims of costings. It is not a matter of whether I will refute the costings—I did that last time, and the line remains exactly the same. One would have to worry about exactly the same guidelines producing costing variations of $18, $35 and $69. Somehow, whoever is doing these costings is not looking at the same things and not comparing like with like.

  Senator Newman interjecting

Senator CROWLEY —Different states have different regulations.

Senator Newman —State costs.

Senator CROWLEY —Senator Newman claims that different states have different costs. That is absolutely correct but that is the point that all opposition senators refuse to acknowledge. These costings incorporate state requirements, in particular, labour force and staffing requirements and state regulations. That has absolutely nothing to do with accreditation.

Senator Newman —You are a centralist!

Senator CROWLEY —Senator Newman may accuse me of all sorts of things but she will not acknowledge the facts which are the issue of this question. Senator Newman's interjection highlights where the opposition is wrong—these costings incorporate state costs, in particular staffing requirements, and have nothing to do with the costing of accreditation.

  Senator Boswell asked me whether I would refute these claims. There is no change in what I say now from what I said last year—indeed, we have refuted those claims from the beginning. I will gladly look at the documents tabled by Senator Boswell because at last we might be able to look at what the people doing these studies are incorporating in those costings.

  According to the private consultant who has done the costings for government, it comes out at 88c or thereabouts, compared with the opposition's costings of $18 or $69. As I said in this place last year, a child-care centre in South Australia went through the accreditation process off its own bat because it was interested in finding out the substantive issues of accreditation. That centre reported that it found the process and the outcomes very successful and positive for the centre, the parents and the staff. That centre came up with the costing of 55c.

  So Senator Boswell should continue to be cautious about those evaluations. I am delighted to look at the costings tabled by Senator Boswell—I will certainly cast an eye over those costings to see what is causing this discrepancy.

Senator Newman —About time!

Senator CROWLEY —It is not about time. We have been waiting on whether or not any of these claims would provide this evidence for us. Until now we have not had the details of those claims, so I will be very pleased to look at them. I am also concerned that anybody examining exactly the same requirements could produce discrepancies of $18 to $35 to $69. One would have to be very worried about exactly what the people doing these studies are incorporating within their estimates. On all the evidence given to us, they are incorporating, as Senator Newman so succinctly interjected, state costs which are not part of the accreditation.

  If training costs are involved, the government recognises those by setting aside $700,000 this year and $1 million next year for training necessary staff. That is not part of the costing; if it has been included, that is another fault. I am happy to look at the information and provide Senator Boswell with any further information.

Senator BOSWELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note Senator Crowley's answer. However, Senator Crowley may not be aware that some of the states have already started to implement some of the accreditation programs, and that is what is causing the difference. Because of the serious consequence of the government getting it wrong—an enormous disparity between the government's estimate of $88 and the cost as determined for each of the child-care state associations—will the minister refer the various assessments to a qualified third party, like Coopers and Lybrand, for arbitration as requested by the child-care associations? Until that arbitration is finalised, will the minister withdraw the regulations?

Senator CROWLEY —No, I will not withdraw the regulations. I note again for the record that Senator Boswell says—and I think with all innocence—that state regulations are now being introduced in child-care centres. Indeed, they may well be, Senator Boswell, and they may well be the cause of the increased costs. It is not accreditation costs; it is state regulations.

Senator Newman —You still have not understood, you duffer!

The PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Newman!

Senator CROWLEY —If Senator Newman persists with that, she will be persisting in convincing people that she does not know what this is about. The need to have an independent arbiter look at these things is very much to jump the gun. These are no more than estimates of what the accreditation process might cost. It is far more important to see the accreditation process begin to be established, as is now happening with centres already registered. Once those processes are beginning to happen we will have real data about the real cost of implementing the accreditation process. I can assure Senator Boswell that already more than 400 centres have registered with the National Child Care Accreditation Council and it is in the process of being implemented. (Time expired)