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Tuesday, 3 December 1996
Page: 6593

Senator EGGLESTON(7.09 p.m.) —In the adjournment debate tonight I want to correct some misconceptions the ALP is spreading in Western Australia in the state election campaign to do with child care, the cost to aged people of obtaining access to nursing homes, and pensions for British migrants in Australia.

Firstly, I would like to deal with child care, which is a matter of great importance to working mothers. The first point I want to make crystal clear is that the government is not reducing expenditure on child care. In fact, the Commonwealth outlays on child care will increase in the 1996-97 budget by some $150 million. The Commonwealth will spend over $5 billion on child care in the next four years.

It should be clearly understood that the ALP's and the Democrats' claims regarding the impact of the government's child-care policies on families are causing unnecessary alarm, as their costing assumes families all use full-time child care when in fact 80 per cent do not use full-time child care. The government has retained its commitment to choice for families, with over 150,000 new child-care places to be established by the year 2001.

Private child-care centres provide 70 per cent of centre based care, catering for more than 220,000 families nationwide. It is important for it to be understood that an operational subsidy has never been paid to these centres. There are 2,748 such private child-care centres around Australia with 122,500 places, servicing some quarter of a million families, of which 96,000 are low income families. It should be noted that these private centres offer over 20,000 places in remote and rural areas.

By contrast there are 1,112 community based centres, all of which have been receiving operational subsidies. It is these subsidies to these centres which will be discontinued. These community centres will be assisted, however, to restructure their businesses to operate without an operational subsidy, and $8.3 million will be provided to assist long day care centres to restructure their businesses and overcome the loss of untargeted operational subsidies. Removal of the operational subsidy for community child-care centres is all about equity—equity for the 70 per cent of families who are currently using private sector, employer sponsored or non-profit child-care services which do not receive an operational subsidy.

It may be asked: how many families using community child-care facilities will be affected by these measures? Speaking at the Department of Social Security Senate estimates hearing on 24 September this year, a senior official of the Department of Social Security, in response to a question about the number of children no longer eligible for child-care assistance, said that only about 500 families receiving a small level of child-care assistance, amounting to a few dollars a week, would lose that assistance. The official added that these people would be middle to high income families, certainly not low income families.

The government is making special arrangements for child care in rural and remote areas of Australia, such as the north-west, where there are no private services and where a community based service is the only available one in the area. If it can be demonstrated that, as a result of a restructuring exercise, the continuance of a child-care service may be compromised, the government will arrange for a disadvantaged area subsidy to be paid to such centres. This means that in country areas where there is only a single service in the area and it is a community based service, if the operational subsidy is critical to the ongoing operation, they will be eligible for a disadvantaged area subsidy.

So the real situation with respect to child-care arrangements in Australia is very different to the scaremongering story that the ALP is peddling in the WA state elections. I repeat that Commonwealth outlays on child care will increase by $150 million in the 1996-97 budget.

The second matter I would like to speak about is aged care. The ALP in WA has again been peddling all sorts of fearful stories about what the Liberal Party plans to do with residential care for the aged. I would like to repeat that the government's vision for residential care for the aged, as outlined by the Minister for Family Services, Judi Moylan, to the conference of the National Association of Nursing Homes and Private Hospitals in September this year was based on three key elements.

Firstly, the government wants to provide more choice and flexibility for older people. People should not have to face the upheaval that goes with being forced to move from one type of facility to another as their care needs change. In the government's view, they should be able to access care as close as possible to where they have lived.

Secondly, providers need incentives to respond to consumer aspirations and to deliver excellent quality services. The government wants to see providers who have time to care instead of being burdened down with red tape and paperwork. Thirdly, the government wants to ensure high quality care for everyone, regardless of income. This means that care remains affordable and accessible. Access to care should be based on need, not on ability to pay, with strong safeguards for financially disadvantaged people.

These principles are underpinned by the government's policy of focusing on people, not on processes. It means asking for a fair and reasonable contribution from residents who can afford to pay more. The role of government is to use the taxpayers' money to fund people's care needs, not their lifestyle choices or those of their children.

The government will not be allowing a two-tiered system to develop—one standard for the poor and another for the wealthy. While people should be allowed to exercise some choice over their accommodation and services, as they do in every other facet of their life, the government will ensure consistent access and quality of care for all. So the scaremongering of the ALP about entry to aged care facilities is without foundation, and elderly people in WA can rest assured that the coalition government is not going to put them at risk of not being able to have access to aged care facilities.

With respect to pensions paid to British citizens in Australia, I wish to repeat the information given by Senator Newman in the Senate today that the story being put about by the ALP in WA that the Australian government may not continue to top up British pensions is simply not true. British pensioners in Australia have their pensions topped up by the Australian government to the tune of some $80 million per year. There is no question that this subsidy will not be continued. The fear which the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, has been spreading in his newsletter among British pensioners living in his electorate, in towns such as Rockingham and Safety Bay, is absolutely unjustified.

In conclusion, I hope that what I have said tonight will help to allay the anxieties of those elderly people in Western Australia who have been deliberately targeted by the ALP campaign machine in a most unprincipled manner, calculated to play upon their fears in the hope that they will vote for the ALP in the state election.