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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17311

Senator MOORE (3:11 PM) —I rise to take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Patterson, in response to a question without notice asked by Senator Jacinta Collins today relating to child care in our community. In her answer, Senator Patterson congratulated Minister Anthony on his good work in his portfolio. She also listed a range of objectives that, through the government's efforts, had been achieved in child care. We would like to congratulate Minister Anthony on his work on child care, and we do congratulate him on his promise that some time in the future—that is, some time before next year—he will be able to lift caps on two key areas of child care. The caps that he may feel confident about lifting in the next couple of weeks—before next year—are exactly the same caps that we on this side of the Senate have been saying for years must be lifted. Through the estimates process we have asked questions of the department and the ministers about what the unmet demands are in the area of child care. Year after year we have received figures that indicate that there is significant unmet demand in outside school care and family day care.

For the last couple of years we have been told that we had to wait for the results of the broadband review. We were told, `We cannot do anything just yet because we are doing a review of the whole area and, when it is over, we will be able to give answers.' We waited, and the review has come out but no change has occurred. Now the community is being asked to wait again and, this time, to wait with confidence because some time in the future Minister Anthony will be able to announce changes to the funding so that caps in these areas of child care will be lifted. In Queensland alone, the figures available at the last Senate estimates indicated that more than 7,000 extra places in outside school hours care were needed. In family day care, an area we have talked about so much, where children are cared for within the home during the day—and this area has received great publicity—there is an unmet need for over 1,200 places. These places are needed now. They are needed not next year but now. We ask that the issues of unmet demand be acknowledged and the promises fulfilled.

The issue of child care always gets publicity. Families are interested in child care. Even Minister Anthony's promise that, with confidence, there could be a change soon received front-page media coverage across the country. In Queensland, the front page of the Courier Mail said, `Relief for families'. There was the same thing in Sydney. So there is genuine interest in and concern about the issue of child care. We fear, though, that these promises will not be met. In the media coverage we have seen that the reason for the current cap on child care is the restriction on the payment of child-care benefit. If the reason for the unmet demand and the restrictions is a need to limit the amount paid to families for child-care benefit, where are the figures to tell us about the confident promise of the changes? How much is it going to cost? How confident can families feel about making plans for next year? We are talking about the links between child care and school. How can we feel confident that these promises will be fulfilled?

When questioned today, the minister said that when she was talking with Minister Anthony she would be able to discuss Labor's record on child care. Minister, it has been a number of years now since the Labor record on child care has been relevant. What is relevant to families now is what the government is providing now. We can talk about the Labor record in the past—and, hopefully, we will talk about the Labor record of the future—but we need to know what is happening now. Minister Patterson spoke of talking with Minister Anthony about Senator Collins. At the same time, Senator Kemp talked in his answers about the fact that he was reading Labor Party platform policy for the last 10 years. I hope, with confidence, that we will be able to share something and maybe learn from each other.