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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3565


Mrs Mirabella asked the Minister for Education, in writing, on 3 February 2009:

(1)   Does she agree that reliable, accurate data on national child care vacancy rates is essential for planning the future location of child care centres; if so, why.

(2)   What data has the Government used to determine the most appropriate locations for its investment in building the first 38 of 260 planned child care centres in priority areas.

(3)   Is she aware of the importance to the child care industry of having access to figures on supply and demand of child care services by region in order to plan for its future needs.

(4)   Are child care centres across Australia required to report their vacancy rates to the Government every week; if so, have these figures been publicly released since November 2007; if these figures have not been released since November 2007, (a) why not, and (b) how can child care organisations make informed expressions of interest for the Government’s proposed child care centres.


Ms Gillard (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   There is currently no reliable, accurate data on national child care vacancy rates. The vacancy numbers provided by services to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations provide very limited assistance in assessing unmet demand for child care. Vacancies refer to the number of places, based on a service’s own business practices, which the service considers to be available for use in the forthcoming week. Looking forward a single week is inadequate for long term planning and the model of reporting provides no information on unmet demand where services identify they have no vacancies.

(2)   There are a number of data sources currently available to assist in planning the future location of child care centres. In respect of the location of the 260 centres the Department has used data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on population numbers, information from local governments on potential demographic changes. These data are publicly available. In addition, the Department has used utilisation data of current services from its administrative systems and information about the number of licensed places available in a given location. At the jurisdictional level this data is provided publicly via the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services. This data cannot be made publicly available at a regional level as it would potentially release commercially sensitive material. The Department recognises that there are, however, limitations to using these data alone. Issues of quality and cost of care options, travel to work routes, availability of other care types and other localised issues all impact on the usage rates for a specific service/area, which will not be reflected in the aggregated data. On that basis, in addition to the data sources mentioned above, the Department has used local information, including local feasibility studies, reports by local/state or territory governments, planning information about future developments or expansion in the area, stakeholder feedback (including the Registration of Interest process undertaken by the Department) and any information available to the department about services in the area facing financial difficulties.

(3)   As noted in my response to Question 2, there are a number of data sources available to assist in identifying the need for additional child care in a given location.

(4)  

(a)   Child care centres are required each week to report their anticipated vacancies for the following week. The information on whether a vacancy exists or not for a given service is publicly available in the manner intended when the system was developed. That is, if a parent rings the Child Care Access Hotline they will be informed of vacancies within the area of their interest. At this local level the vacancy information assists to provide parents with a guide to potential services that may meet their need. However, as vacancies reported is provided by individual services, without a clear definition or any process of verification, the accumulation of those numbers to regional, state or national reporting is neither valid nor reliable and hence has not been released publicly. Vacancy information will be made available to parents and the industry on mychild.gov.au in addition to the Child Care Access Hotline, but only after undertaking the ground work to ensure the data has improved accuracy and usefulness.

(b)   The Department has found the vacancy data currently collected to be unhelpful in assessing the unmet demand for child care in the priority locations identified for Early Learning and Care Services.