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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 39

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (3:20 PM) —I rise to take note of the answers provided by Senator Patterson in question time. I want to focus on the issue of child care and note its similarities to the discussion we have had so far on the aged care issue. It is timely sometimes to reflect on what has happened in the past and perhaps the more recent past than the Hawke-Keating government. In relation to the debate on aged care, for instance, I can reflect on the calls from the Labor opposition that there should be spot checks in aged care facilities and the resistance that this government put up to such measures. Noting that, it is interesting to reflect on Senator Patterson's comments over the weekend that there would be a major crackdown to force standards on child care and that this would involve spot checks. If this were not such a diversion from some of the bigger problems in this sector, it would be good to see. Labor had also been calling for spot checks in relation to the national accreditation system, but there has been little action over the last eight years under the Howard government.

What also needs to be considered is what this government is doing with respect to many of the other major problems in child care. Focusing on a crackdown and on spot checks on the provision of quality child-care services, whilst an important part of the overall integrity of the national accreditation system, will not help families with young children to cope with the many problems they face in accessing child care.

The minister's answer to this question today highlighted the government's keenness to avoid one of the most significant components of the crisis in the provision of child-care services. There has been a huge restructuring of the child-care market in recent years and it is having a significant effect in a number of areas that are hitting families hard. One of the biggest problem areas, of course, is the availability of child-care places. There are simply not enough long day care child-care places in the system.

It is one thing for the government during the last election to promote a 30 per cent tax rebate for families which would be available for out-of-pocket expenses, but if families cannot access the type of care they want, and if the government is restricting the type of care that that rebate will be available for, there are many families who will simply miss out. They will miss out unless this government does something significant to help generate the number of child-care places that are demanded by families seeking to engage within the community. This is what this government has refused to do for the last six years: the government has withdrawn from any significant measures—there are some small examples of activity—to help create child-care places which families can utilise. Instead, it is focusing on the private market and refusing to accept that there are some market imperfections that are having huge impacts on the delivery of children's services.

The minister, in answer to my question, said: `Oh, wouldn't you expect the Labor Party to be focusing on this sort of issue.' Let me remind the minister that she herself, this last weekend, accepted that the government, the department itself—not the ACCC—is monitoring the impact of market dominance on the delivery of children's services. If this is not an issue, as she claimed during question time today, why then is the government monitoring it? Why do you claim to be monitoring an issue if you do not accept that if you identify that it is a problem then you will do something about it? Perhaps what lies at the heart of it is not so much the impact on child care but the connections of those involved in the delivery of children's services. I will leave that as an open question for people to ponder.

This government is prepared, time and time again, to shy away from significant market dominance behaviour in the delivery of children's services, and that is a problem. I am disappointed because, when I read the minister's comments over the weekend about focusing on issues in child care other than just the 30 per cent tax rebate, I thought, `Finally, this government is going to take some elements of the delivery of children's services seriously.' Unfortunately, that is obviously not the case. Having regard to Senator Patterson's performance in question time today, it is quite clear that the government will not take this issue seriously. It will do nothing to ensure that we have a balanced market in the delivery of children's services and it is still doing nothing to generate the required number of child-care places in long day care. I accept that there are other types of child care where the demand may be closer to being met but in long day care it is further away than many senators could even imagine. (Time expired)