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Thursday, 27 November 2008
Page: 7532

Senator POLLEY (2:12 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr. Can the minister update the Senate on the status of ABC Learning?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Yesterday the ABC Learning receiver announced that the majority of the company’s childcare centres will continue to operate in 2009. A total of 656 centres will go on trading as normal. The receiver’s announcement gives parents and employees a measure of certainty less than a month after the company went into receivership. The receiver believes there is ‘a sustainable business model’ for these centres. That is great news for thousands of parents and for staff of the centres. The government is working closely with the receiver to determine future arrangements for the remaining 386 centres which are still under review. The receiver expects that a number of these centres will also remain open. We should know more on that matter next week. As for the suggestion that the Commonwealth should buy them: as the receiver made clear yesterday, and I am sure Senator Polley is aware, these centres are not for sale.

The government has taken strong and decisive action to minimise disruption to families and workers. On 7 November the Minister for Education committed up to $22 million in conditional funding to ensure that all ABC centres remain open and provide care until at least 31 December. This support has allowed the receiver to work out an orderly transition program. As far as the government is concerned, the interests of parents, their children and the ABC Learning employees come first. That is why we have acted to maintain the continuity and stability— (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Senate how this situation arose?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Polley, the situation that we now find ourselves in is in fact a direct result of the previous government’s ineptitude. First they drove prices up by choking off the community sector. Working families were being crippled by childcare costs. Of course, from the opposition the view was expressed that we should not worry. They said: ‘Don’t worry; we’ll let extreme capitalism sort it out. We’ll entrust the care of Australian preschools to the property development industry.’ So they took the view that they should let the market rip. They removed the cap on taxpayer funded childcare places. And they did not have a workforce plan. They did not have a quality plan. They did not even have a plan to determine community needs. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate what the government is doing to improve childcare services for Australian families?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The government is implementing an integrated $2.4 billion childcare plan. We have eased the burden on working families by increasing the childcare tax rebate from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. We have invested $533.5 million over five years to ensure that all Australian children have access to 15 hours a week of play based learning and development programs in the year before school. We are creating 1,500 new Commonwealth supported university places in early childhood education to increase the supply of professionally trained workers—500 a year in 2009, 2010 and 2011. We are establishing 260 new early learning and childcare centres. (Time expired)