MATTERS OF URGENCY;Child Care – 11 Nov 2008

I would also like to thank Senator Hanson-Young for bringing forward this matter of public importance today. I know she has a genuine interest in this issue not just because she is a parent. I also have a genuine interest in this issue, and I am probably game enough to say that I am probably the only member of this Senate who has actually worked in the childcare industry for any extended length of time. I understand that Senator Jacinta Collins has at various times, but I spent 11½ years working in the childcare industry.

In this matter there are two options: the opposition would like these centres closed down or that we come up with some process to allow these centres to continue to operate. The opposition say that they are the great economic achievers of this lifetime. Let me ask: where do you think Australia will be if we have to close down these centres, if parents cannot go to work? The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Turnbull, has said:

… the reality is an unprofitable business cannot be sustained indefinitely. So there is clearly a concern about the level of and the tenure…the extent of government support.

            …         …         …

… it looks like this contingency plan—

So there is a plan, though we have heard numerous speakers from the other side say there is no plan, and if there is a plan they do not like it anyway—

this support, was put together very much at the last minute. So I’m a little sceptical as to how much of a plan they really had.

We have got a plan. If you want to ensure that there is an ongoing service where these parents can leave their children, whether it be for work or for other activities in the community, then it is important that you do not just talk about what is going to happen between now and the end of December. We are saying that we have a plan as to what will happen after December.

Because we have a commitment to high-quality child care and because we are economically sensible and understand the commitment to the rest of the community if these places are taken out and parents cannot attend work, the Deputy Prime Minister has today announced the registration of interest process. But, no, the other side are not happy with that either. It is obvious that the other side would like to close these centres down and walk away. I have already quoted their leader’s comments. What did we see happen in the matter concerning Stan Howard, the chair of National Textiles and the previous Prime Minister’s brother? We saw money flow left, right and centre to ensure that the workers at National Textiles were looked after. That is what we are doing: we are making sure that the parents, the children and the workers are supported. It is a very important issue. I think the other side have turned this issue into a political stunt. They think they can get cute in their rhetoric on this too. We have heard some glib lines from the other side about this. I could make a few of my own. In fact, in relation to the business with Mr Stan Howard, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother comes to mind.

I do not think the opposition take this issue seriously at all. We have seen a lot of double standards and hypocrisy from the other side. Senator Bernardi says there is no plan. The Leader of the Opposition obviously thinks there is a plan because he spoke about it on 8 November 2008. There is a plan and it is not good enough that the opposition come into this chamber and try to turn this debate on a matter of public importance into a political stunt. It is a serious issue. I do not think child care was taken seriously by the other side in all the years they were in government. The Rudd government was elected with a comprehensive childcare and early childhood education agenda, which is being pursued through COAG. The Rudd government has the interests of parents, their children and, in this case, ABC Learning employees front and centre. What is critical here is stability and continuity of service for parents, children and ABC Learning staff. That is why we have committed up to $22 million in conditional funding to ensure that all ABC Learning childcare centres remain open and providing care until 31 December 2008. That is why the Deputy Prime Minister made the announcement today regarding expressions of interest— (Time expired)