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Family Day Care

I move:
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family and Community Services (Senator Patterson) to a question without notice asked by Senator Siewert today relating to child care.

I am extremely concerned about the way in which these wide-ranging changes to both our welfare system and our industrial relations system combine to impact on working families and upon the most marginalised in this country. I am concerned that the changes being addressed by Senator Patterson may in fact bring into our country a two-tiered system of child care, with budget child care, in which people may be able to look after other people's children in other people's homes or in the workplace. These changes may result in a two-tiered system, whereby poor working families will be forced to compromise their children's care in their most formative years as they suffer the combined assault of the Welfare to Work and IR changes.

As a working mother, I am very sensitive to and know of the important issue of day care. We need to bear in mind that it is hard to work productively if you are worrying about the care your children are getting. Your peace of mind and your concentration just are not there if you are worrying about your children. It is no coincidence that countries that are at the leading edge of innovation in high technology are also investing very highly in child care and lifelong education.

I do acknowledge that standards in family day care have increased substantially. What I am concerned about is their going backwards with the changes being mooted. Cutting corners in day care will mean putting our children at risk. There have already been cases in the family day care system where it has fallen down in the past. As I said, while standards have increased, they are in danger of going backwards again.

Inappropriate people have been allowed to supervise our children, and kids have been exposed to dangerous and unhealthy situations. How will loosening the conditions around family day care to allow it to occur in other people's places improve on this? It disconnects the people responsible for the child's safety and wellbeing from the responsibility of providing the conditions under which care takes place. I am also concerned that the same applies when we are expanding the family day care model into the workplace, which will allow medium sized businesses that cannot afford formal child-care centres to offer day care. Again, I believe this is budget day care that will lower the standards of our children's care.

What is it supposed to mean? Surely, if a workplace cannot afford to provide appropriate facilities, it should not be offering child care. At least with family day care we can assume that there is already a toddler friendly environment in which our children are being looked after. But this cannot be said for the workplace. We heard today that it might be a disused house. Is it a corner of a warehouse or a disused factory floor?

Then we need to bear in mind that we are talking about a 'not top cost provision of services'. This means budget services. How does this reconcile with the comments made in the same article about bringing in expensive, high-tech day care security systems that will use smartcards? So we will have day care centres with smartcards, where you have to swipe to get in to see your kids, but then we will have family day care centres, where we can just use other people's homes-clearly a two-tiered system of family day care.

Then, of course, we did not get an adequate explanation of why there is a chronic shortage of child-care places in Victoria, whereas Queensland seems adequately supplied with child-care places. The difference was put down to the difference between long day care centres, non long day care centres and family care centres-merely a splitting of hairs, when the parents of Victoria urgently need access to good quality child care.

Surely we in this country should be looking at good quality child-care systems, not offering a two-tiered system that will impact on the most disadvantaged in our society. Those who are already suffering will suffer more when they are forced into work through Welfare to Work and then when they are forced to dump their children into second-rate family day care centres because they do not have a choice. They will have been forced into work and will not have a choice about where to leave their children. How will this increase productivity in this country if it means parents are worrying about where their children are and whether their children are being looked after adequately?

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