Effective children's services fundamental for rural communities
Posted February 24, 2016
CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (21:10): Tonight I would like to talk about children's services that are a fundamental building block in any persons development and in a nation's wellbeing. This afternoon, representatives of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care—SNAICC—visited my office. When they left, they left me feeling stunned and shocked. The SNAICC provides research, policy development, resources and training support on early childhood development issues, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood education, and care services and they have been doing this for over 35 years. They are an extremely reputable organisation. They told me today how the Jobs for Families Child Care Package will significantly change how children's services, education and care are provided.
They specifically talked about the Budget Based Funded Program, the program that is specifically designed for areas in Australia where a user-paying model is not viable. It will be abolished. Eighty per cent of services in the program work with Indigenous children.
The second area is access to subsidised early childhood education and care services, which will be halved from 48 to 24 hours per fortnight for children. This is for children whose families earn less than $65,000 per annum and who do not meet the activity test.
The SNAICC is deeply concerned that the package will lead to significantly reduced participation in quality early childhood learning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are current experiencing vulnerability. They told me that all these concerns have now been confirmed by Deloitte Access Economics.
Tonight, I call on the minister for education to absolutely reconsider this package. I call on members of parliament from rural and regional Australian electorates, especially those with large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, to pay attention to what is being done in our name.
This month we have all been talking in this place about Closing the Gap and we have lamented the very poor progress that we have made for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. How can we in full conscience cut services to children and their families in such a blatant way when we are doing so poorly in all those areas of Closing the Gap. We know that if we do this we do it deliberately, we do it knowingly and we do it in full conscience, and we cannot stand up here in this House and say, 'We didn't know.'
In his reply to my letter—when I raised these concerns with the minister—he used these words: 'The package represents an important investment in Australia's future and is a key element of the government's plan to build a strong, safe and prosperous Australia for the future.' The people who visited me today did not agree. They ask, 'How so? What are the details of the transition package? What are the details for funding that you are going to put in place of this service?'
The president of the National Association of Mobile Services—covering remote and rural families—told me that 43 of the 46 services will be absolutely wiped out. There are no details of transition and there are no details of what will be in their place.
I would like to finish with some words from Deloitte. In their report that will be launched at breakfast tomorrow morning Deloitte say, 'Without additional funding from alternative government revenue schemes it will be expected that services will increase their fees, reduce their size and reduce their staff and the absolute consequence of that is less in service.' So of course it will happen. Vulnerable children in rural and regional Australia will be significantly disadvantaged. I call on the government to reconsider the legislation that they have put before the House.