Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (16:24): Much has been made in this place, particularly since the budget, by those on the government side of the increased support for child care in Australia: $4.7 billion over the forwards. Generally speaking, I’d have to say, that is welcome. It’s worth noting, though, that the coalition government increased expenditure on child care by $11 billion in the period in which it was in government. People shouldn’t assume that there are easy bandaids in this place.
The government’s intention is to direct all that money into increased subsidies and increased wages in the sector. Increased wages in the sector are very welcome. Increased subsidies will be welcomed by those who get it. Unfortunately, there are many people who cannot, and there are many of them in my electorate, particularly in the smaller communities. Towns, generally speaking, under the size of about 3,000 people have very limited options for child care.
It is of great concern to me that the government is putting all this extra money into child care and not creating any new places. Where child care does exist, it is under a model called Rural Care, which is an agreement with the state government that goes back well over 20 years, where positions attract the subsidy. It’s run by the education department. It’s limited to three employees, and, given the ratios now, that means a very small childcare centre. Unfortunately, in these towns, there is no hope of a commercial operation coming into that place, so I am deeply disappointed.
I took the offer of having our shadow minister, the member for Moncrieff, Angie Bell, in the electorate recently. We met with a number of communities in Cummins, Port Lincoln and Tumby Bay. Unfortunately we got called back to Canberra on very short notice, and we weren’t able to complete that investigation, but she will be back in a few weeks time. We will be going to Whyalla, Wilmington, Orroroo, Crystal Brook and, I think, Port Broughton, Kadina and Ardrossan. These are all places that are underserviced. If they have child care, they don’t have enough places. In many cases, they have none at all.
We need a way to open the door to give these communities the same kind of access the rest Australia is getting. I make the note that the $4.7 billion the government is putting on the table here will come out of taxpayers’ pockets. So if you live in a small town like I do, like Kimba, where there is no child care, your ability—my constituents’ ability—to get involved in the new program is to pay more tax so other people can pay less to access a service which you cannot. It’s intolerable. It needs addressing quickly. I am hoping to develop policy in opposition that will be attractive to constituents, but the government should come along for the ride.