Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (21:31): This is a very important issue for my electorate. Let me say from the outset how disappointed I am that I only have five minutes to speak about a matter that is so important. The rush to get this legislation through the House for a measure that doesn’t occur until the middle of next year is beyond me.
I come from a little town called Kimba. It’s halfway across Australia if you’re driving from Sydney to Perth. According to the last census we have a population of 1,037 in the entire council area. We have 46 children in the age group from zero to four. That’s not the kind of number that is going to entice a private investor to set up day care, child care, in a town like Kimba. The people of Kimba, the people I represent, may well welcome the changes that the government has brought forward, which is eventually higher wages, we presume, throughout the childcare sector, and of course a higher level of support for people who have their children in child care. But in my town the only way they could participate in that fabulous new policy is to pay more tax for a service that they can’t access. I reckon that’s pretty unfair.
In fact, I have four communities in my electorate that I am dealing with at the moment that are very keen to establish childcare centres: Wilmington, Crystal Brook, Orroroo, Port Broughton—all towns the size of Kimba, or maybe double the size of Kimba, with exactly the same problem. They are towns where women or families—in this case normally the women—who have jobs are driving as far as 50 or even 80 kilometres to drop their children off to day care. They drive back, do their day’s work, drive back to pick the children up and then return home. They are pretty keen, but they are in the workforce and contributing to Australia’s economic outcomes. Another woman that I know drives is basically doing the same thing from another centre, and runs the risk on the road of whatever that might lead to.
I met with the Wilmington childcare working group recently. That group of young women are philosophical that they probably won’t see child care in their town in the time that their children need it, but they are sufficiently committed to the community to say ‘This is what we need and we will keep working for it.’
What I am really so disappointed about in this budget is that the coalition had a fund of $19.7 million in its March budget, for capital works to help establish childcare centres in communities like my home town, like Wilmington, like Crystal Brook, and it’s missing from yesterday’s budget. It’s no longer there. This is the point that my colleagues have been making: there is more money—$4½ billion—for child care, for subsidy, for wages, but there isn’t a single extra place in Australia. I am indebted to the Mitchell institute for their survey on the ‘childcare deserts’ of Australia. They tell us that a third of Australians live in childcare deserts. Sadly, around 50 per cent of my electorate live in a childcare desert, and there is no recognition of this fact in the budget announcements that were made in this place only last night. I find that pretty infuriating. I’m so disappointed. I don’t pretend that the $19.7 million that was put up in March was going to fix all the problems and that we were going to have childcare centres all around my electorate, but at least it was an admission that there was a problem, and there was an effort to do something about it.
In South Australia there are a number of rural centres—towns like Kimba, like Wilmington—that have a model called Rural Care. It is run by the South Australian Department for Education. I think there are 18 across South Australia, and 16 of them are in my electorate. Sadly the education department is absolutely opposed to extending this model throughout the regions. I think that it’s the only possible model to go forward. We need the federal government to reach out to the state government and say, ‘We’ll throw a few coffee beans in the jar, but we need to progress this model so we can address this chronic shortfall that exists in rural and regional Australia.’ In towns that I represent, people are paying their taxes to produce those higher wages for people and to subsidise people on far greater incomes than themselves. They’re paying the taxes but can’t access the service. It is a matter of complete inequity. This government should do something about it. (Time expired)