Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (10:55): I am indebted to the Stock Journal in South Australia for an article that they printed last week on the lack of child care in the regions. In fact, it came on the back of a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which found that in the major cities there was an average of 400 childcare places per thousand children, but the numbers steadily decline as you head towards the country. In inner regional Australia we have 332 places per thousand; in outer regional areas we have 295 places per thousand; in remote, 212; and in very remote Australia we have 166 places per thousand children. Eighty-five per cent of my electorate is either outer regional, remote or very remote, and the remaining 15 per cent is inner regional. In none of those areas do we have the kind of levels that people enjoy in the city.
The former South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, is a Thrive by Five director. He says that poor access to child care in the regions had been accepted as a universal experience and it was unacceptable. The article goes on to say that this would be one of the single biggest things that we cannot afford to have as a universality. It would improve the outcomes for a whole host of industries and people living in regional Australia. In fact, while the number of childcare places across Australia grew by 17 per cent in the past four years, it is primarily in the larger population areas.
I am indebted to our shadow minister, the member for Moncrieff. Angie Bell has been in my electorate twice in the last few months. We’ve met with over eight communities, all desperate for more child care. Where they have it, they don’t have enough; and in the smaller centres, towns with typically less than a couple of thousand people, they don’t have any child care at all. It’s leading to people recruiting new workers, and then when they roll up they say, ‘I can’t stay here, because there’s no child care;’ people not accepting the job; and people leaving communities because they cannot juggle their career and child care.
It is of great concern to me that the government has chosen to put $4.7 billion into child care. This is not creating one new place. The privilege of these people who live in underserviced areas is to pay more tax so that other people in overserviced areas or better serviced areas can access a service which they cannot. There is a serious inequity here. I make the point that people would have cheered about the extra money the government is ploughing into child care, only to find now that their childcare centre is raising its rates by virtually as much as the increased subsidy—a $20 a day extra, in some cases, which is soaking up most of it.
The member for Reid has just been on his feet and said the coalition government presided over a 49 per cent increase over the nine years we were in government. The problem for the member for Reid is that I’ve been here a bit longer than him. I can remember the previous Labor period of government, if he wants to go back and look at history. It was a six-year period where prices went up by 53 per cent, around nine per cent per annum. It’s interesting that in the last nine months alone childcare fees in Australia have gone up by eight per cent. There is certainly no control over the price that parents are paying to access this service.
For my communities that I am petitioning for, we have a system in South Australia called Rural Care. It’s run by the state government through the education department, and they are able to access the subsidy. They are intently opposed to expanding it, but it’s limited to three staff maximum. So in a town that’s got a couple of thousand people, it’s simply inadequate. It’s a good service, though; it works quite well. In my mind, in these populations that are subcommercial, the obvious players to come into that space are the state based education departments. State governments may not want to go down this pathway, but I think it’s imperative that we reach an agreement with them from the Commonwealth government to say: ‘These are communities that are missing out. We need to reach a mutual agreement.’
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Freelander ): The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is therefore adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next setting.