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Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Address to the 2004 Country Children’s Services Association of NSW Annual Conference

Location: Country Comfort Mudgee, Cassilis Road, Mudgee

  • Neville Dwyer, President, Country Children’s Services Association
  • Judy Kynaston, Executive Director, Country Children’s Services Association
  • My Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson
  • Senator Jacinta Collins
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Introduction

Thank you Judy (Kynaston) for your introduction.

I’m pleased to be here this morning to speak at your Conference.

I am especially pleased to be here in Mudgee in the Deputy Prime Minister’s electorate.

Since becoming a Minister I have always done my best to support the Country Children’s Services Association and I don’t think I’ve missed too many of your conferences.

If I remember rightly last year your keynote speaker was Professor Peter McDonald whom I found to be very thought provoking.

I note today you have Dr Anne Summers – unfortunately, I am unable to stay to listen to Anne, but I hope she is a little more gentle on me here than she is her newspaper columns.

But on a serious note let me say how much I value the work your Association does not only on your behalf but on behalf of the 45,000 children that access country children’s services, across the State.

As the Australian Government Minister responsible for children’s policies, as a father of three young ones, and coming from a regional electorate, I can assure you I understand the challenges we all face in delivering quality, affordable and flexible children’s services throughout country New South Wales.

On the groundin practiceI know that the services represented here today are doing a tremendous job in meeting these challenges head on.

Connecting policy with practice

I am a big supporter of ‘connecting policy with practice’, as your conference theme suggests. I’ve never believed that the Government has a monopoly on developing and delivering children’s policies and programs and I will continue to maintain my strong record on consultation with the sector.

Effective policies are not just about governments handing out dollars.

In practice, it is only through a joint effort that we can really give our children safe, happy, healthy and positive early childhood experienceswherever they live.

Debunking the myths

Today, I want to cover some recent Government child care initiatives that, among other things, will make a big difference to the lives of many families with children living outside the big cities.

But first, I want to debunk some myths about the Coalition Government’s record on child care and recent claims carried in the media that child care services have been downgraded under the Coalition Government.

The facts and figures

Lets look at the facts and the figures – they speak for themselves.

Between 1984 and 2002, the proportion of children using formal care doubled (from 12 to 25 per cent). This figure is now about 30 per cent of all Australian children.

By September 2003, over 760,000 children were in some form of Australian Government approved child care services.

We expect the 2004 Child Care Census – taken in March – to show this growth is continuing.

Record levels of Australian Government funding have encouraged this growth.

The number of child care places has increased from 306,500 in 1996 to around 530,000 in December 2003.

Over 540,000 families currently get Child Care Benefit to help with the costs of care.

With the increase in the payment from 5 July, the amount families can get will have gone up by more than 15 per cent since Child Care Benefit started in 2000, when the maximum weekly amount of benefit for one child in full-time care was $122.00 a week.

From 5 July, this will be $140.50 a week.

New South Wales data

In New South Wales alone, spending on Child Care Benefit in the last financial year was nearly $400 million.

And in New South Wales, between 1996when the Coalition Government took office and 2002:

  • the number of families with children in child care increased by 29 per cent to over 187,000, and
  • the number of children in child care increased by 30 per cent to nearly 230,000.

Between 1996 and 2003,

  • the number of Long Day Care services in New South Wales increased by 28 per cent in the community sector and 11per cent in the private sector, and
  • the number of Long Day Care places increased by 38 per cent in the community sector and 25 per cent in the private sector and by 24 per cent in Family Day Care.

If you add to all of this to new child care places and measures announced in the May Budget, this does not look like a downgrade, nor does it look like an industry in danger of chaos as the ACTU and some welfare groups have claimed.

The Budget – “More Help for Families”

As the first ever Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I am very proud of the Budget, especially the $19.2 billion dollar package called ‘More Help for Families’.

The package will deliver the largest amount of assistance for families ever put in place by an Australian Government. The Government has been able to deliver this through strong, sound economic management. If you get the economic fundamentals right – you can give some back and we have chosen to give extra to families.

“More Help for families” delivers just that – more help to meet the costs of raising children.

There is the new maternity payment, without qualification, for every mother on the birth of a child – $3,000 for each new-born child from July 2004 – increasing to $5,000 in July 2008.

Families eligible for Family Tax Benefit have received a one-off payment of $600 per child and will get a further payment of $600 per child each year when they do their Family Tax Benefit and Child Care Benefit reconciliation.

Many of you may have already received this payment. Now, this is great news for families and child care providers – because many families may choose to use this extra money to put toward their child care fees.

More good news for child care in the Budget included the 30,000 extra Outside School Hours Care places to go to new and existing services to meet the current verified demand. Allocation of these places will start on 1 July.

The Budget also includes an increase of 1500 Family Day Care places. That means that locally here Mudgee Family Day Care, who currently have 165 places, will be getting another 10 places.

This boost to child care comes on top of the extra 10,000 Outside School Hours Care places, 2,500 Family Day Care places and additional assistance to playgroups announced in December last year.

Nationally, the new places mean that, since 1996, the number of child care places in long day care, outside school hours care and Family Day Care has grown by 256,000—an increase of 86 per cent.

Taking all the Budget measures together, they represent a commitment of $251 million more for child care over the next five years.

The Child Care Support Program

As well, the Budget included a couple of measures that relate to what was the Child Care Broadband, now renamed the Child Care Support Program.

Following this, around two weeks ago, I launched the entire, $226 million Child Care Support Program, which is a $25 million increase on last year’s Broadband funding.

It was a long journey getting there. I make no apologies for that. Given the complexities we had to deal with, I knew that a knee-jerk reaction simply wouldn’t work. Rather than rush through change for political expediency, I wanted to make sure we listened to what people had to say and achieve the best possible results for services, parents and the children.

In reviewing the Broadband, one important question we asked was how could we better support marginal services in rural and regional areas, or those struggling to combine viability with flexible service delivery?

I’m very pleased to say that compared to the old ‘Broadband’, the new Child Care Support Program specifically targets child care services in high-need rural, regional and Indigenous communities.

Once fully implemented, it will mean that many rural and remote families will be able to access high quality, affordable child care for the first time.

Because of time constraints and given this audience, I want to focus this morning on a few of the main initiatives.

The new Professional Support Program will take a regional approach to program delivery, with Professional Support Coordinators, operating in regions, Australia-wide.

The Coordinators will manage a range of Professional Support Service Providers who will offer training, advice and resources to child care services in their region.

A more coordinated professional support system means service providers will receive consistent advice and have access to a nationally coordinated network.

The new Inclusion Support Program will help child care services include children with additional needs. Linked to this, and replacing the Special Needs Subsidy Scheme and the Disabled Services Supplementary Payment, are Inclusion Support Subsidies to pay for extra staff, advice, resources, training, specialised equipment, and so on.

The new Community Support Program involves assistance to establish and sustain child care services, especially where there is identified need in rural and remote areas.

There are several parts to this.

Set-up Assistance Grants will be available across the spectrum of child care service types. These are to help in establishing new services by contributing to the costs of things like staff, advertising, toys and equipment and phone expenses.

And of course, there is the Long Day Care Incentive Scheme which was announced as part of the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, which I’ll come to in a moment.

The Community Support element also includes Sustainability Assistance which replaces Disadvantaged Area Subsidy funding and the support currently provided to small rural Family Day Care services. Available to all not-for-profit service types, particularly if viability is a problem, the amount of assistance will depend on a service’s utilised places.

Other features of Community Support Program include:

  • Utilisation Support to support services in areas of identified need that face barriers to receiving Child Care Benefit or that have viability problems.
  • Budget Based Funding to encourage services to claim mainstream support such as Child Care Benefit, Sustainability Assistance, and so on. However, where this is difficult, some services will be able to negotiate budget based funding with my departmentfor example, flexible and innovative services, mobile services, and Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services.
  • Capital Assistance for capital upgrades to existing services. The assistance will go to services in greatest need, and will target building repairs and maintenance and expand existing services in response to demand.
  • Family Day Care Network Support which recognises the unique nature of Family Day Care that differentiates it from other service types. It will be paid at the same rate as full-time Operational Subsidy.
  • Regional Travel Assistance Grants for services in rural or remote areas to help with the travel costs of supporting the network of carers in each service.
  • Operational Support will replace the current funding for Occasional Care.
  • In Home Care Service Support will provide this service type with assistance for recruiting, training, monitoring and supporting carers.

You can get much more detail about the whole Child Care Support Programincluding dollar amounts for Sustainability Assistance, Set Up Assistance Grants, and the Long Day Care Incentive Schemeif you look on my department’s web site at www.facs.gov.au.

National Agenda for Early Childhood

I would also like to touch on the Prime Minister’s recent announcement which relates to the National Agenda for Early Childhood and also the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy.

In the years to come, I believe, both will have positive and lasting effects on the well-being of Australian children, their families and their communities.

Anyone working in the field of early childhood would agree that we need to do everything we can to give every Australian child the best start in life.

I am determined the Government will keep on taking a leadership role on this and I am well down the track, now, in developing the National Agenda for Early Childhood.

It’s a long-term initiative, which started with nation-wide public consultations involving experts in early childhood, community organisations, professionals working with children, and with parents, themselves.

Thank you to those of you who contributed to the consultations.

We now have four, concrete, priority areas for action under the Agenda

  • healthy young families;
  • early learning and care;
  • supporting families and parents; and
  • child-friendly communities.

As you know responsibility for children’s issues – in areas like child care, pre-schools, public health and education cut across the different levels of government.

Historically, this has led to that maze mentioned in your conference title – that maze we all have to navigate when it comes to creating across-government, coordinated approaches to early childhood.

At the moment, I’m working with State and Territory Governments to see what can be done to work more effectively, together, in to achieve a joint approach.

One way we are doing this is through the development of two Flexible Child and Family Service pilots.

With the NSW Government we are exploring an integrated approach to providing the services needed in local communities.

One of the pilots is located at Wyong on the central Coast and the other is under development in the Riverina where community consultations have concluded.

So often there is duplication of services by different levels of government and families do know where to go for help. This project aims to develop a coordinated approach to service provision, ensuring resources are better utilised and allocated where they are needed.

If this proves successful, it will guide the development of similar projects in NSW in the longer term. I’m putting a lot of effort into this work, because I strongly believe that working in collaboration and cooperation with the States is the key to building a brighter future for Australian children.

In my view it is essential that the Agenda is a high-level and agreed framework on early childhood development for the whole of Australia. It has to involve both levels of government.

It’s about pooling resources and knowledge, setting up more coordinated services, and filling the service gaps. And it has to make a powerful statement about the value of young children in Australia and raise public awareness and support for the needs of young children, their families and for those who work with them.

Stronger Families and Communities Strategy

The Agenda is not a funding program, as such, but at a practical level the Budget also included a major extension to the Government’s Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, with a focus on the early years of children’s lives.

In the first, four-year phase of the Strategy, more than $220 million went to around 660 family and community strengthening projects across the country. More than half of the projects were delivered in rural and remote communities.

Another of the initiatives we announced as part of the first phase of the Strategy was the Child Care Links Project designed to develop intervention and prevention strategies in cooperation with the local communities they serve.

Child care Links will link parents with the information already available to them and assist in the development of other programs needed in that community.

Across Australia there are 19 Child Care links projects, three of which are in NSW.

In fact, at Blayney – not too far from here – a project is just getting underway with the appointment of the Child Care Links worker.

The role of this worker will be to undertake community networking and outreach, develop and promote education programs, service enhancement in existing services and developmental activities for children.

I’ve no doubt this will be extremely beneficial to the parents and children in Blayney.

The second and refocused phase of the Strategy demonstrates the Government’s strong commitment to early childhood.

It involves a commitment of $356 million over four years and it draws heavily on the evidence collected as part of the National Agenda for Early Childhood development process.

The Strategy money will go on four major ‘streams’. These are:

  • $110 million for ‘Communities for Children’ which will target up to 35 disadvantaged communities and offer between $1 million and $4 million for non-government organisations to undertake early childhood initiatives.
  • over $70 million for ‘Early Childhood Invest to Grow’ to support existing, successful early childhood programs and to develop resources for parents, professionals, governments and community organisations that influence childhood development.
  • $60 million for ‘Local Answers’ to give communities the power to develop their own solutions and help them help themselves by supporting locally-based projects, and
  • about $125 million for ‘Choice and Flexibility in Child Care’ which expands the In-home Care Program for families with no other child care options.

We know that in-home care is a very successful way of providing child care services to families that have no other child care options, especially families living in rural and remote Australia.

Secondly, the Choice and Flexibility in Child Care’ initiative will pay for the Long Day Care Incentive Scheme, that I mentioned earlier. This is designed to create more long day care centres in rural and urban fringe areas of identified high unmet demand, each with places for young children under the age of three.

Again, I urge you to look at the whole Strategy on my department’s web site.

Conclusion

I am proud to be involved in the Coalition Government’s unprecedented commitment to early childhood.

Our approach is not about the Government telling families how to live their lives or what’s best for their children.

It is about recognising that it is people working on the ground, like many of you here today, who often come up with the best ways to solve local problems. This is something governments can never hope to emulate.

I believe the Child Care Support Program, the National Agenda and the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy are vital and effective ways of assisting not only the children of today, but also the children of tomorrow.

The rewards will be reaped well into the future.

Thank you for listening to me speak today. I hope you get a lot out of the next two and half days.

I understand you may have some questions for me now, and I’m happy to answer them.

Thank you.