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Speech by The Hon Larry Anthony MP

Opening of the Child Care Industry Association of Queensland Annual Conference

Location: Rydges South Bank, Brisbane

E&OE

Ladies and gentlemen

INTRODUCTION

Thank you Greg (Doherty, President CIAQ) for your introduction.

It’s a pleasure to be here once again, to officially open the Childcare Industry Association of Queensland annual conference.

Before I came today, I went back and read the speech I made to your annual conference in Noosa, way back in April 2000.

At the time, the industry was going through the throes of introducing Child Care Benefit and dealing with GST.

While, we did have a few administrative problems then, I’m pleased to say the new system is well and truly bedded down.

One of the main reasons Child Care Benefit is so successful is because of the valuable input we had from services themselves, from provider organisations like yours and from child care peak bodies, including the Australian Federation of Childcare Associations.

So thank you for helping and for the ongoing advice you provide to the Government.

CONTINUED GROWTH IN CHILD CARE UTILISATION AND SPENDING

At the 2000 conference, I also gave you some figures that showed centre-based child care utilisation rates in Australia in Queensland in particularwere going up. I’m pleased to report that these upward trends have continued.

In Queensland, from September 2000 to September 2002, the number of children using approved child care rose from 160,800 to over 196,000.

Australia-wide the figure for 2000 was 636,000, and for 2002 it was nearly 760,000 children!

Contrary to some people’s claims, the increased numbers directly relate to child care affordability.

I know the Shadow Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Nicola Roxon, will be addressing you later this morning and will no doubt reiterate the comments she made in the Financial Review yesterday regarding funding for child care.

Just briefly, let me set the record straight about the Government’s commitment to child care.

  • Record of around $8 billion on child care over 4 years to 2005/06. This means more money going to families and child care services as well.
  • Spent more than $7 billion in last 6 yearsover 70 per cent more in real terms than in Labor’s last 6 years in office.
  • Number of child care services up by 2,000 and places up by around 190,000 since June 1996now around 500,000 places across all service types.
  • Fee increases for centres have more than halved (under 4 per cent each year since 1996, compared to over 8.5 per cent under Labor (between 1991 and 1995)).

Now, Ms Roxon has used some figures in an effort to demonstrate that expenditure per place has fallen – albeit by less than 1% even by her reckoning – but you know, and I know and the working parents of Australia know, that child care is more affordable than ever before.

I am not saying that the figures used are incorrect – what I am saying is that you cannot use them to imply spending on child care has been reduced.

What is not understood is that these figures include a massive rise in Outside School Hours Care places – which are provided at around one fifth of the cost of your average Long Day Care place.

So what we have is more money, more places and more affordable child care.

Ms Roxon also refers to the OECD report Starting Strong: Early Childhood Education and Care which rates Australia poorly and has been the focus of recent claims by the Opposition.

However, the statistic cited in that article refers to pre-primary education for children aged 3 to compulsory school age, specifically NOT including day care.

So, the poor comparison principally refers to state-funded pre-school programs – which are not compulsory in all states.

These figures are NOT, as is claimed, about child care funding – a fact Ms Roxon is well aware of but continues to promote in an effort to detract from the massive investment this government is making in the child care sector.

As child care providers, you know from personal experience that numbers of children using professional care have increased markedly – and I hope you will make this known to her during today’s conference.

Of course, child care is not just about numbers attending and dollars spent.

I want to give you a rundown on what’s happening at the national level and I know you’ll be covering a few of these issues in detail today.

Firstly, there is the NATIONAL AGENDA FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD

Soon after becoming the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in 2001, I spoke about the need for a national vision for children and an agreed agenda for action, to help every child get the best possible start in life.

Indeed, I talked about this at your previous conferences.

I am pleased to be able to say that in February this year I released a consultation paper, which outlines what a National Agenda for Early Childhood might include.

This paper, which is a discussion starter, was endorsed by many of my Ministerial colleagues.

This is important because many of them for instance, in the areas of health, sport, education, employment and so on, have responsibility for polices that affect children.

So, having this joint approach from the start is a significant first step in driving a cross-government effort on children’s issues.

I am also delighted to say the development of the National Agenda has bipartisan support.

I was extremely pleased that the Shadow Minister, was with me at the first Round table consultation held in Canberra on 26 March.

I think this was an historic moment, because the Shadow Minister and I agree that the National Agenda is too important for politics.

I know we won’t always agree on every detail and we may well have differences of opinion on elements of a National Agenda.

But we do agree on the importance of meeting the needs of children, and on building policy which is based on evidence.

And I believe we can agree to work on breaking down the complex divisions and structures that make it so difficult for parents to find and use the existing patchwork of services.

We know that the first few years of a child’s life are important – that children’s early experience sets the stage for their later development in many ways.

As well, there is now strong evidence that points to the early years as the best time to build a foundation for children’s later competence and physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

We also know that investment in children provides a high rate of future return.

Studies in the United States have shown that each dollar invested in supporting families up-front has the potential to save up to seven dollars on policing, health and welfare in the future.

From a Government perspective, it therefore makes good sense to respond to the evidence by ‘investing’ in early childhood.

As with many of our social policies we want to do more to prevent problems happening in the first place.

While there are many areas for potential action, however, we must focus our efforts.

That’s why the consultation paper suggests national action in three areas.

The priority areas are

  • Early child and maternal health
  • Early learning and care, and
  • Supporting child friendly communities.

Child care is obviously one of the critical components of the second area – early learning and care.

It is also one of the biggest areas of early years investment that the Commonwealth makes.

We know that quality early learning and care experiences in the years before school lay the foundation for a smooth transition to school, later school success and life chances more generally.

So, we need to understand more about how child care contributes to child development.

As professionals who work with children and their families across Queensland, I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of evidence about what positive childhood experiences can mean for young children.

On the other hand, you’d be well aware of the lasting impacts that negative experiences can have on their chances of reaching their full potential over the course of their lives.

To make sure we get expert input on the agenda, since March and up to May, we are consulting with peak bodies from across the child care sector and with state and territory governments, in several metropolitan and regional areas.

My department’s state and territory offices are also running their own discussions with service providers in the areas of family and children’s services, childcare, health, education and justice.

We are also asking for written submissions from those with an interest in the field.

I would welcome any input that you and your services may have on developing our early childhood agenda and encourage you to provide feedback on the consultation document.

You can get a copy of the consultation from my department’s website at department’s website at www.facs.gov.au.

The IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH in developing the Agenda cannot be overstated

I think we all recognise we’ve got a long way to go yet before we have a broad research base that focuses on the Australian context.

But we are making progress, especially with our Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

As a starting point, the consortium of researchers undertaking the study will take two cohorts, each with 5,000 Australian children, and track them every two years at least until 2009.

These cohorts will cover children going through transitions from the first year, through to pre-school and starting school.

One cohort will be aged less than 12 months in 2003. The other will include Australian children aged 4 to 5 in 2003.

Both these groups will give us a picture on a range of outcomeslike social, physical and mental health development, and learning and risk-behaviour).

The longitudinal study is being supported by work done by the new Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, headed up by early childhood expert and Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley.

WORK AND FAMILY

To seriously consider children’s developmental health and wellbeing, we have to also acknowledge what is happening in Australia’s workforce.

These days work and family is an extremely important policy issue.

The Prime Minister has identified work and family as a key third term agenda because, more and more, parents are having to find a balance between work and family life.

While both men and women are involved in the balancing act, women’s workforce participation is the area of greatest change.

In Australia, labour force participation of women increased steadily in the second half of the last century.

Now, more women are in paid work than ever before, with around two-thirds of women between 15 and 64 in the workforce.

More women are working and they want to work:

  • 59 per cent of mothers with dependent children now work, mostly part-time.
  • 43 per cent of mothers with a youngest child aged 0 to 4 go to work.

But people are delaying child-bearing and having fewer children.

For the first time, in 2001 the median age of first-time mothers reached 30 years and the fertility rate is at an historic low of 1.73 babies per woman.

We know there are many reasons for this, but a sense of security – in finances, in work, in relationships, and in wider society – is a big part of the story.

So changes in the workforce have implications for the type of childrens’ services we need now and into the future.

For its part, in recent years the Government has steadily introduced programs that better support parents’ choices about how they manage work and family life.

For instance, child care needed to be more flexible.

Our goal has always been about providing a range of support, so that parents can weigh up the choices and make their own decisions.

In-home care and innovative rural and regional child care services (like mobile services) are already giving families options they never had, and helping them participate in work and in their communities to a greater extent than ever before.

Government reforms in the workplace relations’ arena also mean more scope for negotiating family-friendly provisions to suit individual employees or workplaces.

Because there’s not one, simple answer to balancing work and family.

More recently we’ve also been looking at the complex links and the implications that work and family may have, particularly in relation to the national early childhood agenda, the welfare reform debate and in providing Family Relationship Services.

Turning now to CHILD CARE WORKFORCE ISSUES and the specific issues facing the child care industry.

The first is the lack of value placed on people who work in the children’s services sector.

I have said this before—some people still think child care workers are just baby sitters.

They are not.

They play a vital role in fostering the early learning and development of our children and in ensuring that children have the best possible start in life.

Pay and conditions, attracting and retaining qualified staff—these are fundamental to the status of workers and the future of the child care profession.

As you know, most child care workforce issues are not the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government.

But I think they are so important that we have to work very cooperatively with state and territory governments, to try and develop a consistent national approach.

And the Commonwealth has already been working with the Community and Disability Services Ministers Advisory Council on this.

But in thinking more about the complexities involved, I thought it would be worth getting together the main players from the Commonwealth, states and territories and the children’s services sector to look at ways we could make some progress, together.

So I set up a ‘Think Tank’ involving the stakeholders, which met two days ago in Canberra.

Gwynn Bridge and Anne Reddell, who’ll be speaking here this afternoon, were there.

The idea was to see if we could start developing concrete strategies for taking child care workforce issues forward.

Items discussed and workshopped included pay and conditions, education and training, the need for a professional body and ways of strengthening the child care profession.

The discussions were robust and the information is currently being collated by my department and I hope to have a full report shortly.

One observation I did make was that industry sectors are, on many issues, a lot more closely aligned than they have been in the past.

I was also quite surprised to note there was little support for the formation of a new professional body to service the child care industry as a whole.

On a related issue, I was interested to read in your April newsletter “CareNews” that a merger between this association and the QPCCCA is under consideration.

I would urge you to strongly pursue this option.

As both Associations have similar goals and face similar pressures, combining resources would strengthen your advocacy within government and within the wider industry.

BROADBAND FUNDING is another key issue being dealt with at the moment.

Apart from Child Care Benefit payments, the Commonwealth Government funds child care services and support services via a range of grants and subsidies which have accumulated over the years to form the Child Care Support Broadband.

We have done well in recent budgets to maintain a high level of spending on child care.

But there are many demands on the Child Care Support Broadband, and I believe there is room for improvement.

There are gaps and there are changes needed, so that we do better with the resources we have.

We need to better support services that are marginal, in rural and regional areas, or struggling to combine viability with flexible service delivery.

And we need to work together to make a quality, early learning and development experience available to children in every child care service.

Above all, we have to remember that children’s interests must come first.

We have to focus our efforts on what’s best for them.

Many of you would have been involved in the consultations we are having on this.

I’m told plenty of people turned up for the Queensland consultations last month and they went very well.

If you missed out on these you can still have your say via the Community Link web site or by writing in before the end of the month.

I really don’t have any preconceived ideas about how to restructure the Broadband, as long as it ensures children’s interests come first.

Finally, we come to CORPORATISATION.

I know that viability of small service providers concerns many of you, especially after the recent listing of some large child care providers on the Australian stock exchange.

I understand your concerns, but want to emphasise that it is a small proportion of long day care centres that are in this group.

In fact 90% of private providers operate only one child care centre

I know some of you support the reintroduction of supply measures for long day care, and I’m giving some thought to this.

But I need to consider the possible benefits of true market competition, and the fact that regulation could actually reduce the options families have in making their child care choices.

I discussed all this with Gwynn Bridge, Greg Doherty, Jenny Lenard and Kerry Lada in February.

You may be interested to know between July 2002 and February 2003, 112 new long day care centres opened around Australia.

Of these, 11 were corporately owned and 12 were community based centres.

In the same period, 357 services re-opened or changed ownership.

Corporates operate 86 of these, 107 are community based and 250 are privately run.

Expressed as a percent, around 20% of new centres are operated as corporate services with around 25% are community based centres.

Let me assure you, as I assured them, that the Government will continue to monitor the situation closely.

CONCLUSION

I understand you may have some questions for me, and I’m happy to answer them in the few minutes we have left.

It gives me great pleasure now to officially open this 2003 Annual Conference of the Child Care Industry Association of Queensland.

I’m sure you’ll have a very productive and stimulating day.

And I hope to meet as many of you as I can at morning tea.

Thank you

ENDS