I agree with the member for Bendigo that family day care forms a vital part of Australia's diverse childcare mix. Over the past year, I have visited several family day care services in my electorate. Without fail, the educators are dedicated and enthusiastic, their premises are well-set up and professional and the children benefit from personalised attention in a home environment. That is why it is disappointing that we are in the situation we are today, as a result of Labor totally dropping the ball.
The Community Support Program, or CSP, is an operational payment paid direct to family day care services. Its original intent was to help childcare services get established in areas where they might otherwise be unviable, such as disadvantaged, regional and remote communities—many of which of course are in my area of Leichhardt throughout the Cape York region.
Labor, over a three-year period, allowed the CSP allocated budget to blow out by almost $200 million—a sign, I guess, of standard Labor budgetary initiatives—and, of course, took no action whatsoever to address it. Even worse, they ignored an audit which showed that family day care was receiving 71 per cent of the total CSP budget even though they only had about 10 per cent of the kids in their care. How could they possibly, under any circumstances, think this was sustainable?
Yet again, we are left to clean up Labor's mess. Yes, we are changing eligibility criteria for family day care services for CSP funding from 1 July this year. Support will be targeted to services in disadvantaged, regional and remote communities to ensure funding is better targeted to where it is most needed. I am not pretending that these changes are not significant.
In my electorate of Leichhardt, two regional FDC services in Weipa and Cooktown were to have been very adversely affected as the guidelines did not take into account the fact that they are 650 kilometres apart on a predominantly unsealed road. Fortunately, the then Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley, came with me to visit to both these services, and she recognised that it was impossible for parents to only access one of these valuable services.
We were able to ask the Department to work with both the services, helping them to put in place a business plan that would result in their long term sustainability. In November, Weipa Family Day Care announced that it would not be closing its doors, which is great news for that community. I understand that Cooktown are still working through the process and I am hopeful that they will be able to resolve their financial challenges.
There is no doubt that there are many dedicated people working in family day care. Unfortunately, it is also true that much of the overspend has been driven by noncompliance by FDC services. Here, however, I would like to caution that we do not 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'.
In Cairns, Kara Preston from Kara Kingfisher Creek Family Day Care wrote to me, as her situation illustrates how important it is to have some flexibility. Kara's husband is a full-time serving defence member in our region. They have two girls, aged six and nine, and occasionally Kara needs to find care for them so she can attend compulsory personal development training of a minimum of 10 hours a year. During these times, she accesses another family day care educator.
Kara says that, in a bid to crack down on what is known as 'child-swapping', the government is penalising those who genuinely, on occasion, need to get care for their own kids. She says:
“While I understand that the government has to crack down on fraud within the sector I don't understand why they are labelling all of us fraudsters.
“Why doesn't the government close down the offending FDC Schemes and deregister the offending educators?”
I was pleased to hear from Minister Morrison that the introduction of these changes has been postponed, and I welcome further consideration with the FDC sector to avoid any unintended consequences for legitimate operators and families who depend on them.
I have also written to the minister and offered to host a roundtable for the FDC educators such as Kara Preston in Cairns. At the end of the day, we need a childcare system that is more affordable and targeted and will benefit all Australian families.
Taxpayer resources must be spent in the best way to enable families to stay at work, get back to work and give their children the best possible start in life.
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