Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (23 October) . . Page.. 4017..
MR HARGREAVES: I direct my question, through you, Mr Speaker, to the Minister for Education, Youth and Family Services. As members are no doubt aware, this week is ACT Children's Week. You can tell that by the standard of questions coming from across the chamber. Of all the areas over which any government has responsibility, no single issue can be said to be of greater importance than the actions taken to support our children.
I have received representations from several constituents regarding access to child care. There is a long wait for many parents. Could you please inform the Assembly what the government is doing to address this shortage?
MS GALLAGHER: I thank Mr Hargreaves for the question. This has been a great Children's Week, with a variety of activities happening in the community. Support for children is something that this government takes very seriously. We are demonstrating this in a variety of ways-through funding of various initiatives and also through putting together the ACT's first children's plan, which will be completed by early next year.
I think one of the biggest issues facing families with young children in the ACT is access to affordable child care. This government has recognised this pressure and has done various things to address issues in the areas where we have control. For instance, we have built a new child-care centre in Gungahlin which will provide 90 places and which is due to open in December this year.
Mr Corbell: It looks great.
MS GALLAGHER: It does. We have funded emergency child-care places in occasional care. We have expanded two centres in Gungahlin to provide 54 additional places. We have also allocated almost $1 million to expand six existing services across Canberra.
In other areas, we are supporting the LHMU's claim for wage increases for child-care workers. We are responding to the inquiry into child-care work force planning issues and are implementing recommendations in the report, specifically in regard to the training and the retaining of staff in the industry.
As a major funding partner, I have also met with the Commonwealth minister, Larry Anthony, to lobby him for extra funds for this area. I have requested additional assistance from the Commonwealth, particularly for reinstating operational grants to child-care centres, which were cut in 1996. The Commonwealth minister informed me that his funding relationship with child-care groups remained by funding the child-care benefit directly to parents. Whilst this does provide some relief to parents, it doesn't address the issues that the child-care centres themselves are facing by not having any operational subsidies to meet additional costs that the centres are incurring.
Child care and access to child care is becoming another example of the social divide in our community and is something that I am extremely concerned about. I have taken this issue to the Ministerial Council on Women, specifically around the universal access to child care for all citizens in our community. The Health and Community Services