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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (25 September) . . Page.. 3720 ..

MRS BURKE (continuing):

Life is about balance, no more so than in the development of our young children. To simply and perhaps inadvertently push one gender as being better or more acceptable than the other is plain dangerous. Indeed, we are seeing the results and effects of many years of female majority influence upon our young people today. That is by no means said to downgrade or denigrate our excellent female teachers. We quite simply have to address the issue to ensure our children have an holistic upbringing.

Neither am I being critical of the important role that these women play. However, at the same time, it is hard not to argue that our young would be best educated and cared for by a better mix of both women and men. Can we really expect our young to be best cared for in these most critical and formative years in an exclusive female domain? Will that environment really help foster their realisation of their real potential? I think not.

Interestingly, I was searching the web only this morning and discovered a child-care centre located in western Sydney with 100 per cent female staff. Also, there were two casuals-and, yes, they were also female. I was very impressed with many aspects of the website, including the initiatives seeking the involvement not only of parents in some of the centre's activities, but also of siblings, grandparents, even aunts and uncles. I am all for these more recent educational practices and forms of progress.

However, just as I am concerned for the children of both sexes about the effects of the absence of a male presence within this centre's daily activities-this is not something restricted to a lack of male carers or teachers for young boys-I am also concerned for the parents and other role models in terms of the effect of this situation upon the product: the child.

It should not make a difference whether a teacher is male or female. But, like it or not, I am conscious that male teachers, in particular male early childhood teachers, are in the minority in this day and age. We need to realise as a community that men have a great deal to offer in the raising of children within the family unit, and they should not be deprived of complementing that with a career in the child-care industry. We seem to be slowly eroding away the vital role males play in society today. That is alarming to me. Of course the necessary security checks and balances need to take place before anyone, male or female, is hired in the child-care industry, but we also need to ensure that, in particular, males are not being discriminated against in the process.

Given the government's very determined commitment to leading Australia in regard to its social plan-of which I have a copy here; I am sure all members have one as well-I will read from page 2. It talks about leading Australia in education and training, improving links and transitions between home, early childhood settings and kindergarten, and improving education participation, engagement, and achievement of children and young people. That is most commendable and I support it. I would therefore like to see the ACT government directing a great deal more energy and resources, where possible, to ensuring men have every opportunity to enter the child-care sector.

A positive start, as has been done in other jurisdictions, would be a sturdy advertising campaign to attract males to the sector. However, any such campaign really needs to go well beyond advertising. It must look at changing employment practices and making teacher training more inclusive of male values and needs.

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