Education And Early Childhood Services (Registration And Standards) Bill

23 Nov 2011 questionsarchive

A question put forward to the Hon. I.K. HUNTER regarding the Education And Early Childhood Services (Registration And Standards) Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: They are strong words, minister. I think you may be over-egging the omelette. All we have sought to do is hold the minister accountable for her commitment to the sector. In the content of these national regulations, I do not see where her commitments are. Even the minister's explanation this evening has pulled back somewhat from the fairly strong commitment the minister gave to the sector on 4 November in saying that possibly these things can be amended.

My question is: how can the minister amend the national regulations? What is the date of the next ministerial council meeting? What sort of iron-clad commitment has the minister given, given that there is nothing in black and white, even in her letter to the industry that says she would do what she said in the paper and on radio?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: My advice is the minister has taken her concerns, first, to the Australian government for consideration, as she committed to representers of the sector. Other jurisdictions have sought changes to some transition provisions as well. The minister will also ensure that these concerns are fully considered as part of the national review of these reforms in 2014, which will occur prior to the implementation of the new ratios that are of concern to some child care providers.

The government is confident that the issues can and will be addressed, as has occurred in other jurisdictions. For example, the jurisdiction-specific draft transitional regulations for Queensland provide for staffing arrangements during rest periods or short absences and, in instances relating to ratios, for providers to maintain their current ratio for an additional period of time through applications to the regulatory authority. South Australia can take the same route.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I thank the minister for that explanation, which I do not find satisfying at all, but I will leave other members to determine whether or not they do. But I would also like to address this issue about national arguments and COAG, and so forth, and having to have everything the same in every jurisdiction. We have had this debate before in this place. This parliament is sovereign to the people of South Australia and other states have not been so silly as to put blind faith in COAG processes and fall like lemmings over the cliff to ensure that they are identical to every other state. My understanding is that Queensland and Western Australia will not necessarily be adopting everything holus bolus, so I do not accept that argument.

There has been a bit of a moralistic argument advanced in this debate that if you really care about the best interests of children you will not support these amendments or you will ensure that this bill comes into force on 1 January. I say that I do not appreciate that sort of argument. I reject it. I think we are here to determine what is good policy, and what is good policy for one group is not necessarily good policy for all.

I could use the moral argument if the government wants to see child care centres close. There may be only one or two of them. I understand the one associated with Playford council is already not going to be able to fulfil the national standards so it is tendering out, and so forth. So we could use that argument, too. But I do not appreciate that sort of moralising, that somehow these amendments are going to severely disadvantage South Australian children and that South Australia would go backwards. I think that is an inappropriate argument to use.

Of course we are all here for the best interests of South Australians, but that does not mean we all have to fall into lock step and not allow some parts of the sector. As I said, the sector does not speak with one voice. The private sector may be only 20 per cent. In other states they are more, in fact. I was lobbied fairly recently by operators in New South Wales not to even pass the legislation here because that would enable them to have some additional force because they are not happy with what is happening there, to which I said I am not accountable to New South Wales operators: I am accountable to South Australian operators.

I do not think it is all hunky-dory. I do not think it is all happiness and goodness and light. People who read The Australian would have seen articles in The Weekend Australian where people are very concerned about increasing costs. I cannot see that these minor measures that may well ensure some operators are able to keep going and have a little bit of time to adjust are going to cause death and destruction in the childcare sector, particularly when all we are doing is seeking to hold the minister to account for what she is committed to, which she seems to be backsliding from.