PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: I rise today to again express my concern in relation to the Federal government’s decision to cut $12.6 million from the Take a Break program, which funds Occasional Care. In Victoria some 220 community centres that operate Occasional Care may now need to close down their programs. Thousands of parents will be affected by this and thousands of children will no longer have the opportunity to participate in an early learning environment.
There are two Occasional Care programs in Knox. The first is Orana Neighbourhood House’s Occasional Care program and the second is the Coonara Community House’s program in Upper Ferntree Gully, which is just outside my electorate. Both offer terrific services for young children. However, what will happen if this funding is cut? What will happen if it is not continued next year because the funding comes to an end at the end of this year? Time is running out. It will mean that in many cases Occasional Care will stop altogether.
I want to take this opportunity today to provide examples of what some parents have said in relation to this decision. In the past you have heard from me, the Member for Wannon and other Members on this side of the chamber in terms of what this means. But I want to read out what some parents in my electorate have said in relation to the decision.
Sally Mitchell from Wantirna South says:
At present, I take my 3½ year old daughter to Orana two days a week for three hours at a time. In this time, I am able to work from home as a part-time Credit Controller for my family business. Without this break, I would be unable to perform my light, but very important work duties …
Mrs Gerardine Hickmott writes:
My reason for choosing occasional care was primarily the introduction of regular short-term separation for my child. I was new to the area, and in fact new to Australia. Without any friends or family to help out, there was no avenue to give me any relief and also any separation for my son.
A further comment is from Anu Chandra from Wantirna, who writes:
It is never going to be easy starting our son anywhere away from home. His tendency of separation anxiety was high and influenced all parts of his life—and mine. That was 6 months ago. There were tears for weeks, but since then his confidence socially, his ability to take direction from another adult and mostly, his ability to accept and enjoy time away from me has been invaluable.
It is terrific for the kids, as the Member for Wannon pointed out. Katherine Ward writes:
The Take a Break program allows local families the chance to have structured, regular break from their child in a professional stimulating childcare environment.
Myra Jowett says:
It would devastate this community to lose Orana House occasional care programs.
Finally, Julie Harris says:
I would be absolutely devastated if this was to close down due to government cutbacks.
I know of many parents who feel the same. I think these comments are indicative of the feelings of dozens and dozens of parents across my electorate and, indeed, across the state of Victoria in relation to this decision to cut funding for the Take a Break program which may lead to the loss of Occasional Care altogether.
I acknowledge that Occasional Care is jointly funded by the State and Federal governments. It traditionally has been funded 30 per cent by the State government and 70 per cent by the Federal government. The State government has picked up the slack on a short-term basis but all it is asking for is that the Federal government continues to maintain its share of the funding. If it does so, then the State government will continue to fund its share. The Coalition has committed to restoring the $12.6 million if we are elected to government, but I am concerned that that might not come fast enough. We call on the government, we plead with them, to restore the funding for Occasional Care.
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—