Abbott Government’s cuts to Indigenous Children and Family Centres


SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS: There are 38 Child and Family Centres around this country at critical risk of closure because the Abbott Government’s abandoned them. Not content with cutting $534.4 million in the Budget, in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, what they’ve done is let the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development expire on the 30th of June this year and not engage with the states and territories and continue the funding for these important centres.


These are centres that are wholly, culturally appropriate. They integrate services on health and education, there’s counselling, early childhood development and planning, child care classes, playgroups and places for mums and dads to learn about parenting and the importance of skilling and getting their kids ready for school.


Now this is the answer in relation to truancy issues. This is the answer to make sure that employment in Indigenous communities proceeds. This is a very important centre to make sure, whether it’s in the Fitzroy Crossing or Ipswich or Bridgewater or North Melbourne, to make sure these particular centres continue. Without funding from the Abbott Government, without the Abbott Government reversing their decision not to proceed with funding for these centres, these centres will close.


This is an abandonment of early childhood education in Indigenous communities around the country. I’ll hand it over to my colleague Kate Ellis now in relation to early childhood education.


KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thank you very much. It’s fantastic to join Shayne Neumann, the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs as well as Glenn Sterle the Senator for South… Western Australia – nearly promoted you there Glenn – who I know has been a passionate advocate of these Indigenous Child and Family Centres. We gather here today to say: how can Tony Abbott call himself the Prime Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Minister for Women when he is cutting all funding to Child and Family Centres for Indigenous children, as well as slashing $1 billion from the child care budget?


Reports today show what we already know. Reports confirm the critical importance of quality early childhood education, and how it can add $20 billion to our economy by 2050 if we did take this seriously. It’s time this Government recognised that this isn’t just about babysitting. This is about investing in young Australians at the time of their critical brain development. We only have one chance to give people the best start when it comes to their health and their education outcomes, and this Government seem determined to blow that one chance.


We know that at the end of this year there are 38 Child and Family Centres serving potentially vulnerable Indigenous children in remote communities, many of which will have to close their doors because this Government has turned their back on them. At a time when Australia has more research than ever before about the fact that investing in quality early childhood education is the best investment a government could make, it is unthinkable that the Government would proceed with this plan.


We know that this Government and their efforts to strip $1 billion from the child care sector are plain wrong. We see today further evidence to back that up, and we again call on the Government to stop cutting vital early childhood education services and start serving the best interests of Australian children and their families. I will hand over to Glenn who has a gift for us.


GLENN STERLE, SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Thank you Kate and thank you Shayne. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of being invited up to the Kimberley, where I work extensively in the top end of Western Australia. I was in Fitzroy Crossing, a very, very needy Kimberley town. They have one family and childhood centre that was built by the Labor Government, funded by the Labor Government. There is absolute disgust on behalf of the 35 families (sic) and the 35 young ones (sic) that rely on this centre that they have had their funding cut. There is no money to continue this vital funding for this very, very important community piece of infrastructure.


The people of Fitzroy Crossing have asked me Kate and to you Shayne to keep the fight going, to take the fight up to the Abbott Government. The so-called ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’ is missing in action. So on behalf of the Fitzroy Valley and the communities in Fitzroy Crossing I now pass on this beautiful work by the little tackers who wanted to give you a special piece of the Kimberley. And they are so looking forward to the opportunity of meeting you in private, as they have with you Shayne, and for Kate to continue the fight for the people of Fitzroy Crossing and the Kimberley.


JOURNALIST: Senator Sterle, if this centre closes at Fitzroy Crossing what will happen for those kids? Will they fall through the cracks or are there other things that can sort of pick up the slack?


STERLE: Andrew, there’s a number of things that could happen. The parents have told me, these are kids of working parents, the mums have told me very clearly they have two options – one is to give up work or try to find another option, which does not exist. So to cut a very long story short, they are in dire needs, dire straits, there is no other option in Fitzroy Crossing, there is no other option for the Little Nugget Centre in Hall’s Creek.


If Mr Abbott wants it upon his head that 35 Fitzroy Crossing, sorry 37 Fitzroy Crossing children and 35 Hall’s Creek children will be left without a centre. And let’s not forget what Shayne said too, the invaluable work of allied health that goes on in these centres. Andrew, this is catastrophic. If this Prime Minister does not overturn this ridiculous, reckless decision and comes good with funding for vital programs, particularly in parts of Australia where it is desperately needed.


JOURNALIST: Mr Neumann, have you spoken to Senator Scullion about this at all? Given I guess he has everyday responsibilities for Indigenous Affairs.


NEUMANN: Well we’ve made it plain when it comes to these centres and we’ve made it plain to Senator Scullion that our position is they should continue the funding. We put in $564 million for capital infrastructure and initial operating costs and expenses. This Government should come to the fore, we can’t wait until the next election, in Fitzroy Crossing and Hall’s Creek and other places. If this funding doesn’t continue and if this Government doesn’t change its mind, then these centres will close. And that’s a tragedy and shame and disgrace for a Prime Minister who calls himself the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs’.