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Howard Announces (And Re-Announces) Funds For Child And Family Services

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has stepped up his electioneering by announcing $365 million for early childhood intervention programmes.

Some of the announcements are re-releases of budget announcements. They follow the Opposition’s announcement of a baby care payment policy.

Transcript of the announcement by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at The Infant’s Home, Ashfield, in Sydney.

STRONGER FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES ANNOUNCEMENT

Well thank you very much Larry, Elaine Henry, Patrick McClure, Professor Stanley, Professor Hayes, my other parliamentary colleague Ross Cameron, many other people who are gathered here today who have a very strong background in the issue that brings us together. And it is appropriate that it is announced in the precinct of the Ashfield Infants’ home which has in different ways since 1870, has been looking after disadvantaged children and their parents. And there is a neatness about that, that we are in a way returning to a place where this challenge was responded to in a different fashion, in a very different era, albeit with different approaches, but nonetheless with a sense of personal moral commitment to looking after disadvantaged people in the community.

What I am announcing today fuses together two approaches that I have certainly become, over the eight years I have been Prime Minister, a total convert to. One of those is what Elaine said I talk about a lot, and that is the social coalition – the notion that you can’t leave it all to the Government, but the Government can’t vacate the field and leave it to welfare organisations. And also recognising that there are a lot of decent, well committed individuals in the community, some with resources, some without resources, who want to be part of providing a solution, and there are a lot of people in the business community who are also prepared to help. Now that’s the first notion of which I am a passionate advocate.

And the other is the overwhelming case that has built through the years in favour of early intervention. It is articulated very well by a lot of people in this audience. I’ve never forgotten the riveting presentation that Fiona Stanley gave to the Prime Minister’s Science and Engineering Council two or three years ago, which was certainly instrumental in shaping my own thinking. And I have talked to a lot of people in the peak welfare organisations of Australia who have spoken with equal conviction and passion about the importance of very early intervention.

So the $365 million programme over the next four years which I announced today, is built very much on the twin concepts of the social coalition and early intervention. It will be used principally – not exclusively, but principally – to support early intervention for children and families where there is a strong likelihood that those children would otherwise not grow up in a stable and caring environment. And that is the overwhelming goal of this programme – in different ways to find a method of intervening in a helpful and non-judgmental fashion at a very early point, and help those families to achieve an environment and a sense of stability for their children that would not otherwise have been the case. Now that is best I can express it the simple goal of this strategy.

And a major element will be the involvement through direct funding of the very well known and reputable welfare organisations of this country. I am an unapologetic admirer of the contribution that those organisations make to our society. I not only admire their sense of commitment and mission, and the use of the expression ‘mission’ is not meant to connote a preference for one of those organisations over the others, but their commitment and their mission, but also a recognition of their expertise. And also an understanding that those organisations know the value of a dollar even better than the officials in the department of finance and administration. They know how hard it is to raise money. They know how carefully you must husband the resources that a sometimes unwilling and not overly generous public and business community is prepared to provide.

The new programmes will build on the success that the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy that was pioneered by Senator Jocelyn Newman when she was the Minister in the area, and we’ve seen expenditure of about $226 million in that programme over the last four years. And that strategy to date has funded about 660 community-based projects. And the strategy has involved some innovative approaches to childcare, especially in the area of in-home childcare and the provision of childcare for people living in rural and outer suburban areas. And a significant element of the additional funding that is being provided under the programme over the next four years relates to the expansion of the childcare component.

We’ve reviewed the operation of the strategy and as a result of that review, we have decided to concentrate it even more heavily in the area of early intervention. And it’s going to provide an even more focused and intensive emphasis on that and it will be, as Elaine suggested, closely aligned with a national agenda for early childhood. The theme of early intervention is apparent in the four funding categories that are going to be part of the strategy. The first of those components is decribed as Communities for Children, and we’re going to commit $110 million and that is going to fund organisations, the organisations of which I have spoken, in 35 localities identified around Australia as being localities where there is clear evidence of disadvantage and clear evidence of need. And each organisation is going to receive funding of up to $4 million over a period of four years.

And I’m able to announce today the first seven of those local organisations and they are, and it will give you an idea of the spread of both the organisations, but also the localities – Anglicare Tasmania, which caters for the northern suburbs of Launceston in Tasmania; the YWCA NSW which caters for the Lismore area; Mission Australia, which caters for western Sydney; Kilmany Uniting Care, the Shire of East Gippsland, LifeLine and Coomera and the Gold Coast Hinterland of Queensland. The Smith Family, which is Girraween, Koondoola, Balga, Mirrabooka in Perth and United Care Wesley in Port Adelaide which covers the North Western part of Adelaide. Now, they are the first seven organisations and they are illustrative in the sort of organisations that we are going to directly fund because we believe they better than any other are capable. I don’t mean just them exclusively but organisations of that calibre are more capable of delivering at the appropriate level and in the appropriate way and with the appropriate sense of dispatch and urgency, the resources.

We’ve chosen these organisations because they’re already highly active in these communities and there’ll be able to get amongst the relevant people as quickly as possible and roll out the services. I mean, for example, if I could just mention that Mission Australia will be given about $3 million to expand on services it’s been providing since 1970 in Sydney’s south western suburbs, including the Miller pre-school and the Liverpool Family Day Care Service. And this expansion is going to be modelled on the very successful Pathways to Prevention Programme which was covered in the video that you have just seen. The mission has targeted the South Western suburbs of Miller, Green Valley, Cartwright and Sadlier because they comprise a disadvantaged community with attendant socio-economic problems and through this problem Mission will aim to provide the best possible start in life for some 2,000 very needy children under the age of five.

The second initiative is the Early Childhood Invest to Grow Initiative and this will provide about $70 million to non-government organisations to refine and roll out proven early intervention programmes in disadvantaged communities. And in addition it will support the continuation of the longitudinal study of Australian children which will provide a comprehensive and national picture of Australian children and support policy development of child related issues.

Five organisations are going to receive funding under this initiative. There’s the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, which is headed up by Professor Stanley, Good Beginnings, Northern River’s Division of General Practice, the National Aboriginal Sports Corporation and National Indigenous Child and Family Resource Centre. Under the third initiative, called Local Answers, funding of $60 million will provided to smaller community based projects that focus on family and community capacity building.

And 12 projects till today receive news of funding under this initiative and, for example, there’ll be the Children and Education Research Centre at the University of Newcastle that will receive funds for the extension of its Support at Home for Early Language and Literary Project which provides early literacy intervention to young families and indigenous and remote communities.

The fourth major initiative is Choice and Flexibility in Childcare and this will provide $125 million to build on the in-home care programme, create more private and community long day care centres in rural and urban fringe communities and implement quality assurance systems. Ten in-home care services in New South Wales and Victoria offering 200 new places have been approved and will commence operation shortly and later this month the Government will release a further 1,000 places for new and existing service providers to a national application process.

And the Infants’ Home here in Ashfield will receive 20 new in-home care places and this will enable families currently unable to access other childcare options. As always accompanies these announcements, there is a large and colourful media kit which explains in great deal all the virtues of the Government’s announcement that I haven’t been able to include in my presentation.

But can I say, ladies and gentlemen in conclusion, that I am very enthusiastic about this approach. I didn’t pretend when I became Prime Minister to have all of the answers in this area. I had a sneaking suspicion that if I listen to people who’d been working in the field for a long time I’d learn something. I also had a strong view that if I got some committed colleagues who were really very interested in it and can I say, Larry has been an enthusiastic person who’s brought a great deal of energy to this particular part of the Family and Community Services portfolio. But I also knew that the Government had to put dollars on the table. You can’t stand up and make fine speeches and then leave it up to somebody else to do. Inevitably, some people will say, well there should be more dollars. There should always be more dollars for every single thing that the Government ever does. But the programme I’ve announced today does represent not only a strong continuation, but a significant expansion in aggregate terms of our commitment. I think it is about as important a thing as a Government can be concerned about.

Intervening early, saving young lives from years of unhappiness, of low motivation, of educational failure, of abuse, of inevitable resort to crime and anti-social behaviour is an important goal. And I believe that the programmes I’ve announced today, the organisations that we’ve announced we’re supporting today and the organisations we’ll support in the future – they have the skill, they have the motivation, they have the commitment, they have the mission to do something about it.

We’re very strongly behind them, I’m delighted to be associated with this announcement and I thank everybody who has done so much to bring together and to make it possible today.

Thank you.

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