Sunday, April 08, 2012

Parents feel the pinch as childcare squeezed by new federal laws

But it's "for their own good", of course.   One size fits all, don't you know?

This will just lead to more  informal childcare  -- e.g. where some lady looks after a few neighbourhood kids in her own home -- with none of the safeguards of the formal sector

That happened in Britain so they passed draconian laws about informal childcare -- but they had to back down because it criminalized friends looking after another friend's kids

PARENTS face a tougher fight for childcare places - and a bigger bill when they find a centre - as tough new federal laws squeeze 8400 places from the system.  The cost of child care will rise by up to $13 a day per child as rules requiring an increased staff-to-child ratio are enforced.

Federal Government figures show a quarter of Queensland children are in childcare, with more than 155,000 children from 120,000 families in long day care at childcare centres.

Childcare Queensland says centres across Queensland will close as increased staff ratios, soaring power bills and fears of a massive 30 per cent wage claim force an already stressed sector close to the brink.

Childcare Queensland says the new regulations alone, the first phase of which started in January, will cost the state 8400 places.

President Peter Price said the average price of long day care in Queensland was between $60 and $80 a day, but that would go up under the new laws that require more staff to children and university degrees for some positions. [How absurd!  Will you have to have a degree to become a mother soon?]

While changes to ratios that were causing massive spikes in fees down south would not affect Queensland for another two years, he said centres were already having to put on extra staff to cover paperwork and training.

Mr Price said the industry had no problem with raising standards but said the contradiction with existing minimum room sizes and the required floor space per child means fewer places will be available in existing centres.

Industry research tips childcare costs will rise by $13 a child per day, which will create an exodus of families from already struggling centres in areas like the Sunshine and Gold coasts, as well as in Brisbane's eastern suburbs.

Mr Price said a survey of centres shows those around Caboolture, Wide Bay and Cairns are already at risk of falling through the 70 per cent occupancy level, which is break-even, and could dip in to the red under any other stress.

He said some centres on the Sunshine Coast were already half empty and parents would soon start feeling the pinch as more tried to organise their childcare after the school holidays. "It's happening now but there's still a lot more to come," Mr Price said of the cost increases.  "For the average parent looking for a place, there are going to be less places  available."

But C&K chief executive officer Barrie Elvish, whose community group operates centres across the state, said he did not expect any massive price rise.  He said C&K centres had raised prices by $4 or $5 a day at the beginning of the year to cover rising bills but the ratio changes would not affect them.

Federal Child Care Minister Kate Ellis said children deserved the best start in life.  "All of the research shows us that the first five years of a child's life are critical to shaping future outcomes and will play a major role in their long-term health, education and development," she said.

"With record numbers of families using childcare in Queensland and across the country, it is essential that we ensure that children in care are getting the quality early educational opportunities that they need.

"That is why the rest of the world is acting and it is why the Commonwealth and every state and territory  government, of all political persuasions, have agreed that the National Quality Framework is the best way forward for Australian families.

"These reforms are being introduced gradually, over a number of years so that the sector has time to adjust.  "The only changes that have come into effect in 2012 are a ratio requirement of one staff member for every four children aged under two  as is already the case in Queensland  and a harmonisation of national regulations....

Tewantin Early Learning Centre owner John Keast said private operators were under pressure from rising utilities and red tape.

He said he would like to be able to provide healthy fruit as a snack to his kids, but he can't without complicated and expensive licensing.  "We can't supply fruit to our children, but if they bring it in, we can cut it up and serve it to them," he said. "It's ridiculous."

He said his two Sunshine Coast centres turned a profit but there were plenty of others that were badly stretched and at risk of folding.


Power-mad bureaucrats

The owner and the chef of Cafe Garema just asked for advice. Now they have a large red closure sign on the window of their popular cafe in the heart of the city centre.

The ACT Health Protection Service rang owner Johnny Yang on March 30 at 3pm and told him to close the business after conducting an inspection at lunchtime.

At 4pm, health inspectors, accompanied by two police officers, turned up to the cafe and issued Mr Yang with 12 orders to be carried out before the business could reopen.

Mr Yang and chef Glenn Tranda, who has worked in the restaurant and cafe trade for about two decades, did not expect to be closed, as they had been given no warning at previous inspections.

They believe an inconsistent message from ACT Health Protection Service is partly to blame.  "They should have given us a warning, especially given that we asked for their advice," Mr Yang, who took over the cafe in June last year, said.

A health inspector had visited Cafe Garema in December. Mr Tranda said he told the inspector about a rotting floor in the upstairs food preparation and storage area - a result of rival kitchens being located underneath - and advised that it would be fixed by mid-March.  "They gave us three months to replace the floor," he said.

Then in mid-March, two weeks before the cafe closed, an inspection was conducted and Mr Yang was issued with a notice about a continued cockroach problem and a stainless steel splashback.

"They didn't find cockroaches," Mr Tranda said.  "He asked, 'How's the cockroach situation?' I said, 'Well, all the traps are still in place. I'm changing them every three days. We're spraying every day and I'm still bombing.'  "He didn't say anything further.

"Bar maybe a dirty knife on the bench, some breadcrumbs on the floor and something had spilt in the cool room just before lunch … we assumed they were the only problems we were going to have."

Mr Tranda believes the service should have provided more timely advice and given the cafe two weeks to fix many of the "five minute jobs" contained in the orders.

"Why last Friday did they make all of these decisions, when the gentleman had been here two weeks before and it says on [the notice] cockroaches and a stainless steel splashback," he said.

He said the installation of two handbasins - not raised as a problem until the day of the closure - would take a few more days as they were being ordered from Melbourne. A replacement for a broken upstairs ceiling fan would also take several days because local stores did not have the correct size.

Mr Yang and Mr Tranda hope to reopen as early as Wednesday.


A policy in need of rehab

Nicholas Cowdery

Australia 21's report on drug law reform restarts a public conversation that has been dormant for many long years while the problem has persisted. It is not a blueprint (although such blueprints exist), nor a list of recommendations. When we have that conversation, the public will be able to take proposals to the politicians for their responses.

For decades we have pursued a policy of drug prohibition, with the exception of alcohol and tobacco (and caffeine). It really began in 1903. Then the US president Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs" on June 17, 1971 - as an election campaign ploy. In 1985 Australia adopted the National Drug Strategy, built around supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction - all worthy pursuits - and we have had real success in reducing some harms from drugs.

But the policy of prohibition has failed. It failed in the US when they tried it for alcohol from 1920 to 1933; all that did was eliminate the beer market in favour of bootleg spirits. It failed when alcohol was prohibited to Aborigines between the 1850s and 1960s. As long as there is a demand for something - as there always has been and will be for mood-altering drugs, including alcohol and nicotine - there will always be a supply.
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Suppliers of prohibited drugs take risks and they charge for that. If they are successful, they make enormous profits. So prices are inflated and consumers often steal to obtain the money with which to pay them. Criminals engage in turf wars and the corruption of law enforcement to protect their markets.

In a black market there are no product standards. Buyers do not know the quality or quantity of the drug they are buying. Because the drugs are illegal, they are consumed clandestinely - underground. The equipment used and conditions of use are often unsanitary. Users do not openly discuss it - children cannot discuss it with their parents. Support is bypassed.

The prohibition of drugs itself breeds disease, death, crime and corruption. No matter how much we have thrown at it over the decades, drugs now are more plentiful, more available, more potent and cheaper than ever before. Every large seizure just opens up a business opportunity for another criminal.

Make no mistake - drugs can be had by anyone with the price. So much for "prohibition".

When a policy is failing to produce its intended effect, what should we do? Change it, of course! But to what? That is the question.

Different drugs have different effects, are consumed in different circumstances and should be treated in different ways. That's the first problem - it is not a case of "one size fits all". We deal with alcohol and nicotine, both very harmful drugs, openly and officially. Only by legalising, regulating, controlling and taxing them can we secure any benefits.

We are having success with nicotine - the death rate has been halved in 25 years and we have yet to go to plain packaging. We have small successes with alcohol by restricting opening hours and consumption - but there are still serious harms. Bringing other drugs out into the open might not eliminate all the harm the drugs can do but it will help to address them and it will eliminate the additional harm caused by prohibition itself.

Heroin could be prescribed in Australia until 1953 - it still can be in Britain and parts of Europe, where it is used for the relief of otherwise intractable pain and for weaning addicts away from it. Better that an addict gets clean, regulated, affordable doses (a dose can be made for about $2 and we grow it in Tasmania) in an environment of support and assistance.

Cannabis also has pain-relieving properties and naturally grown marijuana is less harmful than nicotine. Regulated supplies could avoid the hydroponically enhanced and more dangerous weed - linked with mental disturbance because of its altered chemical balance.

Then it gets tricky. What to do with ecstasy? Cocaine? Amphetamines? That is why we need to have this conversation. Until we do, those drugs will also continue to be used without controls.

No responsible commentator is suggesting that all drugs should be available to everybody at the supermarket (although that would be a safer outlet than the lottery played by buyers at present). But the only way to reduce the harm presently caused by prohibition (on top of the harm of drugs) is to take the profit out of the market. The only effective way to do that is to have the state take it over.

Licences for production and distribution would be difficult to obtain and easy to lose. Control would be stringent. Age limits would apply (yes, minors do get their hands on alcohol and nicotine - no system is foolproof). Quality would be assured. Price would be cost plus marketing plus modest profit and tax (and the tax could be directed at treatment).

There would still be bootleggers, of course - chancers out for a profit. So the criminal law would still have a job to do but it would be much reduced. About 10 per cent of tobacco in Australia is bootlegged and there are laws to deal with that.

So let's get talking about it! Maybe a good starting point is to consider the Portuguese decriminalisation model. It works.


New Qld.  Government at odds with dam bosses over flood inquiry response

The one irrefutable fact is that if the dam had been managed as designed there would have been no flood.  Instead of 50% of it being kept empty  for flood prevention, 100% was used for water storage

THE Newman Government has fallen out with Seqwater bosses over their planned response to the flood inquiry.

The Courier-Mail can reveal that after the inquiry handed down its report last month, the dam operator drew up a press release that refuted some of the inquiry's findings and made no mention of the inquiry's referral of two of the organisation's employees to the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

Senior Seqwater officials last week took the document to Treasurer Tim Nicholls seeking his endorsement so they could make the document public, but he refused.

"The Government did not agree with certain elements of the draft media release, including the version of events put forward by Seqwater given the findings of the commission and testimony at the commission hearings," a spokesman said.

"The draft media release provided no mention of the fact that staff from Seqwater were referred to the CMC for investigation, meaning the release was not balanced.

"We don't think it's appropriate for a government authority to refute the findings, which the Government has accepted in full."

The row comes as flood victims, insurance companies and class-action lawyers chasing compo payouts watch for signals from the new Government as to whether it will admit fault or force an expensive legal fight. The Premier is under pressure not to backtrack on a pre-election promise to treat flood victims fairly.

His predecessor, Anna Bligh, on receiving the inquiry's report, similarly promised Seqwater would be a "model litigant".

Mr Newman on Thursday said he stood by earlier statements that "all flood victims will be treated fairly and equitably". He would not be drawn on whether the Government would set up an "ex-gratia" scheme to compensate flood victims.

It is understood that Seqwater's own insurers backed the proposed media strategy. They could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if legal action proved the company was negligent in 2011.

The Water Grid Manager, the parent body for Seqwater, said this week: "Given the circumstances, including the ongoing investigation by the CMC, Seqwater does not presently intend to make any public comment on the Commission of Inquiry Final Report."


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Will you have to have a degree to become a mother soon?"

Sometimes I think it would help, but up here a lot barely have Year 6 behind them.