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June 20, 2011

The fight to retain vital childcare services in communities affected by the removal of Federal Government ‘Take a Break’ funding has stepped up a gear.

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has slammed State Opposition MPs for their comments in Victorian Parliament, accusing them of attempting to deflect attention away from the Gillard Labor Government’s decision.

Gippsland families and staff in towns such as Heyfield, Gormandale, Paynesville, Cann River, Swifts Creek and Mallacoota will all be affected unless the funding is reinstated.

Mr Chester has visited local Neighbourhood Houses to discuss the issue with concerned staff and families and is supporting a petition being distributed amongst the Neighbourhood House network calling on the Federal Government to reinstate the funding.

“To save a miserable $12.6 million over four years this Labor Government withdrew its support for a childcare program which responded directly to local needs,” Mr Chester told Parliament.

“We are talking about communities where it is the only source of childcare available to these desperate families, and this government has decided to withdraw its funding and leave it to the State Government.

“Now we have state Members of Parliament in Victoria expressing their outrage.  I wonder if they have actually bothered to get on the phone and raise it with their local Labor Federal Members of Parliament, who are the ones responsible for the withdrawal of 70 per cent of funding for this program.”

Mr Chester said the Victorian Government should reinstate its 30 per cent commitment to the Take a Break program in conjunction with a 70 per cent share from the Federal Government.

“They should continue to make their contribution of 30 per cent, but the Federal Government should restore the 70 per cent of funding that it ripped away from regional families last year,” Mr Chester said.

“I am proud to say that the Coalition made that commitment during last year's Federal election campaign and it remains our policy today.”

Mr Chester said the Gillard Government doesn’t understand how regional communities work and that childcare cannot be tackled with a one-size-fits-all approach.

“In small regional communities you do need to have local solutions to local problems, you do need to have the flexibility of the funding program, and this was a program that worked, and the Minister should be supporting it,” Mr Chester said.

Mr Chester also questioned the priorities of the Gillard Government’s decision to provide funding for additional scrutiny of large childcare operators.

“It is going to cost $1.9 million for the Minister to introduce a watchdog to look over the shoulder of the large childcare providers,” Mr Chester said.

“That $1.9 million would fund all of the Take a Break programs in Victoria and families in my electorate would be able to enjoy a small sample of one of the basic services that their city friends take for granted.”

Mr Chester again encouraged all Gippslanders to support the efforts of local Neighbourhood Houses, sign the petition and send a message to Canberra about how important childcare is to regional communities.

Copies of the petition are available at Mr Chester’s Sale and Traralgon offices as well as online at www.darrenchester.com

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Darren Chester MP