Jun 24, 2008

Childcare in Parliament House

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House) (6.05 p.m.)—I move: That, in accordance with section 5 of the Parliament Act 1974, the House approves the following proposal for work in the Parliamentary Zone which was presented to the House on 23 June 2008, namely: Construction of a childcare facility within Parliament House.

I have moved this motion at the request of the Presiding Officers—the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate—and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to do so as Leader of the House. The work proposed will provide childcare facilities to all occupants of the Parliament House building. The campaign for childcare facilities located within Parliament House has been a long one. It reflects our growing appreciation as a nation of the need for affordable, easily accessible and quality child care for working families. Australian families cannot do without child care, and it would be hypocritical of this parliament to say to the families of those that work here that they should. There has been significant effort from many on both sides of the House in campaigning for this facility, and in moving this motion today to commence work I would like to acknowledge their efforts.

The facility will be a quality establishment incorporating best practice design features which, from an early childhood perspective, acknowledge and address children’s play and developmental needs. Internal layout of the centre will accommodate up to 22 children in the six weeks to 18 months age range, with individual areas for babies to play and space for toddlers to exercise their new-found mobility. The centre potentially has the flexibility to occasionally cater for older children for short periods. The facility will be located in the former staff bar and adjacent courtyard area. The centre will cost $1.3 million to construct and will open in early 2009.

I acknowledge the results of the staff survey conducted in March this year, which identified the area of greatest need as being facilities for breastfeeding mothers. It has also confirmed that there remains, as mirrored in communities around Australia, a considerable demand for childcare services in Parliament House. The construction of the childcare centre is not a total solution but is a very important and necessary first step.

The facility will be built to the exacting standards demanded of any construction work in a nationally significant building such as Parliament House. The designs for necessary modifications to the building take into full consideration the original design integrity of the building and courtyards. There will be some differences within the centre compared with the rest of the Parliament House. Throughout Parliament House division bells can be heard and numerous clocks indicate the chamber with either the red or green light flashing. Loud bells and sleeping babies are not a good mix so there will be clocks to display the division lights in the childcare centre but no bells.

The two existing hedges in the courtyard are to be removed due to their toxicity and replaced with a vine covered safety fence. A major feature of the courtyard playground will be a sensory garden for the toddlers to wander through, with shrubs of different textures of material and colour finishes to delight and intrigue. The majority of existing paving in the area will be retained with different colour and texture infilled tiles to replace the grass between the pavers. The play areas will be built to best practice standards for early childhood development and two sandpits and grass mounds will provide ample opportunity for toddlers to practise interactive, creative and mobility skills. Unfortunately, heritage considerations rule out using the curved external marble wall as a canvas for budding crayon and chalk artists. Let that be a warning, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is perhaps one disadvantage of having child care here in Parliament House, but a minor one.

I would like to assure members that internal construction within Parliament House is mainly limited to within the former staff bar, and that internal access to the staff cafeteria will be maintained throughout the construction phase and that noisy or disruptive construction work will be carried out after hours and on weekends, with the main heavy construction occurring during the winter recess. I would also like to acknowledge the understanding decision of the florist currently located outside the staff bar in agreeing to move so that the facility can be built.

It is with some satisfaction that I speak on this motion as I have had some involvement in the many calls over the years for the construction of these facilities. In the Hansard record of 12 November 1998 members can find a motion in my name which reads in part:

That this House:

  1. recognises the importance of affordable, quality child care for Australian parents;
  2. deplores the lack of childcare facilities available to Members, Senators and staff working at Parliament House, noting that this lack of workplace child care has led to increased difficulties for parents working at Parliament House following the Coalition’s attacks on child care over the past 3 years …

The date of that motion indicates, as does the long history of this issue, that child care in Parliament House has been needed for some time. I think it is acknowledged by many in the parliament that it should have been done sooner. The parliament is now more representative of the people of Australia with the entry of more young women, in particular, into the parliament—and I take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Ballarat, Catherine King, on the birth of her first son, Ryan, on the weekend. That is an occurrence that happens now on a regular basis in this parliament and that is a good thing. Previous generations of representatives in this House, on both sides of the chamber, whatever their qualities, did not understand that this was not an issue which should have been negotiable. The fact we have many facilities in this parliament—a snooker room, a pool, a gym, a dining room and many other facilities here that are appropriate in this magnificent building—but no childcare centre reflects the parliament of the last century. It is appropriate that the parliament of this century reflect more adequately values such as ensuring that all parents, whether they be men or women, have access to child care.

I want to put on the record that when I moved that motion in 1998 I did not have an interest in child care. Later on of course I did. I used to bring my son to this House when I could in order to have contact with him. The facilities were not appropriate to keep someone in an office. Indeed, he bears a scar on his forehead from the fact that the offices are extremely unfriendly to children in the way that they have been built and designed. For future generations of not only members and senators but also, and most importantly, permanent staff who are based here and who make such an outstanding contribution, this will help in the work-family balance, and that is certainly appropriate.

I acknowledge in recent times the campaign by many members such as the member for Sydney, and I will also single out the former member for Lindsay, to turn around some of the old-fashioned views that some people—particularly, might I say, of my gender—had on whether childcare facilities were appropriate in Parliament House. That has been turned around. I commend this motion to the House on behalf of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.