THE new child-care rebate should be extended to all forms of child care, including nannies, and paid to parents immediately, Liberal women say.
Chronic shortages of child-care places, high fees and long waiting lists will continue to needle the Federal Government, with the backbencher Jackie Kelly forming a committee to push for changes.
Yesterday Liberal women supported her criticism of the system as a shambles, saying arrangements were inadequate and inflexible.
The Sydney MP Bronwyn Bishop, chairwoman of a parliamentary inquiry into work and family issues, said more should be done for those whose working hours meant they needed to use nannies or other private care arrangements for their children.
"All of our industrial relations and welfare-to-work amendments are offering more choice, and what we don't do in child care at the moment is offer choice," Mrs Bishop said.
MPs are unhappy with the 30 per cent child care rebate, announced at the 2004 election.
The rebate gives parents $4000 a year per child to help with child-care fees, but is not available for people who use nannies or preschool. It is payable only at the end of the financial year.
The rebate should be available for those who used nannies or other private arrangements, Mrs Bishop said, particularly as more people worked non-traditional hours.
Among other women on the back bench concerned about the pressures on child care, the NSW MP Joanne Gash said the rebate should be paid immediately.
Also supportive of change was the National Party senator Barnaby Joyce. "The current system is convoluted with many draconian requirements and must be simplified to enable parents to reap the benefits," Senator Joyce said. "The 30 per cent rebate must apply to all parents who have their children in early childhood services, not just certain groups or centres. Administered effectively, these rebates could provide great assistance for families and help reduce the demand for child-care places."
Although the Government has substantially increased funding for child care, the growth in places has not kept pace with demand, which will increase further this year when more single parents move into jobs because of changes to the welfare system.
Compounding the problem is a lack of information about waiting lists and the areas where child-care shortages are most acute.
The Treasurer, Peter Costello, yesterday again hinted there would be more funding for child care in the budget in May.
"I think it is important that we do get additional places, particularly the outside school hours places, where parents drop kids off for school," Mr Costello said.
But Liberal women said funding needed to be directed at centres providing care for children younger than school age.
The Opposition's child-care spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, agreed.
"Increasing after-school care places isn't going to fix this problem," she said.
"The Treasurer's arguments against extra child-care expenditure ignore a key fact - targeted investment in child care leads to economic growth through increased participation in the labour force."