Company director and corporate lawyer Adam Schwab writes:


Former
Brisbane Lord Mayor and current ABC Childcare Centres chairwoman, Sallyanne
Atkinson launched an impassioned defence of ABC in The Australian today.
Atkinson noted that:

It’s an
insult to parents to say that the private sector views children as products.
Parents would simply take their children away if that were
so.

Alas,
Atkinson’s views about private child care centres do not seem to be mirrored by
staff at those centres. As noted by The Age on
1 April
2006:

21% of corporate chain workers said they would not send
their children to the centre they worked in because of quality
concerns. This compared with 4% of workers in non-profit centres and 6%
in small private centres. Overall, workers rated the quality of care as
“quite high”, but corporate-owned centres scored lowest on all aspects
of the survey. Community centres were rated highest and small
commercial centres were almost on par with them.

Atkinson
then continued by defending the notion of “private” child care, stating
that:

[T]he
private sector has stepped in and we have private child care centres, much as we
have private schools and hospitals. And the Government will subsidise the
children, as it does school students and hospital
patients.

Atkinson
neglected to point out the fundamental difference between a “private school” and
a “private child care centre”. That is private schools aren’t actually owned by
shareholders. In fact, private schools aren’t really private in an ownership
sense, rather, they are more correctly labelled
independent or non-government schools.

That is because government subsidies paid
to these “private” schools are used for students. By contrast, when the government pays subsidies
to private child care centres, a portion of these subsidies by implication flows
to the owners of the private child care centres, being their shareholders. ABC
made an operating profit of $52.3 million in the year ending June 2005. That
profit would have likely been lower had ABC not received millions of dollars worth of government subsidies.

Atkinson
was correct in one respect: Eddie Groves is a fantastic
manager and businessman. However, Groves and ABC
are handicapped in providing the best care to children because ultimately, they
are responsible to their shareholders. By contrast, community (or
“not-for-profit” centres) are responsible only to the children they care for.
Despite his business acumen and personality, it is difficult for even
Groves to
argue that private child care centres could possibly provide the same service
levels as community centres as long as he has those pesky shareholders to
please.

Peter Fray

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