Senator HANSON-YOUNG (2.24 p.m.)—My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr. Can the minister please advise the Senate when Minister Gillard was first informed of the troubles of ABC Learning, when the childcare industry task force was established and who the members of the task force are?
Senator CARR—Thank you very much for the question. On 24 September 2008 Minister Gillard established the childcare industry task force in her department to develop contingency plans in the event of ongoing problems at ABC Learning. The task force, immediately upon being established, contacted the ABC Learning directors about their lending syndicate, who up until 2 November were indicating that ABC Learning was aiming to trade itself out of its current financial difficulties. On 6 November ABC Learning Centres Ltd entered into voluntary administration and a receiver was appointed. Preliminary data from the receiver indicated that there were 1,040 ABC Learning childcare centres of which 40 per cent were currently unprofitable. On 7 November the minister announced that the Australian government had reached an agreement with the receiver of ABC Learning and their lending syndicate.
In order to ensure that ABC Learning childcare centres remain open and provide care until 31 December 2008, the Australian government has committed up to $22 million in conditional funding. The $22 million commitment represents the possible cost of supporting the continued operation of the unprofitable ABC centres for two months. The government understands that the parents and employees are anxious about the situation. That is why the government has moved to establish a dedicated task force to work with the receiver and with the banks.
Senator Bob Brown—Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The pivotal part of this question was about when Minister Gillard first knew of problems associated with ABC Learning. The minister should answer that question.
The PRESIDENT—As you know, Senator Brown, I cannot instruct the minister how to answer the question. The minister has two minutes in which to continue answering the question.
Senator CARR—Senator Hanson-Young asked me a question about when did the minister first know of the situation with regard to ABC Learning and when was the task force established. That is clearly the second part of the question I am addressing. I would like to indicate that, in terms of the actions of the task force, the government is moving to reassure parents and workers involved with ABC Learning Centres and is obviously working with the receiver. When a receiver comes into a business and finds parts of the business are unprofitable, the receiver would normally immediately act either to close or to rationalise those unprofitable parts of the business. But the government has provided assistance to the ABC Learning receiver to ensure that the centres are able to open until 31 December.
As to the specific question on when the minister was first aware, I am not able to provide the senator with further information at this point. I will seek further advice from the minister on that particular aspect of the question.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I understand that the minister will take on notice when Minister Gillard first became aware of the ABC Learning troubles, but I would also like to know who the members of the task force are. Given that a spokesperson for Minister Gillard confirmed on Friday that Don Jones of 123 Careers has met with the heads of the task force—whoever they are—can the minister advise the Senate which other stakeholders they have entered into consultations with?
Senator CARR—I am not aware of who the task force has met with. As I have indicated, I cannot add anything further to the answer I have already given the Senate. I will seek further advice from the minister to see if she can add to the answer I have given.