The coalition's childcare system was a failure even before we got to COVID-19. Their so-called once-in-a-generation system left one in four families worse off and reduced access to early education and care for 279,000 families. The government boasted that they were driving down the cost of child care, but childcare fees are already out of control in the new system. At the start of 2020, fees had gone up by 7.2 per cent in the previous 12 months and 34 per cent in seven years under the coalition. That's the starting point, and it's a mess. The government have absolutely no idea and no plan on how to bring childcare fees under control.
Last year, the Minister for Education labelled Labor's plans for taxpayer funded early education as 'communism', and then COVID-19 hit. Suddenly, free child care sounded like a good idea—simple, easy. But, in true coalition style, free child care isn't all it's cracked up to be. Under the COVID package, and despite free child care, this government will actually save $300 million this year compared to what they would have spent in the same period in normal circumstances. Here's why. If you were a provider who had maintained enrolments and income as at the first week of March this year, all of a sudden you are only getting 50 per cent of that amount. To get that 50 per cent, you have to cover free child care for existing clients and you can't charge a gap fee—even to those who maintain their jobs—to cover any deficit between the government subsidy and your actual cost. We now know that not all of a provider's staff are likely to be eligible for the JobKeeper payment if, indeed, the provider qualifies at all. If your staff are international students or other temporary visa holders, or casuals of less than 12 months, they don't qualify, and many centres run by charities, local government or independent schools don't qualify for the JobKeeper payment at all. My office has heard numerous stories of providers having to cut staff and hours to keep afloat.
In a panic, the government set up an exceptional circumstances fund to assist those struggling with the new regime. Well, we aren't hearing of many—or any—providers getting funding through this exceptional circumstances fund. For example, the Bannockburn childcare centre in my electorate applied for funding because, as a service run by the Golden Plains Shire Council, they don't qualify for JobKeeper. Last Saturday they got a rejection letter for their application for supplementary funding. This Monday they are reluctantly cutting the hours of all staff to 20 per cent. And they're not alone. Why should some parents, who simply by accident of location sent their children to a government-run service, suffer a huge disadvantage compared to those parents who send their kids to eligible services?
Those with an existing childcare place were supposed to be the real winners under the government's COVID-19 package. They would receive free child care. But even these parents have been reporting that their places have been cut to minimal hours in order for providers to survive. I'll give you two examples that have come to my office. Both mums were seeking places in centres run by national company G8 Education. One of the mums was a doctor on the Bellarine Peninsula. She was distraught because she needed to return to work as a GP in May. After the package was announced, she was rung immediately by the Great Beginnings centre in Curlewis and told she no longer had a place, despite the fact they had capacity and her other child was already attending the same centre.
Another parent in the same situation is Tamara Sorensen, who was scheduled to return to her work in a bank office in Bellarine this week. She wrote to me saying: 'For some time prior to COVID-19 I have had my 11-month-old enrolled at Leopold World of Learning. When contacting them to organise orientation last week, I was advised that Grace has a place but can't attend. When speaking with the Leopold centre it was made clear this is not a health related issue, but a company decision due to the government funding package.'
Thankfully, after we got some publicity for both cases, these parents were offered casual places for their children by the G8 centres, but their good fortune doesn't change the impact of this package on thousands of other parents. I'm not blaming the providers. I'm blaming the chaotic, dysfunctional policy of the Morrison government that has put them in this position. What sort of policy creates such a disincentive for providers to take on new children or create such barriers to parents trying to re-enter the workforce or increase their hours of work?Share Tweet