ABC Radio Adelaide – Government’s COVID-19 child care system

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

DAVID BEVAN, HOST: Let’s have a look at child care. Amanda Rishworth, she’s a South Australian MP, she’s the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, she’s the Labor MP for Kingston in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Good morning Amanda Rishworth.

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Good morning great to be with you.

BEVAN: Now I’m right aren’t I that there’s a report due out today which will help make decisions on whether or not the Government’s support package for the sector continues?

RISHWORTH: Yes that’s right, there has been a report released which has identified some problems that happened as a result of this package. The problems are that centres were given 50 per cent of their revenue as at 2 March and they were then asked to apply for Jobkeeper, and that is how much money they got. They then had to crunch the numbers and work out how many children they could have, and as a result of that if they took on more children they didn’t get any more money. So a lot of families are now, as they start going back to work, being turned away. Of course it’s very good for people getting free child care, especially in very difficult times, but what a lot of centres are saying is they’re just not getting paid so some families are getting locked out of the system.

BEVAN: Right so fine for people who are already in the system, they can continue, but if you needed a child care centre and you rocked up and said would you like to look after little Billy or little Jilly, they would say sorry we haven’t got any funding for you?

RISHWORTH: That’s exactly right, and so as a result we’ve had cases of women coming back from maternity leave, from a range of different scenarios, some getting offered more work because they’re in a hospital or healthcare setting, and they actually couldn’t take the work not because of COVID but because of not being able to access child care.

BEVAN: So what do you say the Government should do now and what do you say the Government should do when the current funding package expires in a few weeks time?

RISHWORTH: The Government signalled they want to snap back to the old system and I don’t know if that is the answer either, because our old system was very expensive, one of the most expensive in the world. So during what is a very difficult time where some people are relying just on Jobkeeper, other people are having significant pay cuts, I don’t think reverting back to one of the most expensive systems in the world is really the way to go. I think the Government has a real opportunity to have a careful look at this and actually look at how we can provide much cheaper child care during this difficult time, but not having a system in which people are locked out because that would be a real handbrake on economic recovery.

BEVAN: Okay that’s Amanda Rishworth, stay with us Amanda the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood. We did put in a call to the relevant Federal Minister, we got a statement and we’ll come to that. Let’s go to Darren.

Interviews with callers

  1. Darren – wife is a Family Day Care educator – has had her income reduced by about 40 per cent under current arrangements.
  2. Susan – director of Norwood Community Creche –  income initially dropped by 65 per cent and five employees didn’t qualify for Jobkeeper.
  3. Mandy – chairperson of OSHC SA –  problem with services not eligible for Jobkeeper as industry has a lot of casuals, and some ineligible as they have the same ABN as the school they’re attached to.

BEVAN: If we just finish where we began with Amanda Rishworth, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development. Amanda there’s a few options here, the Government can just continue on with its current relief package until it expires in September, it can drop it and go back to the old way and it sounds like with the best of intentions there has been unintended consequences here, or you say there’s an opportunity here to reform the system?

RISHWORTH: Absolutely I think there is an opportunity to reform the system, and one of the things the previous caller said is the Government is saving money on this and that’s true, they were budgeted before the pandemic to spend $2.1 billion on child care in the same quarter they’re now only spending $1.6 billion. So there is an opportunity I think to reform the system to make it affordable and accessible, and that’s really the opportunity in what has been a very dark time during COVID-19 to do something for families.

BEVAN: If they don’t take up your idea to make changes to the system, would it be better to just go back to the old way of doing it pre-pandemic rather than continue this? If the only two choices they’re prepared to accept are pre-pandemic arrangements, which I think is what Mandy and Susan are saying weren’t so bad, or continue the relief package, which would you choose?

RISHWORTH: Well the trouble with this is the one size fits all approach. If the Government had actually fixed the Jobkeeper issues we might not have seen so many problems. But I think if you went back to the old system you’d have to seriously look at the activity test, there’s an activity test and an income test in which a lot of people, whether they are looking for work or underemployed at the moment, might not meet that activity test. There could be some pretty significant unintended consequences from that as well. So I do think the Government has to look pretty carefully at this and we’ve seen a lot of –

BEVAN: It just seems like – we’ve got a statement here from the Minister, I wish he was here to give his point of view, he says it has worked for 99 per cent of services. But it seems like in some cases we’ve got the worst of both worlds, that is people aren’t getting the child care they need and the centres are going bust.

RISHWORTH: That’s right, and 99 per cent of services may have stayed open over the last four weeks, but I tell you the ones I’ve been speaking to are saying they aren’t sure how long they can keep their doors open. So I think while something needed to be done as Mandy mentioned, it’s now time for the Government to chart a new course with child care. Because operators are struggling, the one size fits all has not helped them, Family Day Care in particular because of their operating model, but also not for profit standalone centres have really taken the brunt of this as well. And families that can’t get child care, can’t get after school hours care, can’t enrol their new babies, that’s going to be a real handbrake on the economy unless we do something.

BEVAN: Amanda Rishworth thanks for your time.

ENDS

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