AM Agenda – coronavirus and the child care sector.

Monday, 30 March 2020

ANNELISE NIELSEN, HOST: Joining us live is Shadow Early Childhood Education Minister Amanda Rishworth, Amanda thanks for your time. Now this has been a hugely challenging period for people with small children, what are your concerns about the early childhood space going through the coronavirus pandemic?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I’ve had many people contact me over the last week and there’s a number of issues. There’s firstly parents who lose their jobs and have to withdraw their children from child care, at the moment they are still charged a gap payment. Then there’s centres that are saying they are about to close their doors within days, and that’s because the enrolment rates have plummeted. Of course what was in the stimulus package from the Government was securing their stream of income only in the event of a forced shut down. So those centres that are experiencing plummeting enrolments are saying to me that they can’t keep the doors open, and that will have a huge impact on those essential workers that are relying on child care.

So we’ve got a real crisis when it comes to the early childhood area, and when I say they’re about to close their doors, they are saying they’re about to close their doors permanently. So not only will we potentially not have care for essential workers, but at the other end of this crisis as the economy starts to open up again, we actually won’t have the centres and the ability for workers to go back to work. So it’s a real crisis, the sector has been desperately calling for immediate action from the Government. We’ve heard they are working on a plan but it may not come soon enough for many centres that are looking at closing their doors, and for families that are finding themselves with gap fees and they just can’t pay them anymore.

NIELSEN: It’s a really difficult situation for the Government to be dealing with, trying to keep centres open so essential workers can go as you say. It has been the choice of many parents – which the Government has wanted to let people do if they do want – to keep their children home. So if there is a crisis what is the solution going forward?

RISHWORTH: The Government could look at a number of measures. One of the things they did in the stimulus package was in the event of a forced shutdown they will continue to pay the subsidy to centres and parents wouldn’t have to pay the gap fee. That is not available for centres that are closing because of plummeting enrolments, so they’re not forced to shut down but have seen their income come down by huge amounts. So that’s the problem we have for centres. There’s the potential the Government could continue to pay the subsidy to centres as of prior to this crisis happening. We are hearing from people there’s between a 30 to 50 per cent reduction in enrolments over a week, that is just not sustainable for centres, there goes their income.

So there are a number of solutions, what the Government needs to do is act quickly. The sector has put a number of solutions to the Government and I understand the Government has a lot on its plate, I do understand that, but this requires urgent action. Because I am hearing from centres that they are permanently looking at shutting their doors today, tomorrow, the next day.

NIELSEN: Certainly no easy answers. Amanda Rishworth, Shadow Early Childhood Minister thank you for your time .

RISHWORTH: Thank you.

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