Doorstop – child care fees return today

Monday, 13 July 2020

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Well today is the first day that families are going to again face paying high child care fees. The Government has snapped back to the pre-pandemic child care system, which will lump families with huge fees. Of course what we know is families are struggling during this pandemic, people have lost jobs, had their hours reduced, and the last thing they need is to face paying some of the highest child care fees in the world.

Recent data has shown that child care fees have increased by 4.6 per cent from December to December – that is more than double CPI. But of course that ABS statistics show what the out of pocket costs are, and for families they rose 7.2 per cent in the same period. That shows families are having the burden of high child care fees placed upon them, and that was at a time before there was a COVID crisis. Now we know families are suffering, families are doing it really, really tough, and it’s time the Government reconsidered snapping back to the old child care system.

There’ll be families today trying to work out whether they can keep affording to send their children to child care. That will mean, if they can’t send their children to child care, children will miss out on important early education and families will miss out on the support they need. We know the economy needs to get back on track, but if people have to turn down work because families can’t get the child care or afford the child care they need, then that is going to be bad for the economy as well as families. We need the Government to seriously consider what support can be given to those families doing it tough. A snap-back to the old child care system is not the answer, a snap-back to the old child care system will be a WalletCrusher for families right around this country.

JOURNALIST: The Minister talks about assistance for people in reduced circumstances, and that there are other subsidies available. Is that enough to paper over the debt?

RISHWORTH: What the Minister is talking about is a program that supported, in the last period that data was available, 970 families who were doing it tough around the country. This is a small scale program that the Minister is talking about, only supporting 970 families. What we have now is an economic crisis with families doing it tough right around the country. This program is not enough to support families, this program makes families jump through hoops to try and get access, and the guidelines are not clear. What we need from the Minister is a safety net to support these families, not hike huge fees back onto them.

JOURNALIST: So what is the solution then, just maintain?

RISHWORTH: The Government had a number of options on the table. They could for example give automatic support for those on JobKeeper and JobSeeker. They could look at raising the percentage of subsidy, or indeed look at other options on the table. The Government is the one with the data.

But of course if we have many children leaving child care it also puts the viability of the whole sector into doubt. Many centres may have to close their doors if many families actually leave child care. So the Government has to look at this seriously, actually pay attention to it, and provide adequate support for families doing it tough.

JOURNALIST: The JobKeeper payment is $750 a week, $1,500 a fortnight – shouldn’t fees be covered out of that payment? Are you looking for a double-dip if you like?

RISHWORTH: We know families are getting rent moratoriums, mortgage holidays – families have a lot of expenses, and child care is a really large expense. What we want from the Government is not a snap-back to the old system that had some of the highest fees in the world. What we want to see is real relief for families. They saw it right to give relief for families in the last three months; my question to the Government is what has changed? The economy hasn’t just gone back to normal, people haven’t just walked back into their jobs. The economy is struggling, we’re in a recession, if we want to get our economy moving again we need to provide affordable child care for families.

JOURNALIST: So a scenario where two parents both being maintained on JobKeeper, that’s not enough to cover say two children?

RISHWORTH: If you look at the average fees, it’s about on average $110 – $120 a day in fees for child care. So with that type of cost it gets eaten up really quickly, even with the Government subsidies. As I said the ABS has been indicating that out of pocket expenses for families have grown by 7.2 per cent in a year. That is a large increase and the Government now sees it fair to just snap-back.

At the height of the pandemic the Government saw it right to provide free child care; my question to the Government is what has changed? People are still unemployed, people are still out of work, they are still on reduced income and reduced hours. The Government really needs to look at how they can better support families, rather than just snapping back to the old child care system.

JOURNALIST: What if they, and this is obviously speculative, made an exception for Victoria and maintained it in Victoria given their circumstances?

RISHWORTH: What we do know is the Government is shutting off JobKeeper for early educators as of next week, and we’ve seen in Victoria that is clearly premature. It is clearly premature to say the job’s done and we need to walk away. So my message to the Government is this crisis is far from over, so let’s look at how we can support the child care sector to be viable. These educators and directors and workers have worked through the pandemic, putting their own health at risk – we need to now support them with making sure they can continue on with business, continue caring for children, and importantly support families.

Even though we’ve got the crisis in Victoria, we still have an economic crisis right around this country and if we’re going to recover from that economic crisis, parents need to be able to access affordable child care to get back to work. The worst thing would be that child care and access to child care and affordability of child care was actually a barrier to workforce participation and going back to work. That wouldn’t be good for families and it certainly wouldn’t be good for the economy.


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