Doorstop – child care sector on brink of collapse

Saturday, 28 March 2020

SUBJECTS: Saving the child care sector, job losses in retail, quarantining measures, Ruby Princess handling

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Today we need to see some action from the Prime Minister to sure up the child care sector. What we know is over the last week enrolments have plummeted, putting the viability of the whole sector at risk. What I’m hearing from child care providers is as a result of the huge decrease in enrolments, they are no longer viable. Even some of our biggest providers are saying they’re looking at closing doors next week. This would have a disastrous effect for essential workers that rely on child care, and also if these centres close their doors permanently – and that’s what we’re talking about here, these centres are saying they will have to shut their doors permanently unless there is urgent action from the Prime Minister.

So it is time that the Government stops using holding lines like they are at the moment, saying it will be developed in weeks ahead. Action needs to be taken now, because if we don’t we could well see the permanent closure of hundreds of child care centres around this country. Not only making it difficult for essential workers, but also making it incredibly hard for the economy to recover after this crisis has passed. Without child care people won’t be able to return to work after the crisis, so there is an economic imperative to actually act now and sure up the viability of the child care sector.

We are hearing drops of 30 per cent, 40 per cent, 50 per cent, 60 per cent of enrolments at the moment, making it incredibly hard for these operators to keep their doors open. The peak body, Early Childhood Australia, said that action needed to be taken two days ago. Not in a few weeks’ time – two days ago. So I urge the Prime Minister and the Minister to start acting now, to actually start delivering a package now, because this sector is vital to our community, vital to families and vital to the economy.

REPORTER: Do you have any numbers on how many child care workers have actually lost their jobs across the country so far and how many more we could see?

RISHWORTH: We’re hearing from centres that their casual workforce has already been stood down in many places. But the centres I’ve been speaking to are actually saying they’re about to start laying off permanent staff, and indeed just close the doors and that will be a permanent feature. These centres have said to me that they’ve spent so many years building up the right mix of staff with the right qualifications to deliver high quality services. They are just not viable anymore, and we’re talking about in days not weeks. I do know that casual staff have been the first to go and indeed permanent and full time people could be going very shortly because of the lack of action from the Government.

REPORTER: Thousands more workers have been stood down in the retail sector by Myer, how much more pain can the retail sector endure at this time?

RISHWORTH: This closure has clearly shown the first two stimulus packages were not enough. What we would like to see from the third stimulus package is something that will ensure workers stay connected to the businesses they work for, that there is a connection to the labour force. For its next package the Government needs to seriously at measures that will keep that connection. They need to consider wage subsidies of some sort, because what we’re seeing is not only in the retail sector but in many sectors, people being stood down. Everything must be done to ensure that connection to their workplace continues.

REPORTER: In terms of quarantining, is it fair for the States and Territories to be footing the bill for of quarantining for national arrivals?

RISHWORTH: Look that’s something the States and Territories and the Commonwealth need to sort out together. What we need is everyone working together on this in a cooperative fashion. The last thing we want to see is things breaking down, so I’m not able to comment further but what we need is the States and Territories and the Commonwealth working together. That’s imperative at this time of crisis

REPORTER: What sort of measures do you want the Government to take on child care? Do you have any specific measures you’re looking at?

RISHWORTH: At the moment I think everything needs to be on the table. One of the suggestions that’s been put forward from the child care sector is that the Government continue to pay the subsidy they were getting before the huge decrease in enrolments. While that is not their full income it certainly is a large proportion of their income, so that’s been one measure that’s been put forward. Urgent action needs to happen, because families are un-enrolling their children at a huge rate. The measures the Government has already taken have focused on forced closures, they’ve taken on situations where families have stayed enrolled and are willing to continue paying their fees. That is not possible in all cases and therefore we need to see the Government taking further action on this as soon as possible.

REPORTER: Has the Government indicated to Labor when they might be issuing the measures?

RISHWORTH: We haven’t had any correspondence from the Government about when this might occur. The Prime Minister said yesterday in his press conference that they’ll be working on it in the future with no time frame on it. The comments from the Minister that have been made publicly have been sometime in the future, they’re working with the sector. Time is of the essence now, if we have mass closures of child care centres across this country, and that’s mass permanent closures, this will be disastrous for the workers that work there, for the business owners who have put their heart and soul into it, for the families who rely on it, and for the economy after this crisis.

REPORTER: Back to quarantine, does Labor understand the frustration many are having that if they arrive in Sydney and have to quarantine there, and then have to travel to say Adelaide and have to quarantine for a further 14 days. What does Labor think about those sorts of anomalies?

RISHWORTH: We’ve been broadly supportive of the measures the Government has put in place when it comes to their announcements about quarantine. When you look at the very effective measures we do need to take the advice from our health professionals, and the health professionals have made it very clear that self-isolation is a very important step. There are going to be inconveniences for people but ultimately we need to look at these measures from a health perspective, and we have been broadly supportive of the Government’s measures that they’ve put in place.

REPORTER: Do you think New South Wales has taken enough responsibility for failing to properly check the Ruby Princess passengers, given they’ve been the cause of so many cases around the country?

RISHWORTH: It’s clear there’s been a failure of Governments, I don’t want to get into the blame game of whether it was the Commonwealth or New South Wales. But there’s been a clear failure when it comes to the Ruby Princess. It’s not right that that happened, and we need to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again. All efforts need to be put in by all Governments to be vigilant about this, but this has clearly been a failure and everything must be put in place to make sure it does not happen again.


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