Government must re-think approach to child care

Monday, 18 May 2020

After bragging about his “free child care” policy in Parliament last week, the Minister for Education has foreshadowed plans to abandon the policy at the end of June and snap back to the Government’s old, flawed system.

There is no doubt the Government’s current system, implemented in response to COVID-19, is causing serious problems for some families and providers. However a reversion to the Government’s old system is not a silver bullet – it will fail to deliver affordable child care for families and fail to deliver certainty for providers.

The Government’s poorly designed and targeted “free child care” policy has left many families without access to child care, providers struggling to stay afloat and early educators without jobs.

Despite the Government’s claim that their $1.6 billion spend on child care during the crisis is “unsustainable”, their “free child care” policy was not properly funded. In fact the Government is spending less on the child care subsidy during the crisis than originally budgeted.

But rather than doing the hard work and developing a system that actually delivers for parents and providers during these difficult and uncertain times, the Government is choosing to snap back to a system that was expensive and confusing for families.

Under the Government’s old child care system, early learning and care was fast becoming unaffordable and inaccessible. Fees had soared by 34 per cent since the election of the Coalition and 7 per cent in just twelve months, and out of pocket costs were skyrocketing.

An abrupt snap back to the old child care system will be a huge financial hit to families and may cause parents to un-enrol their children, which will continue to threaten the viability of providers. The work activity and income tests of the old system will also make it incredibly difficult for many families to access care during this time of economic downturn.

More than ever, families are in need of accessible and affordable child care as many continue to face financial strain and a reduced earning capacity. Providers also need certainty and support to continue the great job they’re doing in educating and caring for our children.

The Government has an opportunity to properly fund and implement a system that delivers affordable and accessible child care, to enable parents to work and children to get the quality early education they deserve. If this is not done properly and parents cannot access or afford the care they need, it will be a handbrake on our economic recovery.

The answer is not to snap back to the old system. The Morrison Government must chart a new course that meets demand, keeps the sector viable and enables all parents to access affordable care.

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