Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Free child care for everybody made a headline, even more so when the Prime Minister said all Australians working are considered essential workers. Understandably, families around Australia all assumed they would get free child care. It was certainly a change from the minister, who called Labor’s plan to provide more support for early learning at the last election communism. Well, welcome, Comrade Dan.
But, like many things this government does, free child care is just an illusion for many. The big fundamental problem is that the government didn’t fund free child care. My office has been flooded with calls and emails from early learning services from around the country who are struggling to keep their doors open after their funding has been slashed. These services are now cutting operating hours, cutting staff and cutting places to try to balance their books.
I’ve heard from many families who are being denied places, including healthcare workers who have been asked to come back early from maternity leave to help in the crisis and are missing out on a childcare place. I have spoken to family day care educators who are now expected by the government to work the same hours for half the pay. And I have heard from early learning centres who have had applications for exceptional circumstances funding rejected with no explanation or justification.
The constraint on access to childcare places will be a significant handbrake on the recovery of the Australian economy. How will people be able to go to work when they can’t get a childcare place?