Federal Parliament - Childcare

May 13, 2020

Dr ALYThere's no doubt that at the end of this we'll look back at all the lessons that have been learned and we'll go through all the woulda, coulda, shouldas of all of this. I think one lesson that we're going to learn from all of this is that a single one-size-fits-all approach inevitably, and most of the time unintentionally, creates inequality and leaves some people out. I think that's been one of the biggest lessons, and we've particularly seen that with JobKeeper.

To my mind, I think this should be a caveat that pre-empts any kind of policy development. You start off developing policy with an understanding that a one-size-fits-all approach inevitably leads to inequality and leaves people out, and, dare I say, even more so during times of crisis when the necessity to act quickly can often lead us into a temptation to implement measures without extensive consultation or without comprehensive consideration. I think that this is the case that we have here with the government's 'free child care' that was announced with much fanfare. Within the electorate of Cowan it was very much welcomed, but, unfortunately, it has not resulted in free child care and has left many parents without an option for child care at all.

The government's changes here in the childcare space restrict providers to 50 per cent of their revenue as of the beginning of March, which means that providers now have no incentive, or even capacity, to take new enrolments or allow parents to increase their hours. So parents who took their children out and now want to go back to work have no means of doing that if they cannot find child care. But more than that, to keep their doors open with a 50 per cent reduction in revenue early learning providers are left with no choice but to reduce staff, cut their hours and deny new families or cancel existing enrolments. This has been a huge issue throughout the entire electorate of Cowan.

I'd like to read some excerpts from the emails and the contacts that I've had from childcare providers throughout Cowan about their experiences with 'free child care'. The first piece of correspondence comes from a parent who said that they would like to take their three-year-old child out of day care but they had to give two weeks notice. They have lost their place and are now unable to find another place in child care. I had quite a few of these.

Let me go to the childcare providers themselves. One said: 'I had a very successful business before all this happened. I had full enrolments and my business sustained itself. Since this has happened my service is no longer viable to be run for the hours and days it previously was. All my parents want to pay me. I have a doctor, police officer, psychologist and parents who are other essential workers on my books. They have lost no income and feel it is so unfair that I have to transfer the fees back, as the government has said it is illegal for me to accept their fees.' Another childcare provider wrote to me and said: 'With enrolments decreasing daily the childcare subsidy will offer very little to business sustainability during a closure. We are being bled dry.' These are the words I have here in black and white from a childcare provider, 'We are being bled dry.' Yet another one says, 'As a result of mass withdrawals this week from my centre due to the coronavirus crisis, I've immediately lost family fee revenue as well as the childcare subsidy, which together allow my business to remain viable.' And yet another one says: 'With a business that has been operating for less than 12 months we're not entitled to JobKeeper. It's most likely the child care will close.' And it goes on and on.

The fact is that the inequality that's been created has been created not just for the childcare providers but also for the parents who now have either no child care or no childcare options all. I'd like to finish by saying we need to really take this opportunity to value our childcare sector and value our childcare workers. I hope this is a wake-up call to really value them.