Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


COVID-19: Child Care

8:28 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the government's changes to the childcare system due to the outbreak of COVID-19. As a former early childhood educator, it is an issue that I'm passionate about. It's vital, at this difficult time, that people have access to the early childhood education that they need and that early childhood educators are given the support that they need to provide this education. Access to early childhood education allows essential workers to continue to provide the services the public needs at this very trying time. I thank early childhood educators for their efforts to provide education and support for families throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

As the government seeks to reopen the economy, there will be a greater need for early childhood education. And while I hope the government's changes were done with the best of intentions, they have once again failed to work through the details to ensure that all families and educators aren't unintentionally disadvantaged by them. I've been contacted by numerous early childhood educators who have been disadvantaged or have concerns and have raised those concerns with Minister Tehan. They have been extremely distressed by some of the changes—both how the changes affect their business and how they will impact the amount of care they are able to provide. These are caring, highly professional people who are concerned about the businesses that have been built up over many years. Reports continue to emerge of families that are now locked out of the childcare system due to COVID-19. Many workers have found that their childcare needs have changed. This can be due to the fact that they feel they can no longer ask grandparents for care, or the days or hours they work may also have been changed. Families outside the system are effectively locked out. Services will receive no funding for them.

It's vital our childcare system is flexible and can support this change in demand for their services, to ensure that parents can go to work. Despite the Prime Minister stating that every Australian with a job is an essential worker, the reality for many families is that their lack of access to child care is now a barrier to participating in work. The government is trying to shift the blame onto providers, completely failing to understand that providers across Australia are desperately crunching the numbers to try and provide as much care as possible. To keep their doors open with such a reduction in revenue, some early learning providers are left with no choice but to reduce staff, cut opening hours, deny care to new families or cancel existing enrolments.

The government's changes restrict providers to 50 per cent of their revenue as of the beginning of March, providing them with no incentive or capacity to accept new enrolments or allow parents to increase their hours. Services that had maintained enrolments over the previous few weeks, particularly family day care and in-home services, were stripped of significant income. These businesses should not have to work harder for less and wear the costs of the government's policy changes. While some providers are also eligible to apply for JobKeeper or a top-up fund, many are still unable to access JobKeeper, and there appear to be very limited circumstances in which providers can access the additional funds. It is absolutely vital that every early learning service will be able to access the JobKeeper payment.

Labor welcomed the government's announcement to provide fee relief for families and urgent support to providers. It has provided some financial security to providers that were in danger of closing due to collapsing enrolments, but, without properly funding free child care, the Morrison government's childcare changes have created winners and losers, with some families receiving free child care and others receiving no care at all. If those opposite would just take the time to talk to the people affected by their policy changes before they announced them, they would end up implementing better policy.

Labor will continue to ensure families, early educators and providers are adequately supported during and after this crisis. Labor urges the Morrison government to properly fund our early education and care system, to support parents and ensure every Australian family that requires child care can access it. If this is not done properly, it will be devastating for families, early educators and our economy.