More proof Australia needs a radical new approach to childcare

More proof Australia needs a radical new approach to childcare

In 2018 the federal government introduced a $2.5 billion childcare package to ease the cost of early childhood education and care for Australian families.

On Sunday the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the expected cost savings to parents have virtually been eradicated in just 18 months, as childcare fees have continued to soar, in some instances at three times the rate of inflation.

The worst part? It’s not remotely surprising. This has consistently been the pattern in Australia for over a decade.

Despite various governments, both Liberal and Labor, spending record amounts of funding subsidising early childhood education and care, the additional spending has failed to deliver substantive fee relief to parents, nor a meaningful bump in wages to educators. The funding has more consistently been absorbed by operators.

The out-of-pocket costs to parents remain prohibitive in many cases and, even worse, educators themselves remain chronically underpaid.

The education minister, Dan Tehan, is meeting with operators to discuss the climbing fees that he admitted would soon wipe out the original price falls the government’s package was predicated on.

“The subsidy is still working. But we’ve seen increases that will see the subsidy dry up,” Tehan said.

(And presumably someone has informed the minister that ‘shopping around’ for alternative providers, as he recently suggested to parents, isn’t a viable solution?)

This is more compelling proof that Australia’s approach to early childhood education and care needs a radical overhaul.

It is clear that tinkering around the edges with subsidies is not an effective mechanism for delivering Australian families better outcomes in terms of early education and care.  Given the involvement of commercial interests in the sector it’s hardly unexpected.

Whether the provision of early childhood education and care ever ought to be a ‘for profit’ endeavour need to be examined.

Extending the public education system to include the early years, as many other OECD nations do, needs to be on the table. High quality, universal care is one of the richest  investments a nation can make in its future.

As it stands early childhood education and care is highly fragmented in Australia and it is blindingly obvious that from a number of key touch points it isn’t working.

How many more iterations of new packages and subsidies will providers be entitled to absorb before someone has the courage and commitment to start from scratch?

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