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Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines has called on the Commonwealth and State Education Ministers to end a damaging impasse over childcare funding that’s pushing some local childcare providers to the brink.

On April 2, the Commonwealth Government introduced “free childcare”, banning childcare providers from charging fees to parents.

At the same time, it halved the amount of money it pays to childcare providers, advising them to apply for JobKeeper or seek additional funding under an “exceptional circumstances” fund disbursed at the discretion of Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.

But the Dr Haines said many childcare providers were being denied access to both JobKeeper and the exceptional circumstances fund, resulting in a 50 per cent loss of revenue and pushing some towards closure.

Dr Haines said the Commonwealth’s reduction of childcare funding in the middle of a pandemic had left many regional providers on the brink of collapse.

“In my electorate of Indi, Alpine Children’s Services cares for 700 children and employs 100 staff. It has seen its revenue halved and its application for JobKeeper rejected,” she said.

“Murrindindi Shire Council’s application for exceptional circumstances was denied as the Commonwealth later excluded councils.  The council provides the only family day care service in the shire and this may result in 150 families and 26 educators being left high and dry.

“The Rural City of Wangaratta provides care for 200 kids and employs 20 educators and it’s in the same boat. It followed the Commonwealth’s advice to apply for extra funding only to find it was ineligible. The city is now losing $20,000 a week”.

Dr Haines said the Victorian government, unlike the South Australian and New South Wales governments which are providing extra funding, had so far ruled out any support packages.

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has confirmed to Dr Haines’s office that Victoria will not provide additional funding to childcare providers.

But Dr Haines said the Federal Minister, Mr Tehan, told her yesterday that National Cabinet had determined the states would deliver additional funding to childcare.

“The Commonwealth and State Education Ministers are sending contradictory messages, and children, parents and childcare workers are caught in the crossfire,” she said.

“Families don’t care about political point-scoring, or which government the money comes from.

“We’ve had six weeks of uncertainty, six weeks of slashed income for childcare providers.

“Ministers Tehan and Merlino need to stop passing the buck, stump up the funding, and save our regional childcare services from shutting down.

“There are 700 families in the Alpine Shire, 150 in Murrindindi, 200 in Wangaratta and countless others across the country whose children are cared for by services that are on the edge. I want to see immediate action.

“Whether it’s JobKeeper, the exceptional circumstances fund, or a state-based support package, we need to resolve this impasse”.

[May 15, 2020]

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