Let’s be completely honest. Most Australians do not look forward to elections. And even though the election campaigns for the next state and federal elections have yet to fully unfold, the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) NSW will make an attempt to predict the issues facing the next state and federal governments and how their proposals (where known) could impact the early childhood education and care sector in NSW and across Australia.
Solving Childcare Oversupply
After almost 2 years, the Australian media (especially the Australian Financial Review) now broadly accepts and promotes that there is a problem called childcare oversupply. Not only is there now an oversupply that pushes up operational costs for providers and therefore families in terms of childcare fees due to a declining number of children, it also creates the problem of reducing supply of (more expensive) childcare places especially for children aged 0-2 years old in order for services to achieve operational sustainability.
ACA NSW and its national body have long advocated for practical (government-related) solutions that can help address childcare oversupply. But as yet, no Australian government (federal or state) has accepted responsibility for this phenomenon nor offered solutions that they could implement that can assist.
Child Care Subsidy v2.0
It is most unlikely that the Federal Coalition Government will substantively improve their relatively new Child Care Subsidy (CCS) so soon after 2 July 2018. And while some problems appear to persist especially with Centrelink entitlements for and enrolments of parents and their children, the Federal Coalition Government seems focused on implementing its next requirements being electronic data transfer of sign-in/sign-out (ie attendance) information beginning 14 January 2019 without any guarantees that all software providers are ready and with appropriate solutions.
So far, Federal Labor has signalled a future Shorten Labor Government would ease some of the eligibility critera, especially for those on low-income and certain others currently unable to satisfy the existing Activity Tests. They also intend to ban free iPads and holidays as a practice by some service providers as benefits for newly enrolled families. However, Federal Labor has not yet released their “rules” as to what service providers can and cannot do in terms of their marketing.
Preschool Funding for 3 and 4 year olds
Although the NSW Liberal/National Government was technically the first government to announce they would introduce preschool funding for 3-year-olds, they have limited it only to those attending Community Preschools. This results in an estimated maximum of 28% of children of that age, with such funding provided a percentage of base funding rates. This leaves up to 72% of 3 year old children who do not attend Community Preschools without any comparable subsidies from the NSW Government, and effectively does nothing to help workplace participation especially for parents who need to work beyond the hours of 9 am to 3 pm.
Federal Labor has announced new funding worth $1.75b which will similarly replicate Universal Access Funding but this time for 3 year olds in an effort to deliver two years of 600 hours each of early childhood education over the 2 years before school regardless of setting.
The “unspoken” problem appears to be that the corresponding state governments are expected to commit to corresponding contributions in order for the full benefits of Federal Labor’s promises to be realised. Unfortunately, to date, only the Victorian State Government has done so. And the NSW Coalition and NSW Labor has been silent thus far.
Overcoming Labour Shortages
One of the biggest problems facing any childcare service provider is finding qualified and competent staff and the ever-increasing cost of labour due to more and more regulations. Both the Federal Department of Employment and the NSW Department of Education have published reports in 2018 confirming a significant labour supply problem. Yet no government has yet proposed plausible solutions that could.
And neither the NSW Government, nor the Federal Government, appear capable of successfully explaining the cost and value implications for parents of higher regulatory burdens in their pursuit of quality.
Other areas of concern for children, parents and service providers
Furthermore, in anticipation of the two elections in 2019, other concerns that political parties ought to address are that:
- the unions’ applications through the Fair Work Commission to increase wages for educators by up to 72% and teachers by up to 59%;
- NSW having the lowest participation rate for preschool programmes for 4 year olds in the country;
- the Commonwealth and NSW Governments providing only about $456 per (4 year old) child per year (2016-2017) for those enrolled in long day care services compared to $3,695 per comparable Victorian child per year, $2,121 per South Australian child per year, and $2,011 per Queensland child per year;
- 2,758 out of 5,453 NSW-based services who have not been re-assessed and re-rated for between 2-and-6 years;
- all of the amendments to the Education and Care National Regulations (NSW) since its introduction have never had cost-benefit analyses conducted (just Regulatory Impact Statements produced); and
- the Review of the National Quality Framework in 2019 led by the NSW Department of Education potentially introducing still more regulatory requirements that will ultimately decrease childcare affordability for parents;
… just to name a few.
The Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) NSW is committed to the provision of high-quality early childhood education and care for our children. But it is also committed to ensuring that this aspiration is balanced against the cost of service provision, and the financial capacity of parents as well as taxpayers.
For the benefit of all childcare providers and their parents, ACA NSW will publish its pre-election analyses of all political parties’ campaign promises in its March and May editions of Nurture Nook. ACA NSW will also produce suggested how-to-vote information for every marginal seat across NSW for all childcare services in the lead-up to the state and federal elections so that they can share them with their thousands of parents and grandparents who vote.