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Free childcare as Govt seeks to safeguard sector

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Childcare will be free for parents still using it during the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced today.

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The Federal Government will also support the nation’s 13,000 childcare centres to remain open in the wake of enrolment and attendance numbers plummeting.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said child care was an essential service to keep all parents who still had jobs in the current economy in that work.

He said around one million families are set to receive free childcare during the coronavirus pandemic, with the Government to pay 50 per cent of the sector’s fee revenue up to the existing hourly rate cap.

This would be based on a point in time before parents started withdrawing their children in large numbers, but only so long as services remain open and do not charge families for care.

The funding will apply from April 6, and will be based on the number of children who were in care during the fortnight leading into March 2, whether or not they are now attending services.

Morrison said the plan would support families while also ensuring “as many of the sector’s 13,000 childcare and early learning services as possible could keep their doors open for workers and vulnerable families who need those services”.

“Relief is on its way for around a million Australian families and thousands of early learning educators and carers,” he said in a statement.

“These services are vital for so many parents so they can provide for their family, and children need as much familiarity and continuity as we can help provide at this unsettling time.”

He said “priority will be given to working parents, vulnerable and disadvantaged children that need early education more than ever and parents with pre-existing enrolments”.

The PM said the plan should see the sector receive $1.6 billion over the coming three months from taxpayer subsidies because of the March 2 baseline, “compared to an estimated $1.3 billion if current revenues and subsidies had continued based on the existing system and the significant reduction of enrolments the sector has seen”.

He also anticipated the sector to receive around $1 billion in subsidies under the JobKeeper program announced last week.

Centres must seek to re-enroll children who have been withdrawn, to make sure parents can keep places if they need them once the crisis is passed.

Education Minister Dan Tehan said the aim was to make sure parents won’t have to worry about trying to find new care for their children.

“What we want to do by doing this is ensure that your childcare centre will remain open, so that you know where you normally take your child to get cared, that that will be there for you, so you are not looking to have to go to a new centre,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Tehan said the next task would be to deal with the plight of Year 12 students whose studies have been greatly disrupted by coronavirus.

“There are a lot of parents out there at the moment, especially those that have Year 12 students, who are contemplating what their VCE is going to look like this year and what that will mean for pathways into work, in vocational education, into university next year,” he said.

“Obviously, there are numerous issues that families are facing, but this is one I am getting a lot of feedback which is of concern and we will be addressing this in the coming weeks.”

Childcare plan at a glance

* Free childcare starting next week, as the nation grapples with the coronavirus

* Parents still working will be prioritised, or for children who are vulnerable and need to be cared for

* The government will pay half the reasonable fee cap for the next six months

* The funding will be based on the number of children in care during the fortnight before March 2

* In order to receive the money, centres must stay open and not charge parents any fees

* The amount will be paid fortnightly

* It amounts to about $1.6 billion over three months

* The plan aims to keep the nation’s 13,000 childcare centres open

* It completely reshapes the childcare fee scheme, with means and activity testing dropped.

-with AAP

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