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Issue # 1400      25 February 2009

Local Gov’t future of childcare

The Australian Services Union (ASU) has stepped up its campaign for child care to be transferred to local government in the wake of the collapse of ABC Learning Centres.

In a submission to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee, ASU national secretary Paul Slape continued his union’s move for local government to be, where appropriate, the focal point of childcare services.

Mr Slape said it was clear that alternative models to the private sector were needed following the market failure of ABC Learning and other private companies.

“The issues go beyond the enormous disruption caused to working Australian families in recent months,” he said. The inevitable outcome of having private providers of childcare is continual cost cutting to protect the profit margin.”

On average for-profit services offer lower wages and conditions to their staff, have higher staff turnover and greater reliance on casuals.

Mr Slape said in community and local government centres staff costs are approximately 80 to 85 percent of the total costs, while budgets at corporate centres such as ABC Learning are about half the costs.

“Staff also work longer hours with poorer working conditions,” he said.

“Ultimately it all translates into lower quality services to the Australian community.”

Mr Slape said there was a need to strive toward a sector that was properly regulated to guarantee quality education for our children.

“Pre-school childcare should be the first step of the Government’s education revolution,” he said. “We need to concentrate on quality child care – profit should be a secondary consideration.

“Local government, with its close links to the community, is the logical sphere to create a high quality child care sector that meets the needs of parents and children.”

The ASU covers childcare workers in local government and it is the largest union in local government and community run centres. Mr Slape said the ASU had approached local government bodies and the submission to the federal government was part of a campaign to find a better and long term solution to the current child care crisis.

Five ways to better child care:

1. The Education Revolution starts in childcare.

Childcare is more than child minding. It is an opportunity to assist in the nurturing and growth of the next generation of Australians. It can also set children on a path of good health, nutrition, and lifelong learning.

It is an essential service that needs proper investment and regulation to align the needs of children with the skills of carers.

2. Quality comes before profit

The debate around the collapse of ABC Learning and other private providers has been too focused on questions of profit.

Clear quality benchmarks are needed. Profit should be an added bonus but should never be the primary focus of the provider.

3. Proper planning and regulation

A simple lesson can be learnt from the collapse of ABC Learning. Too many child care centres or too few in an area result in disaster. There is simply not a co-ordinated plan in place. Planning for population changes allows for the right resources to be in the right communities at the right time.

There has been a demography shift in areas where the services for the elderly are near empty while the childcare centres are at bursting point and have one and a half year queues.

The role of a government agency which can monitor and allocate the right resources in demographic cycles is a must. It is often not about spending more – but putting the right resources in the right place at the right time.

4. Links to other maternal child health, primary school

Local government can integrate existing childcare services such as maternal health, immunisation along with toy and book libraries.

It can work with primary schools to create a high quality first step in children’s education.

Local government is connected to local communities who will have some ownership in making decisions about their children’s future.

5. The “right” place for childcare

Simply put, local government is the best long term solution for the future of childcare in Australia.    

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