The Guardian July 5, 2000


Child care another GST lie

Another GST lie will soon be exposed, with the Government's claim that 
child care services will not be adversely effected already hitting the fan. 
As of last Saturday, July 1, a single Child Care Benefit replaced the Child 
Care Rebate and Child Care Assistance payments. At the same time another 
change was implemented which will impact heavily on the provision of child 
care: Centrelink will no longer administer child care payments and fee 
relief.

Child care centres around Australia are currently grappling with a mounting 
pile of paperwork because the Department of Family and Community Services 
has supplied them with what the National Family Day Care Council describes 
as "every possible combination of errors" in the lists outlining the GST-
driven changes to child care fees.

The botched lists compiled by Centrelink  is most likely the result of 
Government staff cuts at Centrelink which, among things, has led to a loss 
of expertise in the operation of the organisation's computer system. "It 
really is a disaster", said Lynne Wannan of the National Association of 
Community-Based Children's Services. 

The Centrelink mistakes are across the board with families entitled to the 
highest subsidies marked down as being at the lowest, hundreds of families 
simply not listed, babies designated as being of school-age and school age 
children as babies, and providers being given details of families not 
registered at their centres.

While this appears to be merely a glitch in the system between Centrelink 
and the Government  which has made a big deal of its child care 
assistance increase to off-set the GST  the main, fundamental impact on 
child care will come from Centrelink now ceasing to administer the payments 
and fee relief, a change the Government has kept very much under wraps.

Each individual centre now has to do the bookwork for all parents using its 
service. No extra funding is being provided for this extra administrative 
task, thus imposing a substantial new burden on the coordinators/directors 
of centres and their volunteer management committees.

And because of the big increase in child numbers during vacation care, 
outside-school-hours centres will be hit especially hard during school 
holiday periods.

In most cases the volunteer parent management committees  people already 
stretched to the limits of their commitments  will be confronted with a 
work load beyond their capacity to deal with.

The extra costs will also put pressure on local councils, major 
contributors to centres in their municipalities, in particular long day 
care centres. Councils in many cases provide the land and buildings, fund 
wages, pay at least part of maintenance costs and the cost of 
administration.

Some councils may be forced to reconsider their involvement in light of 
these latest developments, particularly the increased costs of 
administrations.

In turn, more opportunities will be opened for the private sector to take 
over centres. In that event such centres will cease to be not-for-profit 
services provided to parents based on quality of care and become primarily 
profit-driven businesses for their owners.

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