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.