Subject: Flexibility in Child Care
Robbie Buck: Are you someone who has kids in child care? Maybe your kids are at a child care centre for half the day, but are still billed for the whole day, of course. How would you feel about the option of being able to pay for child care by the hour? 1300 222 702 is the number here.
The Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has flagged just that, and he joins me now. Minister – oh where are we – Minister good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Robbie and good morning to your listeners.
Robbie Buck: Take us through what the plan is.
Simon Birmingham: Well look Robbie, the story in today’s Australian is a tad misleading. I’m not proposing that we force child care providers to bill by the hour, but what the Federal Government is doing is lifting some of the regulatory restrictions on child care providers, restrictions that currently require them to provide services for certain numbers of hours per day and certain days per week, to provide greater flexibility in terms of their business models. And in return, I hope that a greater number of providers will provide greater flexibility in terms of the service they provide to parents for child care and early learning experiences for their children.
Right now we do have a situation where many children are booked in for ten and twelve hour sessions, that’s what they’re charged for, and yet of course they’re routinely there for a much, much shorter period of time.
Robbie Buck: Okay, is the story correct though in that you will essentially be able to be pay by the hour for childcare?
Simon Birmingham: Well not unless a provider is offering that.
Robbie Buck: Okay.
Simon Birmingham: Of course, if somebody chooses to offer that service, and there are occasional care providers out there, then that is absolutely right. And what I hope is that more people will say to parents in particular who are not working, who do not meet activity tests under our generous new child care reforms, that they’re going to offer a four or six hour session several days per week to provide early learning experience to those children.
Robbie Buck: Is it likely to be sustainable though, for a child care operator, considering those peak periods are probably going to be the ones that most parents are going to choose, and then of course you’ve got to pay staff for the lesser used periods. Is it going to be problematic for them?
Simon Birmingham: Well Robbie child care providers already employ a mix of staff in terms of the type of hours they’re employed for and the type of hours they work, and they run different rosters during the course of the day. And what I’m urging people to do is have a look at their business models as child care operators, and think not just about how they’re providing child care services to working families – which may well require the set long day care model that most adopt at present – but also to think about how they’re providing early learning services to children who are not in … not in- families to- children of families who are not in work necessarily, and to provide the opportunity for those children to access set periods of early learning.
The Government is going to support those children under our $40 billion child care package to be able to access up to 12 hours of child care per week for families earning less than $65,000, even if they do not meet the activity test. Now, that 12 hours should equate to more than one day for children in those circumstances, and that’s what I hope providers will find models to provide.
Robbie Buck: Okay, and what sort of time frame are you looking at?
Simon Birmingham: Well we hope to introduce legislation, and intent to introduce legislation for child care reforms this year, and they will take effect from the start of 2017. So there’s a long lead time for people to get their business models right and for families to adjust. It’s a $40 billion package for child care, spending more than $3 billion extra and it’s providing markedly increased support for those working families.
Robbie Buck: Okay. But you’re saying you won’t make it compulsory, you won’t force child care centres to go down this route if they don’t want to?
Simon Birmingham: No, we’re not forcing child care centres to change their models, but we are relaxing some of the regulatory restraints on them, and we hope in doing that they will be more flexible in what they offer to parents.
Robbie Buck: Alright, Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Pleasure Robbie.
Robbie Buck: The Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham with that proposal. What do you think? Would it work?