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I lost $30,000 trying to get childcare in Australia.

And you thought your daycare bill was big.

Australia might be called the lucky country but if you are a mum with a baby you should probably just give up on any hope of returning to work.

That’s right.

It’s sad but you might want to warn your employer the government and the councils of Australia have decided you have to stay at home even if you don’t want to because despite your skills or tertiary education (and the need to repay that debt) there is no childcare for you.

Vanessa Alexander just wants to find a solution to the childcare issue she has endured with her daughter. Image supplied.

You’ve heard it all before: “Sorry, We are not accepting any more applications. The waitlist is two years long.” In my case, I was even asked for a non-refundable $1300 deposit to “hold my place at a centre that could offer me a place in 18 months time”.

Thanks but no thanks! I’d accidentally had a baby at 44 and had already been on waitlists for most of the year. After failing to befriend a 19-year-old childcare worker with a nose ring and hangover in the hope she had the power to bump me up a waitlist, I decided something needed to be done.

Like many people, I live and work in the CBD. I also like to walk. For a year, I searched for a CBD location that had enough land to meet the federal child requirements. Finally it came on the market, a mixed zone property with 165m2 of lawn, enough by law for a mere 20 kids.

Childcare crisis
You’ve heard it all before: “Sorry, We are not accepting any more applications. The waitlist is two years long.” Image via iStock.

Regulations are so prohibitive that it’s financially impossible at this size to cater for babies, but I didn’t care. Anything was better than nothing. I would start a small (20 child) all day Suzuki Music based pre-school. I love music, can play violin, and this would solve my problems as other mums as desperate as me.

So I gathered my savings and took on a mortgage. There is too little space here to explain why it is impossible to lease a building and open a childcare but trust me – it is. I then paid $600 for a pre-development meeting, full of optimism that I would be helping in a tiny way to solve the national childcare crisis.

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In the first two minutes of the meeting Newcastle City Council told me not to bother even applying despite the fact the property is actually zoned for this use. No one I spoke to seemed to be aware the issues that face thousands of women like me.

Childcare crisis
“If you are a mum with a baby you should probably just give up on any hope of returning to work.” Image via iStock.

One man even told me that his wife stayed at home with the kids. Not much consolation really, because let’s be clear women actually deserve to choose. I wrote to council – they wrote and told me they had no policies to address the lack of childcare because it was open to the market to decide.

I wrote a single Facebook post asking about interest in enrolling in a centre like this and I received 43 replies in 4 days. In other words, with absolutely no effort I had filled an entirely imaginary centre twice over.

The reasons council gave for dismissing our desperately needed childcare centre has changed several times, but mostly focus around requiring me to have 5 off-street carparks for 20 children in the CBD! What small business can or is expected to provide this?

Not only does no other inner city childcare provide this but council has repeatedly and recently relaxed the parking requirements for big residential apartment blocks. But maybe those big developers can afford a lawyer.

A further 15K on architects, building, traffic, environmental, landscaping and acoustic reports, as well as a website calling for public support – I put in a full application.

childcare crisis
“With absolutely no effort I had filled an entirely imaginary centre twice over.” Image via iStock.
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Two hundred people signed a petition. A radio interview and a local newspaper item meant the council received around 80 public submissions in support of the need for this tiny centre. We know this from supporters getting in touch with us, council has so far refused to release us the numbers.

I need to explain here that the NSW State Act that governs the processing of council approvals requires staff to put projects of public interest to the elected council for decision.

Yesterday, Newcastle City Council rejected our proposal without any liaison, preventing elected councilors from having a say. The most hilarious thing is that one of the five reasons stated for refusal is that the centre is not in the public interest.

Let me repeat that. An application for a desperately needed service that received massive public support from mostly WOMEN was deemed to be not in the public interest. This reeks of arrogance and a council who are completely out of touch with not just women, but Gen X and Y who have large mortgages and tertiary debts requiring both parents to work.

You are probably aware of Newcastle Council’s status keeping ICAC busy with the money in the paper bag scandal, but despite its history of problematic democratic process, I am still in shock.

childcare crisis
This reeks of arrogance and a council who are completely out of touch with not just women, but Gen X and Y who have large mortgages and tertiary debts requiring both parents to work. Image via iStock.
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I love my job, but I need childcare to do it, and I want to be absolutely clear with you that the government and the local councils are actively preventing the situation from improving. They have essentially created a monopoly where mothers have no childcare and no choice of childcare if they do.

This is the big elephant in the room. I personally know two mothers who have made complaints to service providers only to have it implied that they can leave if they don’t like it as their place can be easily filled.

We all know competition in the marketplace raises standard. And funnily enough, mothers are actually much pickier than governments when it comes to their kids. The problem is not lack of regulation but lack of choice.

childcare crisis
I’m now 30K out of pocket and driving 6 hours a week to get 3 days of care in the only place that found me a space after two years or waiting. Image via iStock.

That doesn’t matter much in my story because I’m now 30K out of pocket and driving 6 hours a week to get 3 days of care in the only place that found me a space after two years or waiting.

It’s not quite over yet. I can appeal, if I pay more money. Maybe this time democratic process will at least see it brought to elected council.

Australia might be the lucky country but it won’t be lucky for women until the government stands up and addresses these issues.

Help me signing a petition to address the childcare crises here.

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So just by spending time with Mamamia, you’re helping educate girls, which is the best tool to lift them out of poverty.

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